Answering Earth

Anthropocene Record i: Forest Ghost

Ron Linn

My work deals with a translation, engaging in issues of place and the connection between human and non-human nature through an examination of memory, myth, and both personal and imagined histories.

I have become increasingly fascinated and horrified at the growing role that wildfire exerts on the landscapes of the American west, both as an artist, and (especially) as someone who calls these lands home. In the West, but more specifically Utah, we define ourselves and our land by a specific set of cultural myths: cowboys and wagon trains, prophets and pioneers. Author Marilynne Robinson defines myth as “complex narratives in which human cultures stabilize and encode their deepest ambivalences...giv[ing] form to contradiction which has the appearance of resolution.” Viewed in this light, fire is one of our oldest human myths: a bringer of light and warmth, as well as death and destruction. Fire as destroyer. Fire as mother.

And yet, simple stories of good verses evil, like those we tell about fire, like those we sometimes tell about ourselves, ultimately fail to show the complexity of the thing as it is. According to our collective myth, wildfire is a ravenous enemy to be fought and eradicated, forgetting that this land was built by fires, sometimes devastating, but nevertheless necessary and cleansing for the birth and rebirth of healthy ecosystems. Fire is not protagonist or villain, it just is, ambivalent as myth. Perhaps we ultimately struggle with the story of wildfire because it illustrates a facet of nature which we refuse to accept as a facet of ourselves. We too carry the potential to create and destroy in the same wild stroke. Whatever we claim as our story, and however we reckon with it, wildfire is increasingly becoming more of a reality that we must live with, which means that our stories about it must change as well. In investigating images of human-caused and natural destructive events, I am interested in complicating these myths that we tell about fire and its role in shaping our lives and the lands we live on.

'Answering Earth' archives 15 artworks displayed in the virtual exhibition Answering Earth— organized by Rural Midwest Artist Collective, with guest juror Jason Brown (@miningthelandscape). The exhibition called for any media concerned with the subject of land-use. 

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