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Surrendering to the joy and artistry of fire | BettieJune | TEDxRennes

Surrendering to the joy and artistry of fire | BettieJune | TEDxRennes

Translator: Julie Walker
Reviewer: Denise RQ I was scared. No, no. Actually, I was terrified. I was sitting in a car,
my seatbelt fastened, heading towards a festival
known for its light, its art, its fire. Fire – something so powerful,
so primeval, and it was everywhere. Fire all the way around me,
and I could not escape. It was terrifying, and I wanted to escape so badly,
– like right now – but yes… I want to talk to you a little bit
about fire, the different natures of fire, the visceral, the innocent,
the powerful, and the reverence. Visceral – fire truly is visceral. Fire is alive. It talks directly to that lizard brain
that we have that says fight or flight. For me, it was flight, but I couldn’t. There’s something about fire
that captivates us. If you think about fire, think back
to when you’ve sat in front of a campfire or a time when you’ve relaxed
in front of a fireplace, or, like me, you’re confronted
with 300-foot-tall fire cannons. In an instant, everything disappears,
and you’re lost in the purity of now, just in that instant, and everything seems
to disappear – everything. What comes to mind is some realizations that may have never had
come to mind before, but your mind unwinds, relaxes,
and goes into that place. Nate Smith, an artist from Utah,
decided to do a ‘small’ fire piece. He ignited 400 gallons
of gasoline in an instant. It was unbelievable. The fire, the light
– as exploded in the sky. For me, it was like
an atomic bomb had blown up. The fire – you felt it
rolling up and down your body. Your brain is screaming
in this primeval language, to run, to escape, to save yourself. I turned away from the fire. I was scared while thousands
of other people actually leaned in. They leaned in to capture
more of that fire, that heat as it rolled up their bodies. They leaned in to capture more
of the heat, the light, and the chaos. For me, it was an on-the-spot epiphany. All of a sudden, the instinct that actually had me
turn away from the fire, actually changed to one of glee and joy. The danger was still there
with the fire, obviously, But, I was able to really enjoy
the burn, to be able to see. As I saw the flames go against the sky and felt the fire
rolling up and down my body, I could take that moment
to actually enjoy what was happening, the beauty, the creativity of the burn. Childlike – fire,
in a lot of ways, is childlike. Think of a young girl
playing with a sparkler; the laughter and the joy she has
as she twirls it along the dark sky, and then look at El Pulpo Mecanico. This is a gigantic, mechanized octopus
spitting fire from its tentacles as it rolls across the playa. People flock from hundreds
of feet around to come to it. They clamor for it,
they laugh, they scream. When they see the different tentacles
move and spit fire, and you can start hear
the pop-pop-pop! of the propane jets, it reminds you, in a lot of ways, almost like a child’s toy, a wind-up,
oversized child’s toy, wound up, set on fire, and let go,
and you see its tentacles move. It glides across the playa;
the laughter of the joy that you feel. It’s being like a child again. Also this joy, this sense of a game, again, when you see this beautiful octopus
with its tentacles undulating as it slides across the playa toward you. It’s one of those things
that really stays with you. Fire, in a lot of ways,
also can be very playful as it plays and explodes around you. One of my favorites has always been
dance, dance emulation. So, hopefully, you guys are familiar
with the game Dance Dance Revolution, where people dance. We did it in a whole different way. We took it to a whole other level. We had somebody in a silver fire suit trying to reproduce dance moves
they saw projected on a screen. If they missed one step, there was fire spitting into their face
up to 6 feet all the way around them. (Video starts) (Video ends) Looks like fun, doesn’t it? (Laughter) There’s also a real power to fire, and nothing captures it
more than the Serpent Mother. Serpent Mother is a 100-foot metal snake that’s coiled around
to protect its flaming egg. It writhes, it moves, it looks at you,
but you control the power. You have the power of the fire,
just pushing the buttons right there. When you feel the power,
you push the buttons, and you see the lights
dance across the sky, it gives you that sense
of what it would be like to actually master this primeval element, this tool that, at one point,
was there just to frighten, then to protect,
and now exists to amuse us. Or Crude Awakening: nine steel figures, two floors each high
