The Blue at the Base of the Flame

Artist Statement

For two thousand years, Europe has set its outsiders on fire in pyres and crematoria designed to eliminate and intimidate all those who were declared enemies – outsiders, outcasts, outliers, shamans, and scapegoats. Scheiterhaufen. A tactic from the Crusades to the Witch Trials, the Inquisition to the Holocaust, entire villages, pagan tribes and nations, communities of independent women, Jews, Muslims, heretics, infidels, alchemists, Cathars, Saracens, alleged sorcerers, outcast sects, and spiritual and cultural minorities of all kinds have been consumed in flames. They have burned up so many for so long, it is almost an eternal flame. And at the base of its flame – where it is most hot – we find the color blue.

A constellation of photographs, films, poems, short stories, and performance works, THE BLUE AT THE BASE OF THE FLAME considers four major timespace coordinates: the Inquisitions (Spanish, Portuguese and Albigensian), the Crusades (Germany, Lithuania, and Prussia), the Witch Hunts (France, Germany, and Switzerland) and the Holocaust (Europe).

The first time I visited Europe, I was standing in a prominent square in Bern, Switzerland when a young woman about my age suddenly fell over unconscious. A bystander looked down at the girl’s bare arms, which were covered in track marks from heroin needles. Contemptuous, the bystander muttered, it’s not the first time this square has brought death to bad women. I was startled and curious, and after many conversations I pieced together that the square had, once upon a time, been the sites of many extensive witch burnings. 

I’m interested in the juxtaposition of space over time: the experience of a single site over centuries. In particular, I’m seeking the ecological traces of atrocity across time: flowers on the burial sites of women who were burned as witches, forests whose trees were used for pyres, birds nests in abandoned Nazi crematoria, an old shop abandoned and allowed to crumble because it was rumored to be haunted by a Jew burned in the Inquisition…

Although the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Witch Hunts are relatively distant history, in nearly every village and city where I have gone looking for traces, I have encountered people who still speak about those events, and who share stories, sites, or other details. To me, this has become a very powerful testimony that these mass deaths were designed to intimidate and threaten local populations into obedience – the message has not been lost even after all these years. 

To find sites, I use old maps and archives and contemporary scholarly research, and combine this with informal interactions with local neighbors. Once I’ve figured out the specific or approximate location of a site, I spend time looking for traces of each century. It’s surprisingly not all that difficult to find, even if it means looking at aerial maps to see how old landscape features like cemeteries and churches and Roman roads have influenced the placement of a 21st century gas station. 


THE BLUE AT THE BASE OF THE FLAME is supported by Creative Capital, the Center for Cultural Innovation, the Pollock Krasner Foundation, Yaddo, the Puffin Foundation, Artists’ Resource for Completion, the Duffee Foundation, Catalysis Projects (Los Angeles), the Center for Jewish History (New York City).

Residencies include the Oberpfalzer Kunstlerhaus (Germany), Ebenboeckhaus (Germany), Haut de Fee Centre in Serecourt (France), Ragdale (USA), Ucross (USA), Can Serrat (Spain).

Publications include the Kenyon Review, New American Writing, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, and others.

Exhibitions include The Museum of Modern Art (Ceret, France), Yeshiva University Museum (New York City), the Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles), Deborah Martin Gallery (Los Angeles), 610 Isis (Los Angeles), and Terrell Moore Gallery (Los Angeles).

Performances include The Museum of Modern Art (Ceret, France), Monkspace (Los Angeles), Atelier de le Main d’Or (Paris), Center Theater (Philadelphia), Yeshiva University Museum (New York City),  Kebbel Villa (Germany).

Collaborators include Andrea Clearfield, Veronika Krausas, Rafael Liebich, Manfred Fischbeck, GroupMotion Dance Company, Dorothea Herreiner, Osnat Naor,