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The Leonardo Gallery

The Communal Caldron of Fire

by Charlie Smith

© Charlie Smith and Jaime Ladet. Photo © Jaime Ladet.
Email: pterodactylgirl at gmail dot com

Fire is an integral part of basic human survival and an important part of how early Stone Age humanity nurtured community, as it provided warmth, was used to cook food and provided a space to gather together, particularly on cold nights. Specifically, it became a communal place to share stories about the day's passage and the history of the family or tribe and their place on earth.

This ritual of human contact has been lost in modern society. It is also one that I sought to bring back to people, allowing them to rediscover themselves as authentic communities and tribes in the modern age. To do this I replaced the prototypical bonfire with a portable metal sculpture, created as a “Fire Cauldron.” I have become an artistic facilitator, touring the United States teaching people to build Fire Cauldrons that act as "social enablers." The cauldron then creates a central axis point, bringing people together to celebrate their presence and to explore their community.

With the help of a grant from the Burning Man organization, my partner, Jaime Ladet, and I created the Synapses Tour 2005. This became a collaboratively funded art project that involved putting together six workshops held in six cities to build six Fire Cauldrons. The culmination of all these workshops came together as one sculptural installation placed in a central location at Burning Man in 2005. The participating cities for the project were New York, Atlanta, Austin, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. Individuals in each of these cities learned to weld and fabricate the metal volume. Each group also had to work together to create a design to be cut into the body of the sculpture. This instigated a collaborative environment within the communities as they put these 12-to-18-ft-tall Fire Cauldrons together as teams during the 3-day classes. Post-burn 2005, the communities were gifted their regional Fire Cauldron sculptures to use in local events.

In several years of national and regional travel, the Synapses project has shown how a community can work together to realize large-scale art. Furthermore, it has reminded its participants that in a setting of shared ritual and expression it can also bring individuals together in an authentic experience where people learn more about themselves and each other.

The communal Fire Cauldron project has stimulated a new movement, building an interactive bridge internationally. In June and July of 2007, Jaime and I, with the support of Paul Jorgensen and the Black Rock Arts Foundation, will lead three weekend workshops in Cape Town, South Africa, to construct a community-built Fire Cauldron that will be featured at their first-ever fire festival, “Afrika Burns,” over the weekend of 21-23 July 2007 (www.Afrikaburns.com). This will stimulate another facet of interaction in our ever-growing global community.

Charlie Smith. E-mail: chunks at mindspring dot com

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Updated 13 April 2007.

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