FIRE: Renewal, Rituals, Power

Theme | Workshop | Fellows

Fire, as an elemental force that has shaped the very fabric of existence on earth, permeates every aspect of all life forms. From the depths of the Earth's core to the celestial bodies that adorn the skies, fire is an omnipresent phenomenon.

This call aims to explore the multifaceted aspects of fire, delving into its diverse manifestations, implications, and applications. As a powerful force of nature, fire has captivated curiosity since time immemorial, shaping our history, cultures, and scientific understanding. By examining various dimensions of fire, we seek to foster a comprehensive understanding of its significance with a careful attention to every form of life, employing fields of knowledge ranging from environmental science and art to anthropology and literature. We encourage submissions that shed light on the intricate interplay between fire and its surroundings, encompassing both its destructive potential and its constructive applications. We particularly encourage applications from First Nations peoples with Indigenous cultural perspectives. Join us in unraveling the enigmatic nature of fire and its far-reaching impact on the world.

Fire is all around.

All beings that have ever lived on this planet thrived on a thin crust, which envelops the fire beneath. We are on a blazing sphere moving at a dizzying speed together with, and around a bigger fireball in space.

Hundreds of million cubic kilometers of fire stir below our feet.

Fire is Blazing Power.

Fire  bears immense transformative powers that mold life anew in its many forms. At the end of the Permian period, 250 million years ago, when volcanoes spit fire for thousands of years and killed over 90 percent of all life on Earth, the demolition gave way to a new generation of conscious life on the planet. The age of dinosaurs, a new experiment of evolution, began with fire. Destructive as it was, fire opened new pathways for life to thrive again.

Though fire displays the power of the Earth beyond human control, repressive cultures have used it to erase diverse voices. It is the stake on which heretics were burned; livestock has been branded to show ownership from ancient Egypt to present day; and wax seals, used as a marker of status, are stamped via flame. It is an ancient and ongoing symbol of war, from the burning of villages and destruction of infrastructure, to the impact of bombs.

Fire is Renewal.

Like a bookmark, fire separates different seasons of life on Earth. The life cycles triggered by periodic fires continue even today, though at smaller scales. After fires, seeds germinate, varieties of plants sprout, and life enters new phases.  Although fires may be traumatic, they trigger resilience as ecosystems respond and transition towards a new dynamic.  Like seasons, these ecosystem changes are mostly periodic.

Fire leads Evolution.

The invention of cooking was a breaking and pivotal discovery, a true game changer. Compared to primates we spend fewer calories to digest our food because cooking starts the chemical reactions needed for digestion outside of our bodies. As a result, we have developed smaller teeth, a smaller stomach, and a bigger brain - an intensely energy-consuming organ that could not have developed without cooked food, hence not without fire. A similar adaptive evolution can be seen in other species. For example, the Mediterranean red pine has evolved to live with fire over millennia. These trees quickly catch fire, however, their cones have adapted to protect the seeds so that they are let out to sprout only when the fire is over and the ground is ready to start life anew.

Fire gave us the advantage over predators and the power to explore. It is a small light in the darkness, it is the cold flame of the will-o'-the-wisps.

Fire is Culture.

Fire has been a metaphor for human progress as well as hubris across cultures and ages.  Sapiens have been able to control fire since almost 400 hundred thousand years ago. Our kin ancestors cleared the land with fire and set up the first human-made environments. Fire heated their shelters, provided light in the deep darkness of night, and protected them against predators. Human communities and their social skills have evolved with fire. Sitting around a fire has probably been one of the most powerful triggers for human social skills to evolve, fueling the communal cultures of human populations.

Fire as Rituals.

Fire is the element of transformation which is why its presence is so important within the rituals of many cultures around the world. Many cultures burn their dead in the fire. From fire comes ash, which purifies, fertilizes, colors, and wards off evil beings. Fire opens up imaginary and concrete spaces, marks a radical change and is what seems to unite the earth with the stars. In alchemical practices, fire corresponded to the number one and the other elements were derived from fire. Fire was also the fulcrum around which we danced. It was a carrier of prophetic auspices and stories that explained the earth could be read in the stars: the past and the future, the passage of time marked by ritual fires.

