Deepening Charrière’s reflections upon evolving ideas of nature and our place therein, Controlled Burn dreams with fire.
Julian Charrière’s solo exhibition Controlled Burn will occupy the whole of the Tadao Ando designed Langen Foundation in Neuss, North Rhine-Westphalia, from 4 September 2022 to 6 August 2023. Featuring 8 new commissions set within a constellation of major works from Charrière’s oeuvre, Controlled Burn represents the artist’s most extensive exhibition to date.
Controlled Burn meditates upon flame as a figure of excess, containment, and renewal for our warming planet. Curated by Charrière’s long-time collaborators, philosopher Dehlia Hannah and art historian and curator Nadim Samman, the exhibition mounts an ambitious essay on the politics and poetics of combustion.
Charrière’s work addresses urgent ecological concerns, often stemming from fieldwork at signal locations such as volcanoes, glaciers, oil palm plantations, undersea and radioactive sites. Amid today’s entwined climate and energy crises, Controlled Burn interrogates the dark vitality of materials used for fuel: coal, petroleum, palm oil, sunshine. Taking us back in time, deep underground and into future atmospheres and oceans saturated by the burnt residues of modernity’s excess, Charrière’s speculative visions range over the fossilized life-worlds of past geological ages, the agency of plants in shaping planetary futures, and humankind’s fraught grip on fire.
As an opening gesture, the show welcomes visitors to wander through a panchronic garden a seemingly endless greenhouse full of plants bathed in infrared light, under which they glow jet-black. The newly commissioned installation evokes the history of coal mined in North Rhine-Westphalia, and the vast Carboniferous forests that grew there 300 million years ago. Deep within the museum’s modernist edifice, a classical fountain spills liquid flames (And Beneath it All Flows Liquid Fire, 2019) as a handful of synthetic diamonds are dumped down a hole in the melting Greenlandic icecap (Pure Waste, 2021). Hidden beneath a ramp, a pair of robotic arms rub together flints in a mechanical bid to re-enact humanity’s primeval theft of fire (Untitled, 2022).
The namesake of the exhibition is a major new video work, which invites the viewer to soar through an aerial landscape of imploding fireworks. Shot with a first-person drone, this spectacular temporal voyage journeys from unfurling ferns and fluttering moths to rusting cooling towers, decommissioned oil rigs and open pit mines. Spanning a vast cavern of deep time, Controlled Burn (2022) arrives in the present as a dazzling celebration of biological adaption and technological obsolescence. Partly powered with solar energy harvested by a site-specific sculpture, the exhibition features installations that allude to the location’s prior use as a rocket storage facility.
Dehlia Hannah is a philosopher of nature and postdoctoral research fellow of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts & ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, where she leads the project Rewilding the Museum (2021-25). Her recent book A Year Without a Winter (Columbia University Press, 2019) examined cultural imaginaries of climate change through visual art, environmental history and science fiction.
Nadim Samman is Curator for the Digital Sphere at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin. Widely published, in 2019 he was First Prize recipient of the International Award for Art Criticism (IAAC). He is co-author with Julian Charrière of As We Used to Float—In Bikini Atoll (K-Verlag, 2018).