Preston, Julieanna. IN COLD HEAT [performance]. At MELT: Minus 20 Degree Art & Architecture Winter Biennale, Flachau, Austria, 28-30 January 2016.
IN COLD HEAT is a durational performance work that inhabits a thermal and spatial dynamic in the extremes of ice and fire, and in the continuum between their crystalline, frozen, smouldering or ashen states. This work builds on a simple belief that human survival is dependent on extending the care we usually give to one another to the material world we inhabit and consume.
At first glance, this performance is merely the building and tending of a fire in the cold and snow-laden environment. Logistically, the work starts with the selection of an appropriate site to consult with fire and safety officials, procurement of the necessary source of firewood, and securing the necessary funding to attend the event. It follows that over the course of the three-day event, kindling will be gathered, a fire started, a fire tended, a fire fed, a fire nurtured, a fire managed, and finally a fire laid to rest as an ashen blemish in the white landscape. On the surface, one might assume this expenditure of energy (my labour, the firewood, the atmosphere and the inevitable zone of melted and trampled snow surrounding the scene) is gratuitous, wasteful, even an unsustainable act.
And yet, the performance seeks to activate several modalities of sociability specific to the event’s themes. First, the expectation to keep a fire going in the landscape for three days calls for participation with others; it is not something feasible to do as a solo, even valiant individual gesture. I welcomed participants to tend the fire with me, to take shifts, to take care for keeping the embers going at all cost. Here the work serves as a vigil to and against the cold, behaving as a beacon that marks the duration of the MELT event that drew people together- “to keep the home fires going” so to speak. This aspect of the work was reinforced by the continuous supply of hot tea (made from clean melted snow) available for any one visiting the site, a sign of hospitality and good-will.
The second modality of sociability is that which resides in philosophical and experiential terms between the heat of fire, a frigid environment and that of the human body. The spatial nature of the situation bears a liminal, indeterminate and dynamic thermal zone where fire and ice battle to maintain their material and affective assemblages. Because of the human instinct to survive, a human body will inhabit this zone, this wall of indeterminate climate in a unique manner that acknowledges the two-sided aspect of her/his body as well the gravitation and repulsion inciting movement between the two extremes. At the risk of setting up an essentialist duality, I propose that an embodied knowledge of cold can only be gained in the presence of heat and vice versa, and in relation to a visceral corporeality. This performance put these three material bodies into action. I am attracted to this event because it allows that action to be heightened so as to reveal what is at risk/at play more profoundly.
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