in different prayer positions, all focus on a 300-foot-tall oil derrick. Their different expressions,
their movements seem to really show the praise,
the devotion, the promise that we have tied into– how we’re dependent
on natural gas and fuel. The unbelievable alignment of reverence
this has with these figures praying to this tall, huge, dominating tower
that looms over them. It really calls forth the idea
of our ties, our dependency, making it look like we’re praising our dependency
on natural resources. When the oil derrick blew up
like a nuclear bomb, it looked like the figures,
all of a sudden, were freed. They were liberated.
They actually were set free from the fire. Fire can also express emotion, express an emotion in such a way that can’t really be captured
by mere words or form in a lot of ways. Fire can, in an instance of a second,
establish a connection and actually put together a meme
that can excite and influence you. Church Trap was a simple structure
built up to look like a church. It was up on one end
like an old-fashioned mousetrap, one where anybody walking by
could feel the enticement to engage, to go inside, to be part of it. And it was through the fire that we actually were able to release it
into the darkened sky. Fire can liberate us; it can free us, take us away from those ideas,
those beliefs you hold tightly, so tight that we don’t even, we can’t
even understand how much it holds onto us. It also can burn into our minds. The instance of the fire
can give you that second. It’s stronger than anything. In an instant, you can actually have
memes and things burnt in, and beliefs, letting go of beliefs you may have had,
you held so tight before, but now released into the flame. Sometimes, there’re some people who say,
“How can you burn the arts?” “How can you actually look at the arts?
So much goes into it.” They cry, they feel actually despondent
when they see things go in the fray, but it’s through the fire
that we’re all freed. In 2011, we actually put a call out
across the globe, asking for artists to create effigies that represented
themselves and represented their region. In three years of our art program,
we had over 50 art groups answer our call. Building wooden structures
about 20 feet tall, they represented their regions,
and how they saw themselves. It was everything from a lobster trap
from Maine, birds in flight from Lithuania a hamsa from Israel, and even
a beer stein from the Czech Republic. These artists toil, they worked hard
to create these installations to truly have them represent themselves. When they all burned simultaneously, at the same time,
against the darkened sky, you could hear the roar of excitement, the joy as it echoed
throughout Black Rock City. For some, not used to burning their art,
it can feel a little traumatizing. You spent so much time, so much effort,
so much money to build this effigy that with just the flick
of a torch, can disappear. Some think that this may actually reduce
its impact, its importance it has on us. But actually, in truth, the time the flames actually come and go
against the night sky, and it’s reflected in the eyes
and the bodies of the people who get to be part of that burn, they can be inspired,
and they can be influenced with memories that may have
never existed before. Some people cry; some people really cry when they see the art going,
something so beautiful disappearing, while others laugh joyously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been
asked, “How can you burn the Man?” We say, “We burn him
so we can build him again next year.” Reverence – Lastly, there’s a reverence to fire. It’s one of those
most primordial elements. Originally, cave men
huddled around it for protection. Those in other cultures and communities, actually take those before them
and send them off in a funeral pyre. For us, the temple is
the most sacred place on playa. It’s a place where people bring
treasured items for loved ones, capturing memories, emotion,
putting it within the temple, and Sunday night, when it all goes up
in flame, we are released. It’s a solemn moment.
It’s one that’s almost indescribable; how quiet, how emotional it can be. It’s one of the calmest
and most powerful times on playa. (Video starts) (Video ends) Burning Man started in Nevada, but its flames have actually crossed
the whole globe. And every year, related events,
– more than 60 each year – at their very heart have fire. I invite you to embrace
your fear, to embrace fire, because through embracing this fear,
you release yourselves; you’re freed. Come burn with us. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers) Thank you. (Applause)

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