Fire tames Materials.

Fire turns clay into ceramics, which given the form of pottery helped store grains. This capacity to stock food led the way to advancing agriculture hence to the first settlements and eventually to the first cities. The same processes gave us fired brick, and forged and cast metals which shaped architecture, toolmaking, and warfare over many thousands of years. Today, our industrial processes have run wild, and our environments are burning.

Fire shapes Space.

Having the hearth as the central figure of communal life with its capacity to heat and light the enclosed space has informed the shape of the domestic space, hence the form of the early built environments. Even today heating and cooling of spaces are based on firing up fossil fuels which shape our infrastructures of buildings and cities. Ironically fire with its destructive powers play a role in burning them down. (Big fires of London, Chicago or San Francisco to name a few) which has given way to new regulations for the use of specific materials, designing buildings for egress, and thus reshaping urban texture marking a moment of history in architecture and urban planning.

Fire makes Coal.

How many hectares of forests were cut down and burned in the burning pyres of coal producers? Charcoal has been a widely used fuel for a relatively short period of time in Earth's geological history, but one that has led to incredible environmental and ecosystem changes. Not only charcoal, but also the extraction of peat from fossil deposits has caused major changes. Many environments that we today consider highly natural, such as woods, clearings, pastures, lakes and marshy areas in the Alps and Prealps, bear traces of extractive and destructive activities connected to the charcoal or peat supply chain.

Fire is Technology.

The classic Greek myth of Prometheus, the trickster who steals fire from the gods to benefit humanity, represents an ur-theme that recurs across cultures and mythologies. Fire represents technology, advanced knowledge not available to other species, and by extension, anthropocentric civilization.  Fire has been used in medicine to extend human life through the cauterization of wounds and boiling water to purify it and avoid infections. It has even been used for veterinary developments in animal breeding (especially during childbirth). The energy and heat generated by fire powered the industrial revolution through steam, electrifying our lives, surrounding us with structures of steel, allowing us to become globalized in travel and trade, and changing the path of human civilization towards the modern digital landscape. The dialectics of hope and fear embodied by fire are reinscribed in technological advances through human history.

Firing up Revolutions.

The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres [since 2017] issued a warning on climate change by saying that the era of global warming gave way to the era of global boiling.

Giant wildfires now turned into common annual incidents in all the inhabited continents. The summers, as we know them, are turning into a time of crises and this is occurring in the lifespan of a generation. We are witnessing the emergence of a new, and greatly more dangerous, world.

Sure, the world may perhaps regenerate, but life is overly fragile. Our lives are. It took 10 million years at the end of the Permian period for life to find its feet again - a span of time that is difficult to even comprehend.

And within all of this we are sustaining a harmful economic model reliant on growth at the expense of other species and future generations.

The pressing necessity then is to come up with countermeasures, adaptative skills, new imaginations, and fiery social movements that could fight back against destructive powers, not of fire, but of political systems.

We need to fire up and we need to act now. 


NAHR is also interested in developing work which seeks to create an empathic view of our environments. We aim to encourage work that addresses the role of empathy in advocating for the climate crisis at the speed needed through artistic co-operation and creation of novel art-projects. The exploration of the empathy-sustainability relationship through the arts may bring significant advances to the promotion of sustainability actions and pro-environmental behaviors.

We ask for our participant fellows to embrace sustainable practices that foster an empathic stance towards non-human beings and nature, and effectively incorporate the concept of sustainability in their artistic production. This will in turn develop the artist as the kind of empathic and resilient individual we need to help deal with in the post-pandemic social and economic crisis.


