FIRE Forum at CLIMARTE Gallery

FIRE FORUM,16 March 2022

FIRE Artists Fiona Lee, Jody Graham, Benedict Sibley, artist and CFA predictive bushfire services specialist Andy Ackland and CFA volunteer and member of Australian Firefighters Climate Alliance Cam Walker joined FIRE Creative Producer Jo Lane from CLIMARTE in a discussion about fire and art.

The Forum commenced with an Acknowledgement to Country and introduction by Mayor of the City of Yarra Cr Sophie Wade.

We started with some inspiring quotes:

Rebecca Solnit, The Purpose of Activism and Art, or at least of mine, is to make a world in which people are producers of meaning – not consumers. 

Susan Sontag, Real art has the capacity to make us nervous.

CLIMARTE’s purpose is to harness the creative power of the arts to inform, engage and inspire action on the climate crisis. This session oscillated between philosophical, personal and practical.

All the artists in FIRE have been selected for their work that directly addresses fire as a landscape, environment and climate threat. Some of the artists made work in reaction to the unprecedented fires seen here in the last two decades in Australia. Some of the artists are making work from devastating personal experience.

We discussed what ‘role’ artists play in articulating the experience of climate disasters. And what is the outcome for those seeing the art? In our discussion we hypothesised that viewers have their own fears and concerns visualised and are then able to share the circumstance in a different and meaningful way.  Fiona was asked to describe the events that caused her to make the work that she has – how her anger and activism around wilful political failure on climate change has manifested in her work.

We discussed how ‘popular’ Fiona’s work has been, touring regional galleries. What is this telling us about the role of art and its contribution to the messages required right now to all levels of government, corporations and the wider public?

Both Jody and Ben have also made work about the fires they experienced – but in very different ways. Just prior to the Forum, Jody been awarded the Adelaide Perry 2022 Perry Prize for Cinder Dance, the sister work to Grass Fire that was showing in FIRE. The power of the stories behind these works is very meaningful right now.

Ben said that he identifies with the prevailing zeitgeist and is calling for collective responses to repair a world spiralling out of control. He believes that nothing short of a universal shift in societal awareness and dramatic behavioural change will prevent the collapse of our existing natural and cultural systems. By being an active participant in the development of contemporary discourse and imagery, his intention is to make a positive contribution.

Andy is a predictive services specialist in the CFA bushfire team. He is an artist himself and comes from a family with a history of esteemed artists.

Cam Walker, a CFA volunteer and member of Australian Firefighters Climate Alliance, a network of grassroots volunteer and career firefighters who want to see our governments take stronger action on climate change.

It was an honour to host this Forum and we particularly appreciated both Jody and Fiona’s efforts in travelling from NSW to join our public discussion.

We acknowledge the extreme distress that occurs in the terrible time of a fire – threat to life – terror – sorrow – colours – smell.

Chris Palmer, District Inspector NSW Rural Fire Service,  Shoalhaven district recalls the 31st of December 2019 as the worst day of his life – information flowing in – decisions made in split seconds, hoping they were correct  – low resources….. Longest and hardest biggest fire season ever faced. The toll of that fire: 31 lives – 24 million hectares – 3 billion insects and animals – 3000 homes. More deaths due to smoke later, and subsequent suicides from trauma.

Psychologist say that coming together helps, and of course COVID has largely prevented this.  The Forum went some way in trying to unravel what was – as illustrated by Fiona Lee’s work – in fact, ‘UNPREPARABLE’.

The recording below commences with the artist’s discussion.

The FIRE Forum and the FIRE exhibition were made possible by the City of Yarra.