Transdisciplinary perspectives to understand fire ecologies

Fire ecologies is the topic addressed by our next cycle of residencies organized together with the Interdisciplinary Center for Research and Artistic Creation of the University of La Frontera (CIICA-UFRO) and the Smart Forests project of the University of Cambridge. We explore the topic through a guide of recommended readings to approach the multiple dimensions of fire, such as its ecological, biocultural, historical and scientific role.

Fire is one of the elemental forces of nature. Fire ecology, a branch of science that studies the role of this element in organisms and ecosystems [1], is the focus of our next cycle of residencies. Fire can manifest itself in different ways: from an ecological point of view it plays an important role in the regulation of atmospheric oxygen necessary for life, makes possible the germination of certain plant species and influences evolutionary development on Earth and its balance. At the same time, the increase in temperature as a result of global warming has increased the frequency, intensity and magnitude of fires, making fire one of the main agents of disturbance of the planet’s ecosystems [2].

On the other hand, at a sociocultural level, fire has shaped relevant historical processes, for example, it facilitated the settlement of the first communities by providing protection and heat, allowing food to be cooked and serving as a meeting point around the fire. In addition, various myths of ancient civilizations associate the origin of fire with the sacred, attributing its power of manifestation to the sky and the stars [3]. These stories have a symbolic value and are, at the same time, historical testimonies about the ways in which fire has expressed itself in nature.

Under this theme, artists, scientists, researchers and collaborators will meet in Bosque Pehuén, a conservation area managed by FMA, located in the Andean Araucanía, to delve deeper, from a transdisciplinary perspective, into the dimensions of fire. Based on a series of bibliographic recommendations from our team and the residents selected for the 2024 cycle, we developed some approaches that can contribute to understanding this area of study from scientific, sociocultural, anthropological and artistic approaches.

Symbolic approaches connected with scientific visions

The following references address the presence of fire from its cultural construction in relation to 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 fire ecology? This document from the Ecological Society of America (ESA) synthetically brings together views that place fire as a natural component of multiple ecosystems, examining its role, origins and influences on the balance 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 times, three moments in relation to fire are stated: ignorance; knowledge but no clarity on how to turn it on; and discovery for use in everyday life.

  Planet on fire. History of fire through time : “Fire is light and destruction at the same time, it is home and it is fire,” says an epigraph in this book that tells how fire, an element that has been on Earth for about 400 million years, , is at the same time the protagonist of relevant processes for the balance of ecosystems, a trigger of destruction, protection and fuel, among multiple uses and effects. This publication by Andrew C. Scott seeks to demystify the idea of “fire control” that prevails in news coverage of fires. 

  Ecological restoration for native ecosystems affected by fires: Joint publication by Conaf and the Catholic University that addresses the role of fire in ecosystems, as well as its effects on vegetation. Likewise, this text brings together a series of environmental policies that have been implemented in response to the need for socioecological restoration.

Reading on fire: Texts that inspire a cycle of residencies

Between March and April 2024, five research and creation processes will be developed in Bosque Pehuén by artists and scientists who will be part of the new Ecologies of Fire cycle . Bárbara Acevedo, Pamela Iglesias, Fernanda López Quilodrán, Valeria Palma and Gianna Salamanca will address narratives about uncertain futures; biocultural dimensions of fire; ecofeminisms; symbolic records of oxidation processes; flammability of tree species; and ethnoecological approaches to southern humid temperate forest ecosystems, respectively. All of them recommend a series of readings that inspired their proposals.

  Bárbara Acevedo’s research will consist of the creation of a library of narrative tools in order to project fictions around an uncertain future related to the emergence of fire. Here are a few of her recommendations:

  The Ends of the World. In this book, philosopher Deborah Danowski and 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 provide guidance in the face of the collapse of the distinction between nature and culture.

  Prophetic culture: Recreation for adolescents: Historically, multiple civilizations have articulated representations of reality, temporal rhythms, and projections for the course of a life. However, cosmological stories disintegrate these human approaches by creating new worlds from ruins. In this text, Federico Campagna explores the decline of our contemporary notion of reality.

  • Pamela Iglesias’ project proposes a theoretical aspect on the concept of a witch-woman who perceives the natural environment as a source of knowledge, together with a weaving inspired by the Mapuche myth Lalen Kuze that tells the story of the first weaver, as well as rites of initiation of this practice around the fire. The artist was inspired by some of these readings:

  Caliban and the witch. Women, body and original accumulation. Text by philosopher Silvia Federici that explores the scope of marginalization linked to racism and sexism in a capitalist context. Current practices of slavery that dialogue with forces of accumulation and destruction place women in the least favorable position on the social scale, since the times of their burning at the stake.

  The brotherhood of spiders. Myths and hermetic rites of the Mapuche textile masters. An anthropological journey around the ideologies of the textile masters. Likewise, this article by Pedro Mege explores performative levels of textile initiation in connection with the design of the spider web as part of a system of forms and visuality.

  • Fernanda López Quilodrán’s research proposes links between scientific and speculative conceptualizations of flames and delves into a series of questions for the understanding of fire, an element that could be appreciated as a living being. “Could we understand fire as something living if we share the same gas and oxidation process?” asks the artist, who recommends authors rather than specific readings:

  Gregory Bateson , biologist, anthropologist, social scientist and constructivist thinker whose work addresses fields of biology, anthropology, cybernetics, communication theory and various explorations in relation to the interaction of human beings with the world of ideas, nature and the life that cohabits it.

  Suely Rolnik, philosopher, writer, psychoanalyst, curator, art and culture critic. His work investigates topics such as structural violence, the desire production system and explorations related to the subjectivation of micropolitics. Likewise, his work points towards the creation of cartographies around representational systems of living things.

  • The natural resources engineer, Valeria Palma, will seek to evaluate the flammable characteristics of three tree species present in Bosque Pehuén, seeking to measure their ignitability, sustainability, combustibility and consumability in the face of fire. These are their recommendations:

  Forest fires in Chile: Causes, impacts and resilience. This report of Center for Climate and Resilience Science (CR)2 explains basic concepts about forest fires, megafires, urban-rural interface zones, while portraying the national context in the face of forest fires with a local perspective based on the analysis of reality of each region. 

  Historical statistics. Databases of the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF). In this statistical report we find Data available from 1964 to the last season of 2023. Downloadable figures for the general public and with graphs that illustrate how fires have increased in recent years. 

  • Researcher Gianna Salamanca will seek to reconstruct the cultural and environmental history of fire in the humid temperate forest ecosystem of La Araucanía. Focused on speculative, narrative aspects and biocultural practices, it will seek to interweave historicities, identities, forests, volcanoes and bodies of water. These are some of the research that inspired the vision of their proposal:

  Altered fire regimes modify lizard communities in globally endangered Araucaria forests of the southern Andes . Scientific study by various authors that addresses the effects of forest fires in relation to density and biodiversity richness of various species in the native araucaria forests in the Andes of Chile.

  Fire Phenomena and the Earth System: An Interdisciplinary Guide to Fire Science This book by Claire M. Belcher delves into the various subdisciplines of fire science. fire, guidelines that provide a synthesis of the role of forest fires in the Earth system.

 

References:

[1] Ecological Society of America, 2002. Fire Ecology.
[2] Scott, A. (2020). Planeta en llamas: La historia del fuego a través del tiempo. Galaxia Gutenberg.
[3]  Frazer, J. (1930.) Mitos sobre el origen del fuego. Titivillus.