Case studies

Facing Fire: Art, Wildfire, and the End of Nature in the New West

California Museum of Photography

California’s diverse ecologies are fire-prone, fire-adapted, even fire-dependent. In the past two decades, however, West Coast wildfires have exploded in scale and severity. The artists of Facing Fire bring incendiary work from active fire lines, sifting through its aftermath, and grappling with its implications.
Beyond its initial exhibition in 2020-2021, the collection is housed online within the UCR ARTS Virtual Gallery featuring an exhibition tour and commentary from curator, Douglas McCulloh, artist interviews and musical compositions to accompany the work.
Norma I. Quintana’s ‘Forage From Fire’ series (pictured) explores the loss of her studio and home of 28 years in the 2017 Atlas Peak Fire and the process of sorting through the debris: “It was difficult to register the totality of our loss,” she recollects, “but as I looked closer, I noticed a strange, unexpected beauty in the ashes. I began to recognise objects – a pin, a wristwatch, a statuette of a clown, camera bodies, kitchen tools.”
Quintana came to regard the surviving fire fragments not as mere objects, but as containers of memory. She developed a ritual of salvage, survival, and recollection. She placed each recovered remnant of her previous life on the back of a rubber glove employed to comb the wreckage and she used her iPhone X to make photographs. “I have always been a documentarian and a collector, looking, hunting for meaning in my surroundings.” In the ashes, memory becomes meaning, and meaning memory.

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