ARTIST STATEMENT: RETHINKING FIRE
In 2014, after the Slide Fire threatened my home and studio, I was invited to study wildfire with scientists from the Southwest Fire Science Consortium and join the project Fires of Change, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. After many days in the field visiting forests and fire sites, I came to believe that the root cause of the catastrophic wildfires we are seeing today is a fundamental set of cultural perceptions—perceptions that must be re-examined before we can agree on solutions, no matter how clear the scientific data.
In Western culture we tend to view dualities—light and darkness, life and death, forest and fire—as opposing forces in an epic struggle of good vs. evil. We see ourselves as fighting nobly to preserve life and prevent death by taming nature to subdue unpredictable disasters like wildfire.
My work explores the idea that these forces aren’t opposed, but rather part of the same continuous cycle. One can’t exist without the other. For thousands of years prior to Euro-American settlement, low to medium-intensity fires burned frequently in dry Western forests. Many native species are adapted to depend on fire or the diversity of habitat it creates. Removing fire from forests that have evolved alongside it is akin to removing the bugs and fungi that we find unpalatable, but are necessary to recycle dead material. Yet keeping fire out of the forest is precisely what we’ve done for over 100 years. By trying to prevent death, we have inadvertently severed the cycle of life.
Now wildfire is coming back with a vengeance, like a river breeching a dam. As a result of past logging and fire suppression, today’s forests are younger, denser, more homogenous, and less drought resistant than historical old-growth forests. This forest structure combined with decades of accumulated needles and branches on the ground provides fuel for unnaturally large, hot, ecosystem-destroying fires to develop during periods of extreme weather. And these fires are getting more likely with periodic drought and climate change: today the average fire season is 78 days longer than in the 1970s. At the same time, residential development has encroached exponentially into fire-prone areas, making forest management more difficult, ignitions more likely, and fires more dangerous and expensive to fight.
I investigate these concepts by using fire itself as my medium alongside other primal materials like wood and beeswax. I juxtapose soft organic lines and natural edges with geometric forms that convey our desire to control capricious natural processes—often with unintended consequences.
The forms of my work deliberately compel the viewer’s eye to complete them. I try to create a charged atmosphere where viewers can spark their own discoveries, sometimes different than my own. My goal as an artist is to provoke questions; finding solutions is work we must all forge together.