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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fire Sculpture

Several years ago, when I was teaching a unit on sculpture, I had as one of the optional activities my freshmen students could do, the design and construction of an edible sculpture. Originally the project was built around freestanding cakes, cake decorating, etc. Eventually it evolved into some rather diverse manifestations including vegetable sculpture, bread sculpture, and even candy sculpture. However early on I had a student that, so far as I know, was the first to invent a whole new sculpture medium--Rice Krispies. Yep, the same stuff you make by melting marshmallow creme, adding margarine, and vanilla then the cereal.  It may sound strange, but it works. It's a demanding medium though. You have to coat your hands with margarine, and there is only a limited window of opportunity with which to work between the time when it is too warm to shape and too cool to shape. Her original creation was a hen setting on a bed of colored coconut with a little icing to decorate here and there, some M&M's for eyes, and a red Fruit Rollup cut to shape for the comb.  It was really quite attractive. We took pictures of it and then, in the end, we all enjoyed evalueating it.

Fire Sculpture without the fire
 In Stockholm, Sweden, artists there have invented a new sculpture medium as well with some of the same transient qualities. The works are fashioned out of wood, twine, and straw and during daylight hours take on a kind of strange, unconsummated quality. It's only after dark, when the works are set on fire, and the competition begins, that they take on a life of their own, rising to their full potentiality as they also go up in flames. Inherent in the medium is a conflict between creation and destruction. They call it fire sculpture and, strange as it sounds, it too is a very demanding medium. For competition, they must all be built on location within eight hours and at least one member of each team must have a college degree in art. There is even the Swedish Fire Sculpture Association, which is the governing body for the annual competition that draws hundreds to a snow-covered open field, sometimes braving winds and sub-zero temperatures, to watch the works go up in smoke. Some of the sculptures are as tall as fifteen feet, but all must burn at least five minutes but no more than twenty minutes. (One would have to assume there's not be much market for them in art galleries.)

Once lit, the work takes on a whole
 different look.
Some of the works look better before they're set afire. Once they are lit, all are, momentarily at least, breathtaking. Some of the sculptures were really quite beautiful while others were so ugly no one felt bad about burning them. One eye-catching creation was by the Polish team, a Viking ship with straw ropes which, while attractive, spectators report didn't burn very well. The winner was created by the French team, a towering, Brancusi-like mass with sensuous curves. Once ignited, the layers burned away in separate stages revealing an amusing play on words. The burning effect created an artichoke. The team called themselves Arti-Chaud, which (loosely translated) means Art and Heat.

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