I’ve never seen a forest fire like this before. So intense, so close. Quite logical in itself: if you get the chance to see a wildly spreading fire from so close, then you don’t stop to watch. Then you run. If that makes any sense at all.
Bee Wildfire (Meditation on Fire) by the Belgian artist David Claerbout it is possible. On a meter-high screen, the camera slowly slides past burning fir branches, blazing flames and purple clouds of smoke. The heat radiates off the screen and fills the entire room, a pocket-sized Gothic church, with an orange-red glow. The image is dead still. Only the camera moves, as if over a huge picture.
The video installation can now be seen in the context of Finish Terrae, an ambitious project initiated by the Antwerp gallery Geukens and De Vil. Art by fifty Belgian, or at least living and working, artists can be seen at thirteen locations throughout the city. From international greats such as Berlinde De Bruyckere, Luc Tuymans and Otobong Nkanga to very young talent. Many of the beautifully chosen locations are usually closed to the public. Such as the garden of the Cathedral of Our Lady, where artist Marius Ritiu had an enormous meteorite impacted.
The artworks are all loosely related to the theme ‘Finis Terrae’, or the end of the world. You might say that this is not an uplifting subject for the already dark winter months. But while the apocalypse looms in the background, utopia is also not far away. For example with Veronika Bezdenejnykh, who fills an entire wall in the Geukens en De Vil gallery with paradisiacal images of tropical plants. ‘The end. A start’, is the subtitle of this art walk for a reason.
The connection between the theme of the exhibition and the forest fire that David Claerbout presents us needs little explanation. However, at this special location, a small, flaking Gothic church, it takes on a whole new meaning. Earlier in the walk, in the walled garden (Hortus Conclusius) of yet another church, landscape architect Ronald van der Hilst reminded us that tall trees and pointed Gothic windows and towers both symbolize the axis mundi, the central line connecting the earth and the sky. In the Sint-Niklaas chapel, the video screen is arranged in such a way that they overlap: the pine trees become the pointed windows. As if the axis mundi itself is on fire.
The flames that fill the entire screen, in combination with this location, are reminiscent of video artist Bill Viola, who made his installation in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam in 2015. firewoman (2005) showed. In that video, a woman stands in front of the sea of flames, whose silhouette is reflected in the water at the front of the frame. Suddenly she raises her arms and falls forward into the water.
In Wildfire (Meditation on Fire) are no human figures, only trees and flames. The size of the screen makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the fire. And the funny thing is: different from bee firewoman these flames do not move. The impossible turns out to be possible: in the middle of the conflagration, time stands still. As a warning, and perhaps also as an opportunity. Do not run away. Just stand still. And just meditate – on what? At the end. Or on a start?
Who? David Claerbout (53)
What? Wildfire (Meditation on Fire)2019-2020
Where? In the exhibition Finis Terrae: The End. A startuntil 26/2 at thirteen locations in Antwerp.
How? Using computer generated images.