How Artists within the Southwest are Drawing Consideration to Wildfires

Bryan David Griffith, “Rebirth” (2021), Aspen leaves dried and coated in beeswax, stays of bushes from fireplace website, dimensions variable (photograph by the artist; all photographs courtesy the artists)

Varied hues of aspen leaves coated with encaustic beeswax grasp suspended in lengthy strands over a damaged circle of cinders from a hearth website in “Rebirth” (2017), a chic set up created by Bryan David Griffith as a part of his inventive apply elevating ecological themes. He’s certainly one of a number of Arizona-based artists exploring wildfires, motivated partially by their very own experiences with fireplace. 

Griffith was on the East Coast when he received phrase that he wanted to evacuate his Flagstaff dwelling through the Slide Hearth of 2014, which finally burned over 21,000 acres in a closely forested a part of northern Arizona. “All my life’s work was in the home,” he instructed Hyperallergic, reflecting on the confluence of occasions that shifted his focus in the direction of making work associated to wildfires. 

Simply days earlier than, he’d been invited to take part in Fires of Change, a gaggle present in Flagstaff addressing “the rise in severity, measurement and variety of wildfires within the West and their affect on the panorama.” The exhibition, which originated at Coconino Middle for the Arts in late 2015, was impressed partially by In a Time of Change: The Artwork of Hearth, a 2012 exhibition in Fairbanks, Alaska that introduced collectively artists, fireplace professionals, and scientists. Eleven artists attended a hearth science boot camp earlier than creating new works for Fires of Change, which was additionally proven in Tucson, Arizona earlier than one other iteration made its option to Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Artist Bryan David Griffith making a sculpture with fireplace.

The present was curated by Shawn Skabelund, an artist and curator based mostly in Flagstaff whose set up work typically explores points associated to colonization and the doctrine of Manifest Future that undergirds settler tradition — together with the methods federal land administration insurance policies aimed toward suppressing fireplace have traditionally run counter to Indigenous practices. 

“The primary exhibition purpose of the scientists and fireplace ecologists was to teach the general public concerning the worth of fireplace, however my important focus was aesthetics and presenting varieties the general public wasn’t used to seeing,” remembers Skabelund. “I actually wished the artists to go exterior their consolation zone and suppose past the mediums they had been used to working with.”

That’s simply what Griffith did, working within the dwelling studio the fireplace by no means reached in 2014. As a substitute of centering the images on the coronary heart of his current artwork apply, Griffith created set up items utilizing fire-related supplies similar to bushes, burnt embers, and leaves gathered from the forest ground to immediate conversations about ecological destruction, habitat loss, and local weather change. “I wished to convey individuals into the visceral, sensory expertise of a hearth that’s nonetheless smoldering, utilizing easy supplies like burnt wooden and smoke to assist individuals join with the forests they could by no means get to expertise in particular person,” Griffith mentioned.

Julie Comnick, “Exposition” (2017), oil on canvas, 80 x 95 inches

Growing wildfire frequency has prompted the US Forest Service to shift its terminology from “wildfire seasons” to “wildfire years,” and Arizona had already skilled a number of main fires by the center of 2022. In April, the Tunnel Hearth burned 1000’s of acres north of Flagstaff, together with the Sundown Crater Volcano Nationwide Monument. In June, a hearth in Tucson and two fires close to Flagstaff “gutted a number of buildings at a nationwide observatory, pressured evacuation of a historic monument, and threatened different archeological artifacts,” based on reporting by The Washington Put up

Set up view of Julie Comnick’s Association for a Silent Orchestra exhibition at Mesa Up to date Arts Museum in Arizona in 2015

Julie Comnick has been working with fireplace since 2012, when she launched her Association for a Silent Orchestra undertaking analyzing the size and tempo of cultural destruction. She’d performed violin for a few years, and determined to make use of the instrument as a logo of classical cultural traditions for a sequence of work and movies that confirmed a big pile of violins being consumed by fireplace within the panorama. 

