Virtual exhibition – Wildfires in the American West / Calls & Submissions

October 5, 2020

Organization Name: The Red Wood

Organization Location: Online

Type: Calls & Submissions

Fee: Free


An ongoing virtual exhibition in response to the wildfires. Exhibition consists of a website featuring artists’ work, artist statement and link to artists website and IG handle if applicable. An accompanying IG account will feature artist’s content as well.

What do you do when your home becomes alien? When the warmth and security of the familiar is transformed into the uncanny? We all asked ourselves this question on September 9th in Northern California, when every person with a smartphone tried to capture the strangely incandescent orange sky. Due to the ongoing fires, heavy smoke particulates blocked the shorter wavelength light (blues and purples) leaving only longer wavelength oranges and reds. Many people likened it to waking up on the surface of Mars, by turns mesmeric and unnerving.

So I will repeat myself since I don’t have an answer: What do you do? What IS there to do? With the fires raging ahead of schedule, a full month before the heart of the season. With a pandemic and a blanket of smoke that, as my friend Kate Johnson recently put it, creates a double quarantine. With the brutality of systemic racism thrown into sharp relief, and the worry for friends who are doing the crucial work of protesting in the streets. With democracy in peril. With record heat waves and impending rolling blackouts. With the gnawing sense that this is the New Normal, when in fact scientists have repeatedly warned us that, no, it’s going to get worse.

And all of this doesn’t even take into account the people actually displaced due to fire, the communities, lives and land lost. I have my go-bag packed, but I haven’t had to use it this year. For those of us lucky enough to be in our homes, our experience of loss is often psychological, a persistent psychic weight. Being outdoors is part of the California identity. It’s a false promise we tell ourselves— a little too uncomplicated and romantic— but we honestly think of the outdoors as an inalienable right. In this way, the fires cut to the core of our selfhood. We are psychically uprooted, indoors, taping windows, trapped in more than one sense, with no myth of a California road-trip transporting us to a place that has decent, breathable air. Look at the map today: there aren’t any places left. And all the while, farm laborers are harvesting crops & vineyards. Those of us indoors are the fortunate ones.

Joan Didion once said that the east coast cannot escape its past, while the west often refuses to accept that it has a past at all. In a state where climate change and 150 years of fire suppression have created a tinderbox tipping-point, I’m wondering how that sense of denial serves us now. Under the glowing skies of September 9th, we thought that our landscape had been changed overnight— the familiar to foreign on the turn of a dime— but we know better: it has been changing for a long time.

Fire as purifier is so simple an adage that it verges on the offensive. But perhaps when faced with these mounting crises, we can choose to distill something– to clarify our identity in this new landscape and what we want to do with it. How do we choose to exist in this new normal that, yes, promises to get worse?

As the fires are ongoing, so too is this exhibit. I would like to create an exhibition that has the capacity to grow over time, giving us ongoing opportunities to process, explore, mourn, motivate and better understand what we’re going through.

This is
what keeps
me awake
my dreams
the burning
wood. – Patti Smith

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