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.
by Jennifer Gunlock.
My challenge, as I entered into this project, was how to conceptually reframe the work I’m about to make to suit the subject matter at hand, while still making this my work. My collage-drawings incorporate photographic imagery I take on my travels, primarily of buildings and trees. A subject that I repeatedly latch onto when I’m incorporating them into a drawing is the tense and awkward relationship between the wild landscape and the imposing infrastructure humanity created to shield itself from the wild. There is no real dividing line between the two. They all co-exist, just not very harmoniously.
A theme that repeatedly popped up during last fall’s Fire Science Bootcamp was the question of human intervention onto the forest. The recent increase in fire superstorms is largely due to human causes, such as decades of total fire suppression, importation of non-native plant species, and accelerated global warming. So, now fire managers are tasked with patching up the damage humanity has caused. Humans created the problem, and now humans are trying to fix it. The fire managers and scientists are constantly grappling with the philosophical (and political) question: how much should they impose on forest ecosystems in order to establish a healthy balance there, and when should they leave well enough alone? What is their (our) right or responsibility to the landscape?
Wandering around the Grand Canyon’s North Rim during Bootcamp, my attention immediately fell on the glossy, blistering bark that covered these fully barbecued ponderosa pine remains. When I saw the black fire scars on the ponderosas, the squarish blisters reminded me of skyscraper windows. In much of my regular work, my “treehouses” often take on the role of dense apartment buildings or termite colonies. That same metaphor of a treehouse containing a dense population appeared to me in those dead ponderosas. That concept, and remarking on the leafless aspens’ eerie resemblance to cell phone towers, planted the idea of what I would construct for Fires of Change. I set out to create an 11 x 15-foot mural on paper that reinterprets that forest, with artifacts of civilization embedded in it. By employing such a large scale, I’m inviting viewers to wander inside my landscape.
I came upon the title “Urban Interface” from a collection of fire ecology terms fed to us during Bootcamp. It’s a reference to the scientific term wildland urban interface, which means exactly what it implies: two very distinct landscapes rubbing up against one another. I decided to omit “Wildland” from my title, because in my piece I want the wildland to be a given. To make reference only to the urban is to call attention to it and suggest that its presence is somehow foreign. (Plus, it just sounds kinda cool.)
“Urban Interface” is currently 99% complete. It’s been a journey. And I am so eager to see all our projects together in one room come September.