NAHR aims to support the development and sharing of hot projects, ignite conversations, and spark possible future collaborative research. With this in mind, the following are some initiating thoughts and provocations for applicants:

1.   Fire has destructive power.
2.   Fire causes regeneration and resurgence of environments.
3.   How have we adapted and evolved with fire?
4.   Fiery social movements help us to fight back.
5.   Fire as metaphor and symbol through language, narratives, and in diverse cultures.
6.   How has fire impacted our built environment through how cities, buildings, products are designed around fire’s gifts.


NAHR encourages experimental explorations based on globally relevant concepts, theories or methodologies about fire-affected environments Collaboration across disciplines, with other NAHR Fellows, is particularly encouraged and supported. These explorations can be done using a variety of media, and will be shared at the conclusion of NAHR in expressive forms including, but not limited to: dance performances, poetry recitations, promenade theater presentations, art installations, site-specific activations, and other creative products.

Given the immersive, site-specific context for NAHR, when drafting submissions applicants must demonstrate the ways in which their projects will seek to engage with Val Taleggio as a shifting, multi-dimensional space in which local characteristics intersect a global dynamic. Applicants should show how they intend to examine elements and ecosystems within the Val Taleggio, while scaling or linking their subjects to globally relevant concepts.

In accordance with this year’s theme, NAHR encourages applications that propose an inter- or trans-disciplinary approach across a range of creative forms and modes of expression, which might take the form of designs, actions, events, and so forth, in which the use of the ecosystem of the Valley will remain a key element of the proposal.

While the California set up enables a more reflective, retreat like residency, in Italy, together with the NAHW (June Workshop) and other programs (in 2023-24 EMPACT), NAHR (Residency) participants will visit high and low pastures, walk across the mountains, attend dedicated lectures by specialists in the area, and be guided across the surrounding landscapes (natural and built), in order to explore local interconnections and contrast these with those in the neighboring valleys of Brembilla, Brembana, Seriana and Imagna. By offering the opportunity for site-specific investigations, NAHR encourages participants to explore interactions and relationships within the Valley’s ecosystems. We seek to offer a fertile environment for a range of cross-disciplinary research and, in return for offering these opportunities, we expect NAHR Fellows to complete culminating presentations (designs, actions, events, so forth) at the conclusion of their time at NAHR.




The Taleggio Valley landscape in the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy, with its dramatic scenery and secluded physical environment, is a rich source of inspiration for bio-inspired projects.

The Valley’s existing geomorphological characteristics supports a local climate and is a rich habitat for hundreds of species, both wild and domesticated, who thrive in the water, the soil and the air. The landscape has distinct and varied features at different elevations, from the bottom of ravines to the mountain pastures of the Parco delle Orobie, from high mountain open air to heavily covered forest lowland and valleys. Recent climate events are affecting the animals and human activities in the region, for example droughts and loss of streams have led to more frequent wildfires, and the impact on various animal’s habitats is yet to be documented.

The Valley is an important hotspot for biodiversity and nature conservation (Natura 2000). The high mountains provide a lush landscape for grasses and pastures, while at the lower altitudes the densely wooded areas provide for the life of the many, but are also vulnerable zones to human induced as well as wildfires. Indeed, often the cause of fires is not spontaneous, but malicious, triggered by humans who do not consider the impact of their actions on the ecosystem. All these characteristics can be readily observed and will serve as inspiration for the scientific and/or creative inquiries of the applicants.

The Valley’s villages and towns, all in close proximity, offer many opportunities to observe and study the ‘built’ environment of both natural phenomena and man-made construction. It provides a rich venue for studying the changes over the years of human and non-human strategies of habitation as these have shifted to adapt to ever-changing environmental, economic, and social factors. Recent impacts of climate change, agricultural patterns, land use change, forest management, lifestyle shifts, energy sources (the practice of the poiat-slow  burning wood to make coal), technological opportunities, as well as legends and traditions about fire, are just a few of the many themes that promise to inspire complex reasoning, critical evaluation, design responses, and other creative investigations during the residency.


