Transdisciplinary perspectives to understand fire ecology

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Fire ecology is the theme for the next residency cycle of the Mar Adentro Foundation jointly organized by the Interdisciplinary Centre of Investigation and Artistic Creation of the University of La Frontera (CIICA_UFRO) and the Smart Forests projects of the University of Cambridge. They explore the topic through this guide of recommended readings to introduce us to the multiple dimensions of fire, such as its ecological, biocultural, historic, and scientific roles.
By Violeta Bustos
Translation by Lily Alford

Fire is one of the elemental forces of the natural world. The ecology of fire, a branch of science that studies the role of this element in organisms and ecosystems, is the focus of the next cycle of residencies when they happen in Pehuén Forest, a protected area found in the Andean Araucanía. Fire can manifest itself in different ways: from the ecological point of view, it plays an important role in the regulation of atmospheric oxygen necessary for life, it makes possible the germination of determined plant species and influences the evolutionary development on Earth and its balance. At the same time, the increase in temperature product of global warming has increased the frequency, intensity and magnitude of fire which converts fire in one of the main agents of disturbance of the planets' ecosystems.
On the other hand, at a sociocultural level, fire has configured relevant historical processes; for example, it facilitated the settlement of the first communities by providing protection and heat, allowing the cooking of food, and serving as a meeting point around the open fire. Also, various myths of ancient civilizations associate the origin of fire with the sacred, attributing its power of manifestation to the sky and the stars. These stories have a symbolic value and are, at the same time, historical testaments about the ways in which fire has expressed itself in the natural world.
Through this theme, artists, scientists, investigators, and collaborators will come together to explore the dimensions of fire from a transdisciplinary perspective. Based on a series of bibliographic recommendations from the Mar Adentro Foundation team and the residents selected for the 2024 cycle, some approaches were developed that can contribute to understanding this area of study from scientific, sociocultural, anthropological, and artistic focuses.

Symbolic approximations connected with scientific visions
The follow references explore the presence of fire from its cultural construction in relation with its mythical and symbolic origins, the development of stories, as well as its evolution in nature observed in the light of scientific discoveries:
  • Fire ecology: What is the ecology of fire? This document from the Ecological Society of America (ESA) synthesizes visions that situated fire as a natural component of multiple ecosystems, examining its role, origins, and influences in the equilibrium/balancing of biodiversity.
  • Myths about the origin of fire: This book by James George Frazer reviews the importance of myths as a source of thought and intellectual evolution of our species. Through an analysis of stories about the origins of fire in different continents and eras, three moments in relation to fire are explored: lack of knowledge; knowledge but without clarity of how to activate it; and discovery of its use in everyday life.  
  • Planet in flames. History of fire across time: "Fire is light and is destruction at once, it is home, and it is disaster,"  signals an epigraph of this book that relates how fire, an element that has been present on Earth for some 400 million years, is at the same time agent of relevant processes for the equilibrium of ecosystem, destruction trigger, protection and fuel, among multiple uses and effects. This publication by Andrew C. Scott searches to demystify the idea of "fire control" that prevails in the news coverage of wildfires.
  • Restauración ecológica para ecosistemas nativos afectados por incendios:  (Ecological restoration for native ecosystems affected by fires) Joint publication between Conaf and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile that covers the role of fire in ecosystems, as well as its effects on vegetation. Likewise, this text gathers a series of environmentalist politics that have been implements in response to the need for socioecological restoration.

