Processing the trauma of forest fires through art


September and October are considered the most vulnerable months during California fire season. Ahead of Labor Day, a record-breaking heatwave brought some of the hottest days in California history, leaving the door wide open for wildfires to ignite in the blink of an eye. As residents of the Golden State adjust to this new normal, an exhibition will be held the Palo Alto Art Center (PAAC) invites artists Commemorating loss, survival and growth in the face of the exponential severity of climate change. transformed into firecurated by Rina Faletti, features works by over a dozen Bay Area artists “in response to the phenomenon of fire.”

On view until December 10th transformed into fire addresses three central themes – Living with Fire, Learning with Fire, and Creating with Fire – that reflect the ways in which larger populations respond to fire and “its multitude of opportunities to create change and transformation in our lives, local, regional and globally”. Faletti said Hyperallergic. This is the first of four exhibitions being hosted at PAAC for the climate connections Series of programs aligned with Palo Alto City Council’s year-to-date priority of addressing climate change.

Linda Gass, Severely Burned: Impact of the Rim Fire on the Tuolumne River Watershed (2014) (Photograph by Jeff Tuttle; courtesy of the artist)

The photographer Norma I. Quintana explored the idea of ​​living with fire through her photo series fodder of fire. Quintana’s home was one of hundreds destroyed in the Atlas Peak fire which devastated Napa County in 2017. Five minutes before the evacuation, Quintana had to leave everything behind. When she returned, she found that the fire had practically leveled her home and studio and destroyed all of her photography equipment, including 250 cameras.

As she processed the trauma of such a tremendous loss, her need to document something overwhelmed her. Quintana searched the rubble of her home and photographed the charred, gnarled, and peeling memorabilia with her iPhone. In terms of what she wants viewers to take away transformed into fireQuintana told Hyperallergic that recovery comes to mind.

Norma I. Quintana, “Typewriter” (2018) (Image courtesy of the artist)

“What viewers see is an artist acknowledging the brutality of firestorms and creating photographs to process the devastating loss of her home and studio,” she said. “Viewing the remains took me back in time and the work provided a way forward.”

Adrien Segal, “Camp Fire” (2017), cast bronze (image courtesy of the artist)

Inquiring artist Adrien Segal encourages viewers to learn from fire by reinterpreting statistical data into organic cast bronze sculptures and drawings. In her Wildfire progression series, Segal focused on three specific wildfires caused by human activity in recent California history. She translated the objective data from the selected wildfire patterns and developed 2D and 3D iterations using CAD (Computer Aided Design) software.

“The universe is ultimately governed by forces of nature, and despite the fact that humans have created a lens through which we study, quantify, and measure nature to derive abstract data, all of this is still happening within those forces of nature,” Segal told hyperallergic .

Scrutinizing analytical data to uncover the natural patterns that indicate a landscape’s changes over time allows her to develop tactile, intuitive works that create space for emotional connection and sensory experiences. Her featured sculptures and drawings are “a more comprehensive representation” of data than the limits of science will allow.

Adrien Segal, “Rim Fire” (2015), Rim Fire wood ink and charcoal on paper (Image courtesy of the artist)

Segal noted that her personal experience of the fires influenced her way of presenting wildfire history maps. She recalled the smell, heat, and dark skies while gathering charcoal near Lake Tahoe after the rimfire died out. She eventually turned the charcoal into ink, which she used in her drawing, Rim Fire Progression.

Samantha Fields, “10 Santa Monica” (2012) (Image courtesy of the artist)

Jonah Ward went above and beyond when it came to creating with fire using two specific techniques he developed as a student at the California College of the Arts in his 2022 installation Born from within the Burnt Forest. The work consists of several standing sculptures made from paper trees, created from a collision of fire and water. The hollowed-out “trees” contain delicate glass droplets meshed in cylindrical structures, evoking a suggestive skeletal quality loss and destruction. The perimeter of the installation is lined with thin wooden panels burned by dripping marks of molten glass stamped onto their surfaces—another technique Ward pioneered.

Jonah Ward’s 2022 installation Born from within the Burnt Forest on display at the Palo Alto Art Center (Image courtesy of the artist)

“The use of heat, fire, water, wood, and paper went hand in hand with the use of glass. There’s a very primal connection that I was instinctively drawn to,” Ward told Hyperallergic when discussing how his practice relates to his surroundings. “Having grown up surrounded by nature, these elemental media and processes just seemed right to me.”

Exhibit-goers are invited to attend a free Family Day event on October 23 at PAAC to participate in hands-on art workshops and learn more about fire safety. Those interested in hearing more from the artists can tune in to the talks on November 18 and December 9, which will be announced on the center’s website.


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