The Santa Ynez Valley is north of Santa Barbara in an inland valley, with rolling California mountains rimming heavily cultivated farmland. The Santa Ynez Mountains are on the south, the San Rafael Mountains on the north, with the Santa Ynez River running from east to west.

From a geological point of view, the consolidated rocks of the Tertiary age compose the surrounding hills. These consolidated rocks are marine in origin and consist of relatively impermeable fine-grained deposits. In addition, there are unconsolidated deposits of Pliocene and younger aged material, made chiefly of sand, gravel, silt, and clay.

The Santa Barbara coast has a mediterranean climate and a complex topography. It regularly succumbs to wildfire as it is prone to downslope windstorms. The abruptly rising Santa Ynez mountains which separate the ocean from the valley create spatiotemporally variable wind patterns. The large variability in land readings tells of the intricacy of the weather and wind patterns in this region (Signer & Katelyn 2022).

Ecologically, the River provides a rich habitat for various endangered birds. The lower Santa Ynez River supports a large and little-known population of Southwestern Willow Flycatchers (Empidonax traillii extimus). Golden Eagle is always sighted in the summer, and the oak savannah supports grassland birds, including wintering raptors (Buteo regalis).

The vegetation consists mainly of brush interspersed with chaparral, live oak, and grassland. The native flora of the Valley is understood to be naturally renewed by fire, such as Adenostoma fasciculatum which produces a specialized lignotuber underground that allows it to resprout after fire has burned off its stems. In recent years this region has been treated by the increased frequency and intensity of fires caused by different agents.

The farmland is mostly planted with wine grapes and the Valley is known for its wineries, as the soil in the Valley is well suited to the cultivation of certain grapes. This well-established viticulture economy has resulted in extensive research on the soil. The agriculture also includes significant groves of olive trees and fruit trees. The farms are typically small to medium sized. There is also a notable community of horse owners and equine-serving businesses. The Valley attracts visitors who come to experience a typical California viticulture landscape, taste and purchase wine, visit the small towns, and enjoy the temperate climate.

As such, the Valley is a particularly rich context for reflecting on fire and its challenges and renewal properties.


NAHR believes that human perceptions of the world are enhanced by exploring it from below, from within, via the medium from which most life emerges. We believe there is insight to be gained from exploring the mechanisms other species have developed for sensing, mapping, and moving through the same territories as humans. As all senses are engaged in an exploration of the living eco-laboratory of each Valley, one starts to perceive the world differently. The residencies are premised on the notion that a shift in perception is the key for creative resilience, and will be the mechanism that allows ecosystems to create a sustainable life through adaptation and cooperation.

References and Further Readings:


G. Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire, Beacon Press, (1938), 1987

A. Chatterjea, Heat and Alterity in Contemporary Dance South-South Choreographies, Springler International Publishing, 2020

L. Fernandez-Galiano,Fire and Memory: On Architecture and Energy, MIT Press, 2000

L. Heschong , Thermal Delight in Architecture, Mit Press, 1979

G. Mocchi, M. Schiavi, Campanacci, fantocci e falò. Riti agro-pastorali di risveglio della natura, 2014, Pro Loco Ardesio

F. Merisi (a cura di), I fuochi rituali. Fuochi di festa lungo l'Arco Alpino e la pianura padana, riti di fuoco in Sicilia e Sardegna, il falò di Pescarolo : atti del Convegno di studi, Pescarolo ed uniti, 21-22 ottobre 2005

B. Streever, Heat: Adventures in the World's Fiery Places, 2013

Detroit Burning

IPCC special report on 1.5˚C warming



United Nations https://www.un.org/en/un-chronicle/wildfires-increase-integrated-strategies-forests-climate-and-sustainability-are-ever-0



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FUOCO è la tematica al centro dei programmi di NAHR 2024. I Fellows di quest’anno esploreranno la funzione critica del fuoco da una serie di prospettive naturali, ecologiche, sociali, politiche ed ecosistemiche, riflettendo su suoi impatti.

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