Reading in flames: Texts that inspired a residency cycle
Between March and April in 2024, five processes of investigation and creation will be carried out in Pehuén Forest under the charge of artists and scientists that will form part of the new cycle of Fire ecologies. Bárbara Acevedo, Pamela Iglesias, Fernanda López Quilodrán, Valeria Palma y Gianna Salamanca will cover narrations about uncertain futures; biocultural dimensions of fire; ecofeminist dimensions; symbolic records of the processes of oxidation; flammability of tree species; and ethnoecological approaches to southern temperate rainforest ecosystems, respectively. Each of them recommends a series of reading material that inspired their proposals.
Bárbara Acevedo's investigation will consist in the creation of a library of narrative tools with the goal of projecting fictions surrounding an uncertain future related to the emergence of fire. Here are the artist's recommendations:
  • The Ends of the World. In this book, the philosopher Deborah Danowski and the anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro analyze current discourses about the end of the world. These narratives are understood as attempts at a new mythology created to understand the present and deliver guidance against the collapse of the distinction between nature and culture.
  • Prophetic culture: Recreation for adolescents: Historically, multiple civilizations have articulated representations of reality, seasonal rhythms, and projections for the course of a life. However, the cosmological stories break up these human guesses creating new worlds from the ruins. In this text, Federico Campagna explores the decline of our contemporary notion of reality.
Pamela Iglesias' project plants a theoretic slope/gradient/aspect about the concept of witch-woman that perceives the natural surroundings as a source of knowledge, together with a weaving work inspired in the Mapuche myth Lalen Kuze that narrates the story of the first weaver, as well as initiation rites of this practice around the fire. The artist was inspired by some of these readings:
  • Calibán y la bruja. Mujeres, cuerpo y acumulación originaria. (Caliban and the witch. Women, body, and primitive accumulation) A text by the philosopher Silvia Federici that explores the reaches of marginalization linked to racism and sexism in a capitalist context. Current practices of slavery that negotiate with forces of accumulation and destruction situate women in a less favorable position on the social ladder, since the times of their being burned on a stake.
Fernanda López Quilodrán's investigations proposes links between scientific and speculative conceptualizations about flames and is submerged in a series of question marks about the understanding of fire, element that could be apreciated like a living being. "Could we be able to understand fire as something living if we share the same gases and oxidation process?", the artist asks herself, who recommends authors rather than specific reading material:
Gregory Bateson, biologist, anthropologist, social scientist, and constructive thinker whose work covers fields of biology, anthropology, cybernetics, the theory of communication and diverse explorations in relation to the interaction of human beings with the world of ideas, nature, and its coexisting life.
Suely Rolnik,  philosopher, writer, psychoanalyst, curator, and art and culture critic. Her work investigates themes such as structural violence, the production system of desire and explorations relative to subjectification of micropolitics. As well, her work points towards the creation of cartographies around representational systems of the living.  

The natural resources engineer, Valeria Palma, will search to evaluate flammable characteristics of three species of tree present in Pehuén Forest, looking to measure their ignitability, sustainability, combustibility and consumability in the face of fire.  These are her recommendations:
  • Incendios forestales en Chile: Causas, impactos y resiliencia. (Forest fires in Chile: Causes, impacts and resilience).This report from the Centre of Climate Science and Resilience (CR)2 explains basic concepts about forest fires, megafires,  zones of urban-rural interface, while painting the national context facing forest fires with a local perspective starting from the analysis of the reality in each region.
Researcher Gianna Salamanca will search to reconstruct the cultural and environmental history of fire in the ecosystem of temperate humid forests of La Araucanía, centered in speculative aspects narratives and biocultural practices. These are some of the investigations that inspired the vision of her proposal:
About the residencies
The results will be made public in a public program on Tuesday 16th of April in Casa Varas (Av. Antonio Varas 1181, Temuco). During the residencies the selected will count on/ expect/consider the accompaniment of the Mar Adentro Foundation team and researchers associated with the program, including Dra. Carolina A. NAvarret G., director of the CIICA_UFRO project, Agencia de Borde, a collective of artistic research formed by Maria Rosaro Montero, Paula Salas and Sebastián Melos; the sociologist and director of Smart Forest, Jennifer Gabrys; the UC Estética Institute academic, Sophie Halart; and Doctor in Geology and UaCH Institute of Earth Sciences academic, Álvaro González Reyes.

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