Wildfire (Meditation on Fire)

David Claerbout

Wildfire (Meditation on Fire), 2019 - 2020

Inspired by the artist’s inquiry in the amount of power needed to simulate a very detailed digital “still life” of fire, that would in fact, as the artist later found out, most likely set the computer system on fire, the work brings together two traditionally opposed aspects of life; the biological and the digital. The biological here is introduced through the conflict of the depicted and its relation to the biological body’s instinctive behaviour, “programmed” to shield and seek refuge from fire, making the idea of meditation in this case physically impossible.

The camera has been removed and disintegrated into the digital, a numerical system of binary codes. We are confronted with an illusion of an image, a hallucination, and a visual construct of computing. The assumed artificiality of the image creates an immersive experience of an environment and a situation, in this case, a wildfire that never happened challenging thus our understanding of time, space, reality, and fiction.

By removing the human figure from the image, Claerbout shifts our attention to what would traditionally be considered a background of an image. Trees and bushes gradually consumed by flames of fire have been cast for the leading role, emphasizing the work’s anti-anthropocentrism. Long shots of silenced fire appropriate the notion of biological breathing time. On the one hand, these images create an immersive and a meditative experience of the otherwise un-experienceable, while on the other, they actively challenge our present understanding of time as capital, where biological time is considered waste.

Despite its representational features, the roots of Wildfire (meditation on fire) are tied firmly with abstraction. The visual nature of burning fire becomes a reference to the technological abstraction linked to the work’s digital making and the work’s immateriality, scrutinizing notions of optical truth, duration, and the changes and consequences of our altered perception of time and reality within the present digital age.

The work of David Claerbout has been subject of numerous solo exhibitions internationally, including: Garage LAB; Mocow, Kunsthaus Bregenz; Schaulager, Basel; MNAC, Barcelona; Städel Museum, Frankfurt; KINDL, Berlin, Marabouparken Konsthall, Sundbybert, Sweden; Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam; Kunsthalle Mainz, Mainz, Germany; Secession, Vienna; Tel Aviv Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel; Parasol unit, London; SFMOMA, San Francisco; WIELS, Brussels; The De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, The Netherlands and Pompidou Center, Paris; The Kunstmuseum, St. Gallen, Switzerland; and The Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, among other. His work is represented in major public collections worldwide including RC Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, MUHKA Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst; Antwerpen, S.M.A.K; Gent, Centre Georges Pompidou Musée National d’Art Moderne; Paris, De Pont museum voor hedendaagse kunst; Tilburg, Boijmans van Beuningen; Rotterdam, Mudam; Luxembourg, Hirshhorn Museum; Washington DC, Guggenheim Museum; New York, Collection François Pinault, Pinakothek der Moderne; München, Bergen Art Museum; Bergen and The Israel Museum; Jerusalem among other.