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Articles and books about Nina Hole's firesculptures and other sculptures

Catalog essay by Mark Lancet

When it comes to Nina Hole's monumental fire sculptures "You have to be there." In fact, put it on your life list, the list you have of all the things you must do in this life. If you dont have a life list, start one and put Hole's sculptures at the top.

Hole's medium is not ceramic or even fire. With these sculptures, her medium, her focus and her message is the human experience of awe. There is an extraordinary amount of labour and planning which precedes these fire sculpture events. Then, after much planning, labour from a multitude of helpers and a sleepness night or two Nina Hole then takes great risks and often sacrifices permanence. All for one astonishing, miraculous moment which move all sentient viewers to awe.

Starting in 1994 Nina began experimenting with new construction techniques and materials. Her goal was to be able to to go anywhere and build monumental ceramic sculpture that could be built and fired within one to two weeks.

Setting nearly impossible goals led Hole to create ingenious solutions. Nina Hole's solution was to make monumental sculptures from small building block units. The units are shaped like the front 20 cms od a ski with the front curve bent further back to shape a hook. This is Hole's basic building block and with it she has built sublime arch structures reminiscent of the most ancient architecture.

Hole arrives with a large number of helpers and the manufacture of the building blocks commences. These blocks are then stacked and joined - each row off-set over the row below to to create gaps between each building bock. The checkerboard of gaps in the construction has a functional role as well as visual. Visually they add a contradictory note of grace to the primordial architectural forms. The contrast is dynamic - between the mass and presence of the monumental forms and the filligree delicacy of gaps permeating the sculpture. Functionally the gaps allow the flames, during firing, to circulate throughour the piece,assuring even heating of the sculpture. This makes it less likelyto break apart during firing.

"Slowly and steadily the sculpture takes form. It is a form you have seen before - perhaps in turning the inner stairs of a gothic cathedral's spire, or perhaps moving under the stone arch of an old bridge, or trough a narrow stone passage of a Japanese castle. Hole's forms are reminiscent of ancient, even primordial architecture. The forms feel familiar but you have never seen them like this before.

Having constructed the forms over a brick foundation that doubles as a kiln floor, Hole wraps the piece in a soft white high-temperature refractory fabric. This serves as the outside of the kiln. The firing begins and over a period of one to two days, Hole brings the pieces to orange heat, sometimes close to white heat, usually employing wood as fuel. Through the night people gather around the sculpture that is now it's own kiln.

If Hole was interested solely in the object she was creating, she would allow the piece to cool slowly, since much damage can occur if the piece i allowed to experience a rapid change in temperature. But Hole is interested in creating a peak moment, an experience of awe. So just before the sun rises when the dark sky has just a tinge beginning to light the horizon and the piece is at the highest temperature, Hole pulls off the refractory fabric covering. Exposed is a huge glowing form. Everything around is illuminated by the light of it's radiating heat. Faces are painted in an orange radiance. The ancient architecture burns and Hole is almost satisfied. If you are there just before an unveiling, you are given a packet or two with sawdust, copper and maybe some salt in it. As the piece is unveiled Hole conducts the viewers in a showering, symphony of sparks. As each thrown packet approaches the glowing sculpture (with the stated intent of colouring the piece), it bursts into flames, a comet trailing sparks or a thousand sparkling constellations. Hole has enlisted you as a co-conspirator. You can not remain a passive observer, you are co-creating in fire a moment impossible to forget. The piece will perhaps not last as long due to the dramatic cooling. But it has existed gloriously for an instant in time and that instant is burned indelibly into your soul in a way you can neither forget nor describe. It is like - well - you had to be there!