Art can illicit a wide range of responses. Art can make you laugh, bring you to tears, spark your imagination, inspire you, and lift your spirits. And sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you can witness a work of art that is so awe-inspiring, it leaves you breathless at the power of human creativity. I was fortunate to have one such experience last summer when I travelled to Stonehenge to experience Compagnie Carabosse‘s fire garden installation as part of the celebrations of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Staggeringly beautiful, this installation was a stunning example of what art can achieve.
Presented by the Salisbury International Arts Festival, this art installation was created around the prehistoric site of Stonehenge, the world renowned location of a ring of stone monuments that date back to between 4,500 and 5,000 years ago. Normally, visitors to Stonehenge are only able to visit this magnificent example of Stone Age artistry from afar, as preservation efforts have closed off Stonehenge to visitors wanting to walk among these ancient structures. However, for this occasion the site was opened up, offering spectators the rare privilege of being able to walk among the stones of Stonehenge.
It is hard to describe the wonder I felt as I walked the fire lined path towards these ancient monoliths. Night had fallen by the time my group arrived at the site, and therefore the area was lit only by the light of the installation and its fiery illuminations. The site was framed by four large metal orbs that were illuminated by fire pots, with several structures that resembled burning volcanoes scattered throughout the grounds. Closer to the actual stones of Stonehenge, the artists kept watch over lit metal smokestacks, manipulating the fire to release plumbs of fireballs into the air every few minutes. Within the towering rocks of Stonehenge itself, the area was lit by white tank tops, which hung in mid-air like surreal lamps made of clothing.
By far the most arresting images of the fire garden were the metal sculptures that were arranged throughout the site. Crafted into the shapes of people, these sculptures featured either a fire element or a movement element, with many of them perfectly positioned to cast hauntingly beautiful moving shadows onto the stone structures of Stonehenge. Their movements may have been simple, but the effect was nothing sort of magical, and I could have stood for hours watching the shadows dancing across these ancient monuments.
Not content to simply let the visual images stand for themselves, the fire garden was also underscored by a soundtrack that was performed live and projected throughout the installation. On one side of the grounds, a musician sat under an adorned tent playing what I can only describe as Druid folk music, and his voice and haunting melodies echoed throughout the site with a remarkably clear sound quality. The music and visuals came together to create the perfect atmosphere for the installation, and much like the moving sculptures, I could have sat and listened to the music all night, but time was precious, and there was simply too much to see.
At the end of the night, as I climbed back into the bus that would deliver me back to London, it occurred to me that I had witnessed something truly special that could never be replicated. I hope that my travels will one day bring me back to Stonehenge, but I know that it will never be more magical than it was that night. By harnessing the beauty of fire with an unparalleled artistic eye, Compagnie Carabosse created an experience that was simply beyond words. I know I will never forget that night, and I will be forever grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to witness this spectacular event.
*Pictures by Jules Schoenfeld