Jan 28, 2010

Fire Shelter

I came to the woods of Caldera with the first month of 2010 reaching out, like a blanket of untouched snow, before me. I had every intention of beginning a book project about the Anonymous Artists of America and/or some of the other topics discussed on Red Legacy. I brought a suitcase of books and a few changes of clothes. I stocked up on wine and stoked a fire in my cozy A-frame and let the swirlings of my mind settle, scatter, ignite, glimmer, rest. I wandered through the burnt up forests and through weeks of unscripted time.

I felt adrift, without a shred of interest in research, much less that which focused on goings on of other places and other times. In my confusion, I revisited one of my favorite texts – it wasn’t one that I brought in my suitcase, rather it’s one of those that I keep bookmarked online and refer to with frequency. Hakim Bey, an American anarchist philosopher wrote The Temporary Autonomous Zone in 1985 and ascribed it an anti-copyright status alongside the note: “May be freely pirated & quoted-- the author & publisher, however, would like to be informed…”*The Temporary Autonomous Zone is not an especially well-written text but influenced the Cacophony Society, the makers of Burning Man, and many music and social theorists. Despite its intermittently vague and flamboyant language, it gives me direction too.

The Temporary Autonomous Zone is a potent but rather abstract concept; it is a phenomenon that challenges dominant culture and may be a model for thinking about daily freedom. Bey does not define the Temporary Autonomous Zone, or the TAZ, as he refers to it; rather, he talks circles around the TAZ, assigning characteristics and giving examples of moments that might somehow inform a larger understanding of what he describes as “a suggestion or a poetic fancy.”

Bey talks about the TAZ as a tactic to be used against the State and its all-encompassing spectacle. He also describes the TAZ as being invisible, something that arises spontaneously and then dissolves to reform itself elsewhere, in order to maintain true freedom. The TAZ is constantly happening: everywhere, always, if not forever. Yet it is imperative that we keep intentionally carving out autonomous spaces – cracks in an otherwise planned development – and to do this through acts of self-determination, no matter how small. These actions of are what move culture forward and are the basis for both personal and widespread liberty. This is the revolution of everyday life.

Bey compares the TAZ to pirate crews and dinner parties, rock festivals and spiritual awakenings. He relays the incredible story of the artist Gabriele D’Annunzio who, after WWII, captured the Yugoslavian city of Fiume (see earlier post on Pirate Utopias) and created an artists state. He designated Fiume as an independent nation with music as the highest order. For 18 months – until the money ran out and the Italian army lobbed a few grenades -- he read poetry from the balconies every morning and threw parties complete with fireworks every night. It’s really quite amazing that Fiume stayed soveriegn as long as it did but the longevity of its independence is not the point. For Bey and for me, the tale of the independent artists state is about a sense of possibility that comes from knowing and creating momentary freedom.

I first came across this text a few years ago and the notion of the Temporary Autonomous Zone has since shaped nearly everything I do.

Caldera has been a provocative place to consider the TAZ, for in winter it is wild and empty and the days stretch on without expectations. There, amidst the devastated forests and the wilderness of my mind, the TAZ dashed my original plan to read and write books, forcing a spontaneous reorientation to my environment and to what is possible. The TAZ took on a different dimension entirely and manifested (temporarily) in the form of Fire Shelter.

Fire Shelter is a place I made in the forest. Fire Shelter is something to which I surrendered. It has been a source of investigation, a muse, a practice, and an object. I have built something that will not last long with only my hands and intuition and with materials found along the way.

What is Fire Shelter? Is it a shelter from fire? for fire? of fire? with fire? It’s certainly not a place to live, but it may be a place to weather a storm. It is something to be discovered. It is something that deteriorates. It is somewhat of a secret. It could easily be overlooked or forgotten. It’s a pile of sticks and rock. It’s a way to pass the time. It’s more than a shelter; it’s a shrine.

Just a few years ago 900,000 acres of forest near Caldera burnt down in the B&B fire. Now the forest is a skeleton, a graveyard of corpses. The blackness of this forest is startling, terrifying, horrible. We all know the enlivening process of fire -- that with fire comes new life. But what strikes me about these forests is the present nature of these trees – they are dead but upright, not yet logs or fuel. These trees are stuck in a sort of purgatory, waiting to fall. They have been burnt into irreversible death, yet they must wait for the scars of their desecration to become useful. I want to push these trees down. I want to burn them up more. I want to light a match and with it, all of the blackness and regret that this forest harkens. I want to stop this waiting and move towards new growth, new life. But this is the forest; this is the way that it is, with all its ghosts and memories and terrible blackness.

And so this fort is about the wreckage of fire. It is built from the very waste and want of burning. It is about mistakes, about nature, about the precision of control that differentiates the forest fire from the innards of my wood-burning stove. It is about time and healing and darkness and soot. It is about the unguided act of creation that results from sheer desire.

As a teacher, a writer, a curator, a woman, Fire Shelter is a defiance of my own expectations and also a test of my basic abilities. Can I meet my own needs while evading the assumed plan of action? Can I – through the act of building a fort in the woods – honor the slow, painful, natural, waiting progression of things while still encouraging my life forward? And how can this manifestation of my considerations -- that are physical, philosophical, evolving and hopeful -- eventually become a home for someone else’s dreaming? Finally, can I let my creation disintegrate slowly and quietly, deep in a forest far far away?

Fire Shelter may be a sort of Temporary Autonomous Zone. For me, it was that and much more. As long as it stands and perhaps thereafter, I'd like to think of Fire Shelter as a moment or space in which unscripted things can happen and in which the convergence of human self-determination and natural order might find a fleeting balance.

Bring your boots and hats, your water and a map. Are you ready for a journey into the woods?

*Find the TAZ here: http://www.hermetic.com/bey/taz_cont.html

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