Earlier than transferring to Flagstaff, Comnick lived in Prescott, Arizona, the place the Duce Hearth got here inside a mile of her home in June 2013. That very same 12 months, lightning sparked the Yarnell Hill Hearth close to Prescott, which turned one of many state’s deadliest wildfires on June 30, when 19 of 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots misplaced their lives battling the fireplace. “What we face when it comes to ecological techniques seems like issues are spiraling uncontrolled,” mentioned Comnick. “We’re seeing the displacement of individuals, flooding from fireplace scars within the panorama, and different impacts of local weather change accelerating.” For Fires of Change, Comnick offered a dozen works from her Ashes to Ashes sequence addressing ecological themes. The sequence pairs her drawings based mostly on archival pictures of Arizona wildfire websites with items of charcoal she’s sourced from those self same areas.

Set up view of Julie Comnick’s “Ashes to Ashes” (2015), wildfire charcoal on paper with charcoal samples

The exhibition additionally included 100% Contained by Saskia Jordá, an artist based mostly in Phoenix, Arizona, whose work centering terrain and migration continues to include delicate references to fireplace. Conceived by Jordá as “a comfortable sculptural and symbolic map” representing the perimeter of the 2012 Gladiator Hearth in Crown King, Arizona, the piece contains 37.89 miles of black yarn crocheted by the artist and dozens of volunteers. It’s the identical fireplace that destroyed a inventive area designed by Jordá’s husband, architect Victor Sidy, who put in a good portion of the construction the night time earlier than it went up in flames. 

In 2013, Jordá and Sidy put in a sequence of shiny yellow viewing stations alongside the trail of the Gladiator Hearth, and created a map to assist present context for viewers. Titled “Hotshots,” the work was put in for Excessive Desert Check Websites 2013 and featured within the current Disturbances within the Discipline exhibition on the Nevada Museum of Artwork in Reno.

Element of Saskia Jordá and Victor Sidy, “Hotshots” (2013) (photograph by Victor Sidy)
Saskia Jordá and Victor Sidy, “Hotshots” (2013)

For Arizona-based artists utilizing fireplace to probe the depths of cultural and ecological destruction, monumental works just lately exhibited at Phoenix Artwork Museum, together with Cornelia Parker’s “Mass (Colder Darker Matter)” (1997) and Teresita Fernández’s “Hearth (United States of the Americas), 2,” (2017–19) present precious context. Parker used charred stays from a church fireplace to create a kind suspended from the ceiling and Fernández used stable charcoal components to render a map of america. 

As huge fires have dominated the headlines, current exhibitions similar to Forest ⇌ Hearth in California, Going through Hearth in Utah, and Rethinking Hearth in Oregon have created pathways for divergent concepts and deeper dialogue. 

In Portland, the World Forestry Middle’s Discovery Museum is displaying Griffith’s work by the tip of the 12 months. Beth Ames Swartz will probably be displaying three fire-based works within the Hearth Transforms exhibition that opens September 17 on the Palo Alto Arts Middle in northern California. The Phoenix-based artist has been utilizing fireplace as each materials and subject material for many years as a part of her artwork apply grounded in ideas of start, dying, and rebirth.

Bryan David Griffith, “The Impermanence of Forests” (2017), burned pigment print on silk from movie, charcoal stays from depicted fireplace, 60 x 72 x 6 inches

For her Hearth sequence, Swartz layered paper, acrylic paint, and components of the earth similar to dust or sand, utilizing a “course of ritual” that mirrors her conceptual framework. She burns her supplies, mutilates them with screwdrivers or different objects, and reassembles the outcomes to kind blended media abstractions that talk to her view of fireplace as “a remodeling power supply.” 

In the meantime, the Hearth & Water exhibition opening September 24 at The Gallery at Tempe Middle for the Arts simply east of Phoenix will spotlight the work of a number of artists, together with Anthony Mead, who makes use of supplies similar to charcoal, wooden, and soot to create work, prints, and sculptures that examine relationships between people and fireplace. 

“Artists can present visible tales as factors of entry into conversations concerning the well being of forests, and the harmful and therapeutic points of fireplace,” defined Jordá. “We now have the phantasm that we are able to management the panorama—however the panorama does what it must do.” 

Set up view of Bryan David Griffith’s “Damaged Equilibrium” (photograph by Jonathan Ley)

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