It’s fireworks season, and to celebrate my friend took me along to see someone set themselves on fire.
As we filled the hall, a man was standing very still in his pants. Slowly he began the extensive process of dressing in fireproof layers with the help of two officials. As he pulled on dripping pieces stretchy cloth, the ambient sounds playing were barely perceptible from one’s own heartbeat. The anticipation was building among the audience.
The two officials (or seeming officials), then proceeded to set the shivering performer alight and for the longest few seconds a man was set on fire. Something was yelled, the man dropped to the ground and the fire was extinguished.
After the live performance, we were invited around the corner to watch a captivating projected video of the stunt in slow motion. The display was designed to have a powerful impact, and that it did. If we slowed down and paid that much attention to the victims of war and torture, the media would not need to vie for our attention with more and more macabre images to shock our immune emotional systems. It was the anticipation, the drama and the artistry that evoked empathy whilst we barely falter at news depicting the latest bombing. War has become a normality, an inevitable part of our existence and most of us do not spare a minute to consider that its victims are living in the anxious permanent state that we experienced in that short moment of fear when the flames danced wildly on top of human flesh in front of our eyes.
Inextinguishable fire, by Heather Cassils showing at the Southbank throughout November 2015. For more information see: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/inextinguishable-fire-1001319