Rina C. Faletti, PhD
About the curator
Rina C. Faletti, Ph.D., is the guest curator of Fire Transforms at the Palo Alto Art Center. Rina’s ideas for this exhibition originated in 2018 while she spent the better part of a year as a wildfire evacuee from her mountain home. During that time, she founded Art Responds, an art exhibition, public program, and publication project whose goal is to engage communities in meaningful conversation about the roles art plays in recovery and transformation after environmental crisis. Her curating, teaching, writing, and organizing envision broadening public conversations about the histories, practices, and aesthetics that transform watershed and wildfire environments in California and around the globe. She is co-editor and chapter author of Hydrohumanities: Water Discourse for Environmental Futures (UC Press, December 2021); co-organizer of the Mayacamas Volunteer Fire Department Oral History Project; and is preparing a major book on contemporary environmental artists responding to climate crisis in California. She and her family are dedicated to ongoing forest stewardship of their Mayacamas Mountain property and community, located on the ridgeline between the Napa and Sonoma valleys, which was severely burned in the 2017 Nuns Fire.
Fire Transforms has developed in a direction very different from what I originally conceived. In the past 5 years, since 2017, fire exhibitions, public programs, and presentations I have conceived and curated have directly responded to a need for community gathering, processing, and healing after catastrophic wildfire events have affected a community. Art and related events offer a safe place of solace after the trauma of the firestorm has passed. This has been difficult, because all participants, including the artists, many of whom lost their own homes, studios, and life’s work to the flames, had an extreme range of feelings and thoughts as they made and viewed the artwork. Most of the artmaking in that initial 2017-2019 stage of artistic response to the 2015-2019 North Bay wildfires resulted in work that was literal, narrative, and direct: it said, “Here is the fire. This is what it looked like. This is how it moved. This is what it left behind.”
Now, we are five years into a new cultural change that requires us all not only to tolerate more environmental crisis, but also to try to understand it differently. Before and into 2018, we imagined that such an unimaginable wildfire event had to be a single novel incident (for example, like a house fire, or an earthquake). But within months of an incident, we learn again and again that wildfire is now an ongoing, escalating, global situation. My own wildfire experiences and those of the communities I belong to and serve, created a new way to define fire and its effects as guest curator for Fire Transforms at the Palo Alto Art Center. Fire Transforms has created a space for a curatorial concept that shows how artistic vision reveals ways fire both interrupts and beckons, both destroys and creates. This broader approach gives fire a voice as a creative natural agent at the same time that it shows human responses to fire’s effects on us and on our environments and surroundings. My intention is that the artwork collectively can reveal to viewers—especially in conjunction with opportunities to talk collectively in education and public programs—healthier ways to absorb the fear and confusion of wildfire into a transformed internal relationship with fire. This is the cultural work we are all doing under the surface, in our daily conversations, and in our discoveries about fire as a flag bearer for climate disaster. Art can guide us through climate fatigue.
This collection of artworks, text and audio descriptions, and materials accessible through the QR codes and on the website are designed to reveal a range of work in a wide variety of mediums, materials, and processes. The exhibition as a whole offers viewers broad options, from art that delves into the visual realities of catastrophic wildfire (Frost, Suh, Quintana, Fies, Fields), to works that allow viewers to keep their distance from disaster. Science-minded artists (Gass, Osborne, Abeles, Segal) allow visual thinking to process some of the data, statistics, timelines, and biology of wildfire and wildfire prevention. Artists using fire to make their work (Ward, Wonne, Swartz, Murphy, Stein, Roberts) quench viewers’ curiosity about fire as a tool in creative artmaking processes. The architectural drawings and models (Modhiuddin/Chico State University Interns) offer concrete solutions for those who wonder how incinerated communities rebuild. Spiritual and inner-process representations, and works that move (Stein, Ward, Wonne, Abeles, Fields, Swartz, Suh) inspire meditation, on fire as nature, as a spiritual tool, or as a symbol, some even laced with sense of humor and joy, that provides food for deeper thought, revelation, and transformation. Fire Transforms artists are united in a career-long fascination and connection with work and processes informed by environmental themes; with empathy for earth and nature as part of creative human artmaking processes; and with an intuitive sense that art provides a transformational experience, for artists, for viewers, and for fire. All these artists engage curiosity, wonder, and attention acknowledging how fire’s transformative power works through its cycles of destruction and creativity.