Burning is the title of Cica Ghost’s latest region-wide build, which opened on Sunday, January 15th. It is a piece which stands in contrast to several of her recent builds in that it is of a darker tone and style. Under a lowering, cloud-heavy sky, lit by a distant sunset, a town burns. The land around it is scorched and aflame, ashen tree trunks, bereft of branches and leaves, point to the heavy sky like gnarled, accusative fingers.
Within the town, the tall buildings are charred, their pain blistered and blackened as flames lick doorways and windows. Some walls carry some of Cica’s usually light and happy stick figures, which here are cast in a new role as poignant reminders that this was once a happier place. A single bridge spans what might be the parched bed of a vanished body of water, offering a way into – or perhaps an escape route out of – the conflagration.
The who, what, how and why of the fire’s origin are not revealed. The burning landscape and buildings are an open page on which we can write our own view of what has occurred. However, with all that is going on in the physical world, coupled with the general presentation of Burning, it tends to cause the name Aleppo to spring to mind. So is Burning perhaps a political commentary?
Possibly. But before we decide or judge, Cica provides a possible clue to interpreting the work. It comes in the form of a quote: time is the fire in which we burn. It’s part of a line from a 1938 poem by Delmore Schwartz entitled, Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day (also sometimes called For Rhoda), which is by coincidence, a poem I know quite well. In it, Schwartz records how we go about our daily lives largely unaware of the uncontrollable passage of time and the fact that, with every moment, we are closer to our own deaths and the deaths of those we love. From childhood through adulthood, we are so often caught within the minutiae of our lives that we lose track of all that is really important – or should be; only in our closing years do we realise what has happened – by which time all may lie burnt by time.
So is Cica presenting us with a philosophical piece with Burning? “I didn’t know about the poem,” she told me, “But I came across the line while searching for quotes about fire, and it fitted what I wanted to say.”
The quote in question attributed the line as coming from a character in the movie Star Trek Generations, hence why Cica didn’t make the connection. However, she has perfectly captured the tone and meaning of Schwartz’s poem as a whole, from the melancholy through to the way in which we do hurry through our lives – as exemplified by the visitors Caitlyn and I sat and watched from one of several perches in the installation (hover your mouse around to find them) as they hurried back and forth through the buildings and trees before vanishing.
That Cica has captured all of the nuance within Calmly We Walk…. may have been serendipitous, spinning outward from that one line from the poem, but that doesn’t matter. Serendipity is often the cousin to artistic expression, and the pairing of the installation with the entire poem broadens our understanding and appreciation of Burning. It also perhaps sits with that image of Aleppo which pops into the mind when first arriving. Schwartz wrote his poem shortly before the outbreak of World War 2, a time when towns and cities burned and lives – and generations – were shattered; thus another layer of poignancy is added to the installation.
- Burning (Aggramar, rated: Moderate)