AIR(E): the sensory installation that denounces the climate emergency through forest fires

As is often the case, the art anticipates real-life events, as Santiago woke up covered Friday in a thick layer of smoke from forest fires in central Chile, prominent interdisciplinary artist Denise Lira-Ratinoff and visual artist Patricio Aguilar Díaz inaugurated the “AIR(E)” installation on November 5th. A work that focuses on forest fires affecting the entire planet and seeks to raise awareness of brutality and the need to act against the climate emergency.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a fourteen minute video of fire images accompanied by surround sound recreating a catastrophic soundscape, a character in a safety suit enters the flames and catches fire, the depiction was created by Denise Lira-Ratinoff and tries to symbolize the destruction of life.

“We create immersive installations that you can see, smell, touch and feel”, explains Denise Lira-Ratinoff of the Casa Lo Matta Cultural Center in Vitacura, where “AIR(E)” is on display.

The work is also made up of other elements that transform the visit into a unique sensory experience: the ground is covered with grass and under the screen where the film is projected there is a cavity with water where the projected flames are reflected.

In addition, there is a screen in the room that shows, in real time, the simultaneous fires that are occurring with alarming frequency on the planet. Then, 22 mobile phones suspended in space provide a visual experience of human expression of tears, pain and hope in the rotation of hundreds of human voices and dialogues of nature.

Both artists had already worked together on the “Cronometro” project (2019) where the main theme was plastic pollution. On this occasion the central theme is the destruction of ecosystems and the strength of the fires.

“The project initially started with a suggestion of fire, but as we worked on the project and received more information, we realized that this was an urgent matter and that we needed to fully ramp up, so the screen turned into fire and we said that we have to be a little more brutal because there is no time, it is now and we are living it”, says Patricio Aguilar Díaz.

fire laboratory

The work takes scientific figures but it is through staging, sensory work and research that they have managed to combine art with a theme of global importance.

“We did an experiment with fire a long time ago, we filmed it beautifully with good angles, looking for beauty because this is art. Denise has an impressive eye and continues to capture, receive and choose angles,” explains Patricio Aguilar Díaz .

Everything you see in the video is real, “we had a fire lab, we did all the small-scale fires,” adds Aguilar.

“The fire is alive so it’s impossible to do a second take, when we filmed we staged the layers, what we’re seeing was what’s going to be shown, what the camera sees is what it shows,” says Denise Lira-Ratinoff .

The installation combines organic, technological, sound and digital elements of the highest level. It is in this equation that both artists have managed to mix figures, textures and smells with high-level technological elements that have allowed them to create a great montage.

Denise Lira-Ratinoff has been working with nature for twenty years, in this sense it was important for her to raise the theme of fires with a story that told the climate urgency we are experiencing, for this reason they decided that the installation had to insert a character that did not necessarily represent human beings but also all living organisms affected by these accidents.

“I have been working with nature for two decades in the sense that I do it for her, I have always done it from beauty and that is precisely what we are losing, the word extinction, that is, what will never exist again is devastating, it is very sad”, says Denise Lira-Ratinoff.

For the artist, speaking about the climate crisis through artistic expression makes sense as art “tells you the story of what we’re experiencing,” she says.

“We believe that art must be engaged, it must shake itself, it must have a support with a dynamic, an inertia, a weight and a concrete justification,” adds Patricio Aguilar Díaz.

In this sense, both artists would like the work to be mounted in other places, “it would be important for it to travel and deliver the message elsewhere,” says Aguilar.

Denise says she has eight hours of fire recordings that she needs to edit, she would like the work to circulate in international film festivals and even on television broadcasts.

“We’re thinking about taking it overseas. Now we have this film that we’re going to edit and go to festivals. We want to move it from not just immersive but more international and cinematic staging,” says Lira-Ratinoff.

“AIR(E)” will be open to the public until Sunday 18 December at the Lo Matta Cultural Center from 10:00 to 19:00.

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