ARTIST STATEMENT: RETHINKING FIRE
In 2014, after the Slide Fire threatened my home, I received a small grant to study wildfire with the Southwest Fire Science Consortium. After visiting many fire sites with scientists and firefighters, I came to believe that the root cause of the catastrophic wildfires we are seeing today is a fundamental set of cultural perceptions—perceptions we must re-examine before we can agree on solutions.
In Western culture we tend to view dualities—light and darkness, life and death, forest and fire—as opposing forces in a struggle of good vs. evil. We see ourselves as fighting to preserve life and subdue death by taming nature to prevent disasters like wildfire. But what if these dualities are both vital parts of the same whole?
For thousands of years prior to European settlement, fires shaped Western forests. Many native species are adapted to fires and depend on the diversity of habitats they create. But today’s forests are younger, denser, more contiguous, and less diverse than pre-settlement forests—a legacy of cutting the biggest, most fire-tolerant trees followed by a century of putting fires out. For forests formerly adapted to fire, these changes combined with years of unburned needles and brush on the ground provide fuel for unnaturally severe, ecosystem-damaging fires during weather extremes, when they are hardest to contain. By trying to eradicate fires, we have made them more lethal. By trying to prevent the death of individual trees, we have put the life of the whole forest at risk.
Now wildfires are coming back with a vengeance, becoming more frequent and extreme with climate change. Today's fire season is up to 80 days longer than in the 1970s. Meanwhile, residential development has mushroomed in fire-prone areas since the 1990s, making 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. 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 compel your eye to complete them. I try to create a charged atmosphere where you can spark your own discoveries, sometimes different than mine. Just as different ecosystems have adapted to different types of fire, different communities can find different ways to adapt to fire’s inevitable return. Art can provoke questions, but it takes a community to forge solutions.