Controlled Burn

In British Columbia, on the unceded traditional territory of the Yaqan Nukiy within the Ktunaxa Nations, it’s pretty common to see the remains of burn piles on the sides of forestry roads, remnants from controlled burns – one method of wildfire management in forested areas. Each pile is a sculpture garden in its own right, a mix of scorched and raw woods, pyres to a combination of fire management and industrial processes that feel violent, overwhelming in scale, yet somehow commonplace, everyday.

The ash settles in thick blankets. Moss grows. Bugs return. As we pick through the piles, we imagine the site-specific heat that left some logs merely singed while shattering rocks and incinerating everything in a tiny, controlled area of third-growth mountainside.

As we traverse this landscape, a fire is burning across the lake, out of hand and too close for comfort, threatening small municipalities and shooting brown smoke up into the summer sky, turning the sun orange, then pink, then red.

Controlled Burn is a spire of alternating scorched and un-scorched wood, stacked in a seemingly precarious tower in the forest at Empire of Dirt. Materials were salvaged from the remains of a burn pile and reconfigured into a monument to human interventions in nature, suggesting equal parts folly and foresight.

How do we attempt to manage the environment in an effort to protect ourselves from it (and ourselves)? In forestry, a prescribed burn is a sudden and violent impact on a space; trees are felled and burned to reduce the potential impact of future forest fires. Once complete, a slow chain of decomposition, decay, and eventual regrowth is initiated, taking decades to restore the culling of a few short hours. There is both hubris and humility in this practice: we attempt to build environmental immunity through a regulated dose of the very threat we seek to abate.

Controlled Burn was conceived and created while on a two week artist residency at Empire of Dirt in August 2021. Empire of Dirt is located in Creston, British Columbia, on the unceded traditional territory of the Yaqan Nukiy within the Ktunaxa Nations.

Thanks to Marnie & Jim for muscles, machinery, and conversations, and to Wayne for his blood and sweat. Gratitude to these lands.

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