Fires of Change is a collaborative project with the Southwest Fire Science Consortium, the Flagstaff Arts Council, and the Landscape Conservation Initiative (LCI) funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and Joint Fires Sciences Program. It aims to translate the complex social and ecological (new term: ecopyrosocioeconomological) issues surrounding wildfire into art. Our hope is that art will educate and invigorate people about the beauty and ecological necessity of wild fire. In advance of our September 5, 2015 exhibit opening and September 19, 2015 reception at Coconino Center for the Arts, we will be having monthly blog updates from the 11 talented artists who are creating work for the project. For more information, take a look at the Flagstaff Arts Council exhibit page.
from fire to wind
The Whole Terrain
Following several dialogues with curator Shawn Skabelund, I intend to connect the work I make for Fires of Change (formally and conceptually) with the present work I’m doing here in Northern Slovakia. I want to hold together “the whole terrain” of my present work: the calamitous wind storms in this Old world forest and the fire-fragile shifting landscapes of the New West, the Carpathian Mountains and the Colorado Plateau, spruce and ponderosa pine, my ancestral landscape and Arizona, the place I’ve spent the better part of my life.
From Fire to Wind
After our time on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon talking with fire scientists and fire fighters, I began my Fulbright research learning from foresters/hunters and environmentalists about the forests of the West Carpathian Mountains. The following story of the Tatras is a mosaic of pieced together text from three articles by Tom Nicholson which appeared in The Slovak Spectator, as well as several succinct descriptive phrases by photographer Jon Wyatt.
Here in Northern Slovakia, a huge swath of High Tatras forest has been ravaged by wind leaving vast spaces of stumps and roots. In November 2004, winds reaching a speed of 180 km/h (112mph) literally flattened 13000 hectares (32123 acres) of forest on the south-eastern slopes of the High Tatras National Park, leaving bare a strip of land between 2.5 km wide and 50 km long (Jon Wyatt). The storm also severely damaged another several thousand hectares in other areas. As many trees were blown down in this single storm as the entire Slovak logging industry cuts in a whole year. The scale is difficult to describe, but about one-third of the total forest area in the mountains was felled by wind.
After the trauma of the storm, a deeper conflict emerged over the future of the damaged area. Tom Nicholson writes: While environmentalists called for renewed conservation efforts and for a natural variety of trees to be replanted, rather than the spruce monoculture that was planted 80 years before, the government and developers urged that the windstorm trigger more intense use of the Tatras for tourism. “We should use this catastrophe as a new impetus for tourism development in the High Tatras, in order to change land use plans and build new recreational facilities,” said then-Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda five days after the windstorm. “Concrete is not man’s enemy if it is handled effectively.” After four decades of Communism, the dilapidated tourist infrastructure was privatised to government friends and supporters.
Then in June 2006, foresters with the state forests agency warned of a dangerous infestation of lykožrút (bark beetle), which they said was the worst in the past decade and threatened other areas of the mountain forest that had not been affected by the November 2004 windstorm. Trees on the ground create a breeding ground for the pests. As a result, the government sanctioned salvage logging. Jon Wyatt indicates this was despite evidence provided by NGO’s and environmental groups which clearly showed that this kind of logging can cause even greater ecological damage than the storm itself. The salvage logging continued even after the threat of the bark beetle was over. It continued despite protests from over 100 academics from universities and research institutions, and even from about 150 of the Environment Ministry’s own employees. It has now drawn a threat of legal action from the European Commission (the Tatras are part of the EU’s Natura 2000 protection system). In May 2014, another wind storm hit the Tatras. Slovak Minister of Environment Peter Zig compared the aftermath of this storm to the hurricane in 2004.
Walking with forest boss Ing. Miroslav Priechodský, I learned there has always been wind in the Tatras, but the scale of these windstorms are unprecedented. This echoes what we’ve heard on the North Rim, there has always been fire in the Southwest, only the scale of the fire now is unprecedented.
As a primary material, I am using collected logs from windblown areas in two art installations in Slovakia. (See poster below and project description). For Fires of Change I also anticipate working with this simple trough form. I intend to collect logs from a burn site in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona (altered found objects).
For the last several years I’ve harvested firewood to heat my home in Oregon. I’ve collected and stored the wood ash. I may wish to use it in some way in the Fires of Change project as a means of relating wild and domestic fire, shifts in context (hearth/earth, private/public) and scale (intimate/vast) purposeful and controlled burning versus random and uncontained, sustaining/destroying fires.
Emptying/filling has been a sustained concern in my practice.
*Peripheral to this primary project, Cat and I have begun a collaboration we are calling, “Core Study” that involves wood fired ceramic forms.
Click here for more information about Craig’s Fulbright work in Slovakia.