conference, Research

Presentation: Creative Fire Performances (“Apocalypse in Art,” June 2018)

‘Reserved for Fire: Creative fire performances at David Best’s Temple and Up-Helly-Aa festival.’ (June 2018)

Paper abstract

In the New Testament passage of 2 Peter 3, fire unveils a new cosmic order. The writer announces that the heavens, the earth, and all the elements will be burned up to reveal a new creation. Everything we know, says the writer, is ‘reserved for fire.’ Translators and interpreters of this passage have debated whether this cosmic fire brings annihilation, purification, or a measure of both. Is this apocalyptic vision a prophecy of total destruction, or something more?

Artistic engagement with the creative capacity of fire can provide nuanced perspectives on this otherwise unsettling imagery. In this presentation, I will share insights gleaned from two recent fire-based performances: the art installation and ceremonial burning of Temple by David Best (Derry/Londonderry, 2015) and Up-Helly-Aa, Shetland’s annual fire festival. In both Temple and Up-Helly-Aa, local people come together to build — and then burn — a communal work of art. They do not burn these structures to dispose of them, but as an act of solidarity and renewal.

Our journey through these fire-based performances will unveil the imaginative potential of apocalyptic fire imagery in sources such as 2 Peter 3. I argue that fire may be more than an agent of destruction which merely paves the way for a subsequent act of creation. Instead, fire can form part of the creative act itself. Fire may become both catalyst and facilitator for transformation, renewal, and (re)creation of ourselves, our communities, and the cosmos.