© 2022

Fire with FireSweden, Germany, California 2018 - 2021


Fire with Fire (Test Apparatus #1), 2020 | archival pigment print on Photo Rag Baryta, 162 x 115 cm

The body of work Fire with Fire (2018-2021) stems from Julius von Bismarck’s continuous quest to explore the aesthetics of nature’s calamitous force. Including film, photography and sculpture, Fire with Fire exposes unseen images of fire, which von Bismarck captured during various expeditions to forest fire sites in Germany, the Arctic Circle in Sweden, and across California. The year 2018 being determined by the most destructive wildfires since the beginning of records, a typical aesthetic of calamity became ubiquitous in the media. This led Julius von Bismarck to question how to see beyond this simplified, politicised perspective on wildfires and natural catastrophes in general. For his work Fire with Fire von Bismarck collaborated with various fire fighting forces, to be allowed admittance to the restricted areas, and seizure the aesthetic apocalypse of blustering flames. Using slow motion and image mirroring as a technique to enhance the hypnotic effect of fire, von Bismarck’s Fire with Fire images differ greatly from the brutal reality depicted.

The illusions created the decelerated images in vertical symmetry are reminiscent of the ‘inkblot pictures’ by Swiss psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach, originally introduced as a projective psychological tool. Indeed, the symmetric patterns induce subconscious observations: new figures gradually emerge from the flames: some viewers see mythical creatures, others see fiery spirits or forest demons. The various sculptures are inspired by ‘eternal flames’ emblematic of historical monuments and memorials. They function as models of constructed sites of collective memory worldwide. The original bronze or stone sculptures are duplicated in fired ceramics; the blazing flames are transformed into flickering LEDs. The work series was first presented in Julius von Bismarck’s solo exhibition “Feuer mit Feuer” at Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, 2020.

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Glory*Glory*Glory, 2020 | rotating LED display, 215 x 108 x 64 cm

“Looking at a Rorschach blot is not like looking at a fire. Fire, unlike a cloud or a stain or an inkblot, is in constant motion, unrepeatable, impossible to validate in controlled experiments. As Bachelard shows, fire sparks the imagination. However, the Rorschach-Test isn’t about your imagination, it’s about how you see. And a fire is not symmetrical. What Julius von Bismarck has done with his videos of wildfires and controlled fires is make them more like Rorschach’s blots. He has made them symmetrical, and viewers are prompted by the alley of torches on either side of the approach to feel, in their body, the social, living quality of that symmetry. His fires, while still in motion, are slowed down. Watching them feels hypnotic, gripping, not freeing. The experience is not one of being set loose in a Bachelardian reverie, but of not being able to look away.”

Abstract from: Damion Searls, Seeing Fire, exh. cat. Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, 2020

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installation view ‘Feuer mit Feuer’, Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, 2020

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installation view ‘Feuer mit Feuer’, Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, 2020
Partisan Glade, 2020 | glazed ceramic, rotating LED display

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installation view ‘Feuer mit Feuer’, Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, 2020


Eternitate , 2020 | glazed ceramic, rotating LED display

“[The Fire with Fire] videos are not like a Rorschach-Test. Rorschach knew, though he didn’t make his reasons explicit, that a test blot had to be on a medium-sized card you could hold in your hand. Images do different things to you up close or from a distance, vertically or horizontally, big or small. As you watch the videos, there is no examiner or doctor asking you: “What might this be?”, and writing your answers down. There is nothing coming from you at all – nothing for anyone to measure and code and analyze. The videos ask nothing of us, except whatever it is that art asks. To borrow Rorschach’s distinction, art is an exercise of the imagination but it also, ideally, creates new ways of seeing. Given von Bismarck’s subject, that feels right. Using the raging wildfires of our new era to create aesthetic objects that prompt us to daydream would risk being simply self-indulgent. Creating a way to perceive these fires anew feels necessary.”

Abstract from: Damion Searls, Seeing Fire, exh. cat. Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, 2020

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Fire with Fire, Sweden, Germany, California 2018 - 2021

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Fire with Fire (Test Apparatus #6), 2021 | archival pigment print on Photo Rag Baryta, ceramic tile frame, 140 x 220 cm

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Fire with Fire (Test Apparatus #5), 2020 | archival pigment print on Photo Rag Baryta, ceramic tile frame, 135 x 90 cm

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Fire with Fire (Test Apparatus #3), 2020 | archival pigment print on Photo Rag Baryta, ceramic tile frame, 177 x 114 cm

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installation view, alexander levy, Berlin | Fire with Fire (Test Apparatus #3), 2020