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Fill up with Free Spirit and off we go!

Rafael Hafner‘s Cheeky Racers

Play is the highest form of research

Albert Einstein

Machine-made objects available for purchase, be it articles of daily use, devices, toys, or trinkets, are usually produced in series in order to facilitate production processes through mechanical reproduction, to reduce costs, and to operate profitably even with low margins by producing large numbers. The result will almost inevitably be a mass product: interchangeable as well as of low quality if it’s supposed to go on sale for a low price. 

The opposite is the case with Rafael Hafner’s Cheeky Racers. Admittedly, they also try to reach the buyer by way of series production. Yet still, every one of them remains unique. In marked contrast to ordinary industrial production, the artist has gone to great pains to achieve perfect results. Customized in color and imprint, the Cheeky Racers are one of a kind. Produced in a limited edition of 300 copies per color, each and every one of them has a number, just like art prints or multiples.

With small toy objects made out of animal bones and old metal sheets, Hafner had already applied at the Arts Academy of Munich – and was admitted to the class of Otto Künzli, professor of jewelry and tableware. In time-consuming handwork, he produced his own objects, neither supposed to be worn on the body nor to be exhibited in a showcase. Within the field of jewelry design, anyhow, he remained an outsider. 

On one of his many travels which carried him very far, he finally reached Peru. There he conceived the idea to have made a toy object as a multiple produced in series. He fabricated a prototype – and for months fine-tuned the mechanics of the skull moving up and down. He searched for manufacturers able to meet his requirements. In the course of this, he made the experience that time, in Lima, proceeded at a speed very different from Germany. To only get from one end to the other of town proved to be an unpredictable adventure – to which everybody seemed to be used. „Mañana“(tomorrow), they responded if he wanted to know when something was going to be ready – an elastic term.

After searching for a long time, he finally found  a machinery construction and die making firm which, with the help of state-of-the-art 3D CAD programs and the handwork of a whole crew, consisting of an engineer, draftsmen, and mechanics, developed, in the course of three years, all molds, cutting dies, as well as assembly devices needed. On top of that, a company usually manufacturing medical precision instruments, now lathes the screw connections with a new CNC milling machine, correct to the decimillimeter. A metal die casting and electrodeposition enterprise adds the chrome plated grill and the steering wheel. Furthermore, one of the biggest producers of  plastics injection molding products in Latin America, an expert of pad printing, and other businesses who among others punch out and powder-coat the arms of the figurines, are involved. 

What kept them in line wasn’t the prospect of monetary gain. Rather the quality requirements of the crazy gringo, who invested a seemingly overexaggerated effort into the development of a little toy object, made them discover new opportunities. All of a sudden, within their company, everybody seemed to work more precisely: a competitive advantage not to be underestimated. The result was a successful merger of Made in Germany aspirations and Peruvian Mañana-laissez-faire.

As art objects, though entitled to be touched and not made for the showcase, and at the same time trinkets and toys, the Cheeky Racers do not fit into given categories. Of high quality, made out of robust, imbued plastic and stainless steel and almost indestructible, they seem to want one thing most of all: to bring joy of living and playing into the sobriety of the streamlined adult world.

„Quo vadis“, one can read on the tires, „Inspiration“, „Cause“ and „Effect“ or, almost a bit paradoxical for a racecar: „Relax“. At the fuel dispenser which is integrated into the packaging, the Cheeky Racers fill up with „Free Spirit“. The radio can be switched from „Ego“ to „Love“. The driver’s license contains further instructions: „Light up your engine!!“ „Come out of your cozy little garage and hit the highway of life / Face the ‘ups and downs’ with curiosity and smile” There is nothing to worry about: “It’s ‘death-proof’ / Enjoy the ride!!”

Rafael Hafner sees no contradiction in the fact that it’s skulls that, protected by helmets, protrude from the car bodies: Better to get by humorously with one’s own mortality that to follow the rationality of given objectives in deadly seriousness.

Dietrich Heißenbüttel, art critic