saturday night – ashes

Blythe sent through photos from Saturday, which i’ll put up now – more reflections later. Thanks for emails, comments etc over the last few days – it has added some reality to a very surreal, disconnected time. We’ve been flying blind with all this, so it’s been lovely to hear that some people have been able to make use of this too…

Below the jump are photos and a broader description of the space. They go with the space outline i put up earlier. I’m sure you can work out how it all fits together! We took one space out – we decided to hope that everyone else would pray for the people who lit some of these fires, because we don’t have it in us just at the moment – and added another in [making a sign of the cross with ashes – i’ll describe that later]

The entry – a paraphrase of Job 2 on the left, an image from Mike and Claire’s on the right.

Elijah’s earthquake, wind and fire story was printed onto cards on the floor, ending up near the screen with the verse ‘and after all this, the sound of sheer silence…’ – onto the screen we projected a loop of smoke with the word ‘God?’ that faded in and out with the smoke. below the screen was a pile of charcoal and ashes, and the questions ‘Is this where we are to find you, God? And how will we know you are here’.

In the centre of the carpark we made a large ‘canvas’ [cartridge paper] with paints and charcoal. We wrote ‘o god where are you now’ and people added their voice to it.

we printed out the newspaper headlines reporting the death toll as it increased during the week, and also cut out lots of houses from newspapers. We stuck a roll of paper to the wall and left charcoal for people to add their prayers. It sounds incredibly confronting, written like that, but it was actually quite a downplayed space, especially in light of the media coverage this week.

years ago, Blythe made these as part of an art installation… and they were perfect for the space too. We put some quotes about the unprecedented force of the fires on the wall, and then a bowl of ashes on the floor, with the following words:

The force of the fire is beyond our comprehension
We are so fragile in the face of its power.

If you would like,
mark your hand with the sign of a cross;

we are human,
we are not alone.

This was the space to say thankyou and to ask why. We strung up fencing wire, and clipped the words to the space to the fence. We attached a large branch of a gum tree next to the words beginning ‘There have been extraordinary moments this week…’ and scattered ashes and charcoal underneath the section ‘There have been moments of absolute devastation’.

mike and claire’s story, which was so powerful and remarkable [and looked great on the wall – we wrote it onto the ipod frames that we’ve made over the last year or so, and put some of their photos into the frames]

We also brought down the sofas for people to sit around, and created a response space [with a list of things that people can do to help, long term], and placed a bowl with small bags of ashes at the exit, for people to take away with them to remind them to pray… It was all very simple and low key. There was a rush of people at the beginning, a long space without anyone, and then another wave of people through at the end… I honestly don’t know how it went. I felt really anxious throughout, which was perhaps inevitable; too much so to gauge people’s response. In the end that doesn’t matter, i guess. We did it because we needed to do it for ourselves…

I do need to say that I wouldn’t do this with a group of people who had survived the fires. I’d do something quite different. Who knows what yet.

Speaking of the fires, they are gradually being brought under control. The devastation is still unfolding. I flew to Sydney yesterday, and we could see where some of the fires were still smouldering and burning in places. The mountains were black, and there was absolutely nothing left on them… and that went on, for as far as you could see. I’ve run out adjectives – devastating? incomprehensible? – none of them seem to give enough weight to it. The only thing that’s clear at the moment is that these fires are going to change so dramatically how we understand ourselves as individuals and the community… even those of us who are on the sidelines of this tragedy. It’s the loss, of course, which is so incredibly overwhelming; it’s the damage and devastation; it’s also the fear of how vulnerable and fragile we actually are. Do you ever recover from that?

i wanted to keep a record of this quote… from The Age, Monday 16th Feb:

Kevin Tolhurst, Melbourne University senior lecturer in fire ecology and management, said flames would have been about 1200 degrees when they roared across the state.

He said he had calculated the areas burnt and energy released from the fires equalled 400 to 500 Hiroshima atomic bombs and generated 80,000 kilowatts per metre of flame front.


  1. wilsonian

    That first picture of the message below ash… it’s as powerful as a punch.

    Thank you for making the essential connections…

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