The Fallas struck me as totally crazy, seeing what goes on in Valencia with these huge effigies of people like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or whoever, these famous political love or hate figures that were paraded and then burned. The whole event was like a pagan festival, but it also incorporated the idea of celebrity, like a social media thing. So I thought it was really interesting and I started doing a bit more research going back hundreds of years to the origins of it, when apparently commercial craftsmen, the people who actually made things during the dark winter months, needed lighting, so they made these constructions to hold their candles. When spring arrived and it got lighter in the evening, they didn’t need candlelight to work, so they took out these supporting structures and burned them, this burning became ritualised. This was also a period of transformation from the winter to spring, a crucial period in the pagan calendar. It’s a time of rebirth, when people start going outdoors and the plants begin to grow. So it’s an important time because people depended on what grows and on whether they’re going to be able to eat for the next twelve months. This gradually gained momentum until children went around knocking on people’s doors asking for little pieces of wood or cloth with which to build objects or figures that could then be burned as part of the festival. Gradually it evolved into the spectacle we have today. Contemporary political and cultural luminaries, Christian iconography and colossal flower tableaux’s blend seamlessly with gunpowder.
‘Left in Dust’ is installed over the partially excavated remains of a Roman chariot racing site in Valencia old town.
During the period of the Roman Empire one of the galvanising forces that functioned as a way of pacifying the populace was the elaborate organisation of entertainment and games. Gladiatorial combat and chariot races were the main attractions in the arena. However, despite these advances, the Romans could hardly be described as considerate and compassionate. There is a disquietude in seeing a horse, once free to graze and play, being co-opted into the mad frenzy of this theatre of entertainment. The horse’s throbbing sensuality was undeniably part of the attraction of these races, and the madness of an excited crowd is a seductive, irresistible spectacle.”
Video Mikel Ponce
The Wardian case is an early 19th century innovation that, for the first time in history, enabled live plant species to be transported successfully between continents. The cases were instrumental in changing the earths ecology. However, although the transportation of plants is potentially crucial for preserving endangered species they face multiple threats from the negative impact of deforestation, industrial scale agriculture and pollution. Our biospheres are in a constant battle against the erosion of a dynamic, balanced environment. In Even to the End plant specimens grow in impersonal looking glass cases which gently drift out to sea eventually landing on a fecund and variegated island. This scene gradually evolves into a forlorn and ravaged landscape. Burnt and devastated, the forest morphs into a barren landscape. The 9 minute long video spans a twenty-four hour period, commencing at dawn and finishing as night falls with a glimmer of hope on the horizon which reveals itself to be the Wardian cases appearing on the shoreline. This short film is a meditation on what the human race is capable of; magnificence and ingenuity in one instance and plunder and ruin in another. The narrative is cyclical, reflecting the Sisyphean task of maintaining the planets ecology. The films audio is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Barber was inspired by Virgil’s Georgics, a poem about agriculture husbandry, propagation and growth and how man’s efforts to cultivate the land is perpetually threatened by destructive storms and violent fires.
In Eidolon, a single blue iris flower is engulfed in – but not consumed by – flames. Over the course of seven minutes, petals slowly effloresce and shrink within a burning cloak of fire, while a voice sings from the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3.
In Christianity, the blue iris signifies several divine attributes. The flower has historically been associated with the Virgin Mary, faith, wisdom, hope, fortitude, justice, temperance, and patience. In religious gardens, the flowers symbolise heaven. Artists including Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh, Anish Kapoor, Giuseppe Penone and Picasso have used irises to signal virtue.
In this work, the flames symbolise an intent to destroy the innate beauty of the image itself. This tension heightens over the course of the work, as the iris slowly furls and blooms within a dancing shroud of fire, whilst remaining essentially intact. This state of imminent immolation – the transient moment before death – is analogous to depictions of the ecstatic ‘sublime’, in representations of Christian saints at the moment of death. For these figures, the unshakeable promise of the hereafter, tested to the absolute limits of human endurance in crucifixion, sustains their resolve through aggression, attack, physical agony, and slow death. Life, the corporeal self, the body is gratefully sacrificed to God.
The phenomenon is accompanied by Bible verses, sung in Latin, from the Book of Daniel, Chapter Three, recounting the story of three subjects of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They are brought to the king after refusing to worship a colossal gold icon he has erected, in his own image, declaring instead they only worship God. Steadfast and resolute, the three men resist the king’s fury, so soldiers are commanded to bind and throw them into a fiery furnace, “several times hotter than usual”. In their haste, the soldiers themselves fall into the flames and are immediately killed. Yet, when the king and his acolytes investigate the furnace, they see Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking amidst the flames, unharmed and accompanied by a fourth figure, the Son of God. The men are called out, emerging unharmed, at which point Nebuchadnezzar proclaims the supremacy of God, decreeing anyone who should speak against Him, be cut into pieces.
Like the men in the parable, in Eidolon the iris remains intact, within the flames – indeed, it moves and blooms within the flames, as if joyfully resisting destruction and the impotence of the flames, in a constant affirmation of life.
Martyrdom in art history is a very particular phenomenon. Martyrs are defined by their excruciating deaths, Saint Sebastian being killed by hundreds of arrows or Saint Lawrence, being burned alive. In the Western art canon, these brutal deaths are usually presented as a meditation on faith, as the subject looks heavenwards, with an expression of bewildered ecstasy, reckoning not with their Earthy tormentors, but a force greater than all human suffering and death. Martyrdom, the ultimate victory of faith, is choosing to surrender life for God.
The burning iris speaks of the sublimation of pain, suffering and impending death, within the light of faith. Emmanuel Kant identified the sublime as humanity’s inability to comprehend the infinite vastness of creation and in realising this, recognising humanity’s own insignificance. This is the bedrock of faith. However, this evolving series of burning flower artworks function as surrogates of the crucifixion, the notion of a horrific physical ordeal transcended through a belief in a higher power.
The vivid appalling horror of the account serves as a dynamic counterpoint to the unimaginative ersatz golden idol conferred by Nebuchadnezzar. Eidolon attempts to emulate this violently transcendental state, a ghostly, chimerical testament to unswerving faith.