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One of the best views in Aspen can be taken in from the roof of the Aspen Art Museum. There, against the backdrop of Aspen Mountain, you’ll find this summer “Fire Worship” by Oscar Tuazon. The Los Angeles-based artist has installed a sculptural firepit to gather around—putting the flames at eye level and creating a stage on which to gather. Imagined to perfectly complement its surroundings and scenery, Tuazon named it after Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1840s piece of the same name.
For the week of ArtCrush, Whitewaller spoke with Tuazon about this site-specific work, which can be enjoyed through the end of the year.
WHITEWALLER: “Fire Worship” is site-specific to the roof deck of the Aspen Art Museum. How did the location influence your idea for the sculptural installation?
OSCAR TUAZON: If you have been there you know just how spectacular the roof top terrace is, and when I visited I realized there really is no way to compete with what is there already. I hope instead to complete the scene, to add an element that enhances your experience of being up there, facing nature. The Shigeru Ban building is a well calibrated venue for this: the lightweight wood strut roof seems to inhale and lift off, leaving you alone with the mountain. So I’ve made a fire there
WW: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the title of the piece, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1840s Fire Worship?
OT: Hawthorne was writing at the time when the open hearth was being gradually replaced by enclosed wood stoves. The idea of enclosing a fire in a metal box is somehow too much for Hawthorne, and his nostalgia for the open flame is touching and slightly funny to an audience today for whom any kind of living fire, even in a wood stove, is unusual enough to be memorable. I wanted to make an open flame at eye level, a hearty fire that Hawthorne could admire, fire as a circle for friends to gather around, a passionate Puritan conflagration, an American bonfire on the continental divide.
WW: This is not your first time creating outdoor public work. What attracts you to creating public sculpture?
OT: To me the true experience of sculpture is when it disappears, when it just forms part of your experience of a place. The world outside is entropic, and that is where sculpture belongs, in chaos. Working outdoors, there is so much more going on than in a controlled exhibition environment, and I like that— I like the possibility of being overlooked, or playing a supporting role to the mountains; and I like the idea that the work might be a surprise, something that might seem out of place or unexpected, like an open flame at an art museum.
WW: How are you hoping museum visitors will engage with “Fire Worship”?
OT: I hope it warms your backside!
WW: The roof deck offers incredible views of the city of Aspen and Aspen mountain. How do you see the piece interacting with both the city—and landscape?
OT: Exactly, fire is like a catalyst between these two experiences of space: utterly primal, and simultaneously the mark of human achievement. I like the idea that the work inhabits both these places and is equally comfortable in the city and in the natural cycles we participate in. There is a tension here, particularly in the “fire season” as we have come to call summertime in the west, and a reminder of the dangers of a changing climate and our innate human responsibility to manage the fires we have started before they burn out of control.
WW: Is there any aspect of this project you’ve brought back to your LA studio?
OT: Well I’m always experimenting! This style of chimney is called a rocket stove because it burns so efficiently and uses wood heat in a sustainable way. I am always interested in how these apparently simple technologies might be useful outside the highly experimental realm of public art. Can we reinvent fire?