Fire at Bromstad Farm, Trondheim, 20 March, 1955. Photo: Schrøder/Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum
Tongues of Fire
Feb 22 – May 5, 2024
Kunsthall Trondheim
Trondheim, Norway

In response to our home building’s former life as a fire station, and Trondheim’s history as a city shaped by blazes whose traces are still present in its design today, this group exhibition brings together artists who have been deeply touched and transformed through the challenges manifest in the burnt and burning. Hailing from diverse generations and backgrounds, these individuals converge to explore how flames have served as agents of change across time and space.

Through the mediums of tapestry, video, computer simulation, sculpture, photography, and drawing, the exhibition contemplates fire’s many physical facets – its light, its heat, its other phenomena. Simultaneously, the artworks kindle reflection on broader themes such as wonder, intimacy, and passion, and the urgent concerns of war, repair, and climate.

By sharing narratives, strategies, and recollections, with a special emphasis on communal remembrance, the exhibition sheds light on the intertwined history of fire and humanity, inviting reflection on whether this intricate and fragile relationship is now teetering out of control. The pivotal role of the arts in shaping the politics of memory and the regional specificities of fire is highlighted through a collection of historic objects sourced from Trondheim’s archives, including the city’s repeatedly burnt cathedral. Together, these artworks gather to pose a question: what lies ahead in our ever-evolving “Age of Fire”?

[ . . . ]

On a formal and technological level, several works in the exhibition directly relate to fire. In the most apparent instances, this involves the heating, burning, charring, and melting of wood, metal, and other materials. However, the exhibition also features lens and screen-based works to highlight the hidden connection that all electronically powered devices share, often tied to the burning of some fuel. These “fire images,” which we consistently consume, whether on our phones or elsewhere, not only contribute to our addiction to fossil fuels, but also resonate with an ancient parable. Similar to Prometheus, who endured eternal torment for stealing fire from the gods, we too bear the consequences of our insatiable consumption.

In addition to the core contemporary art exhibition, Tongues of Fire is grounded by artifacts from Trondheim’s own tale. These include the score to a 17th century “Fire Ballad” that attributes the blame for the 1681 inferno that devastated Trondheim to the city’s own moral decay alongside Johan Caspar de Cicignon’s (ca. 1625-1696) Enlightenment plan for the subsequent rebuild following rationalist design principles.

Archival photographs document Kunsthall Trondheim’s home building’s former life as a fire station nearby images of key fires in the city’s history. One such fire, which consumed parts of the Archbishop’s Palace in 1983, is represented through a collection of early 20th century stone gargoyles and other grotesques that once adorned the adjacent Nidaros Cathedral until they were scorched in that event. This incident altered their color and texture from cool stone-gray to a rust-like encrusted orange. These carvings find reflection in several other objects on loan from the Cathedral dating back to the 12th century. Each, in its own way, bears witness to Trondheim’s connection to both the burnt and the burning.

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