Forest Fire Aftermath

This week we are posting a series of ‘snapshots’ relating directly to work by David Cass in the run-up to his exhibition at The Scottish Gallery. Back in 2014, Cass was heading out for what he describes as “a research stay in an arid zone.” He’d gone straight from the moist climate and wet ground of the Scottish Borders to an alpine-desert and, as he relates it, “The heat and dry atmosphere hit me hard, but seeing this patch of bright red forest was almost surreal. Eventually, with a friend, Gonzaga Gómez-Cortázar, I managed to climb the mountainside and enter the aftermath zone, where we took photographs and shot film.” Cass and Gómez-Cortázar’s film, El Bosque Encarnado, went on to be exhibited during ArtCop21 in Paris; the Rome Media Art Festival, 2015, and at Istanbul’s Museum of Modern Art.

El bosque of the film’s title is the forest of the Sierra Maria-Los Vélez Natural Park, in Almería, Spain – “a place of sometimes-hazardous Aleppo Pines that cover the hillsides for miles around,” the artist states. “Planted by man, they’re thought to absorb what is for this environment the precious source of subterranean water.” As an artist sensitively in tune with nature (and particularly humankind’s impact upon it), the experience of the region did not just result in the above film for exhibition, nor an assembled collection of photographs as a record of that stay in the bizarrely-coloured landscape of Almería; it has now also resulted in the following short supplementary text that is included in the exhibition catalogue for Cass’s upcoming show. It is reproduced below with David’s kind permission, and further throws light on yet another aspect of the artist’s thinking.

Forest fire aftermath | Looking In / Looking Out

By David Cass

Forest fire aftermath photographs (framed c-type prints, edition of 2)

One starting point for this project was the aftermath of a forest fire. The burned patch of Almería hillside had new brush and scrub poking up between blackened rocks by the time my colleague (photographer Gonzaga Gómez-Cortázar) and I arrived. What drew us to that patch of hillside was its colour: a vivid blood-red. The water and retardant poured from the air to halt the blaze contained this artificial pigment. 

You realise, exploring the arid Almería landscape, that these patches of nightmarish forest are common. The region is bone-dry, and pine trees abundant: non-indigenous and originally planted by man for hunting. Their roots absorb the scant subterranean moisture that should be going to crops, invading terrace systems and ruining age-old watering channels. Precipitation here is at an all-time low and so most of these channels no longer function, though. 

Almería contains the closest thing to a full desert Europe has – it’s described officially as a semi-desert – and the rest of the region is becoming increasingly susceptible to the same fate. Explore the region and you’ll see hundreds of abandoned houses: from simple dwellings to grand farmhouses with acres of land, they’re each now left to the elements. There’s nothing here to keep families on the land: wells and reservoirs have gone dry and episodes of drought have become ever more frequent since the middle of last century, rendering the land unworkable, uninhabitable, unsellable.

We spoke to locals – elderly residents of rural villages – and were told of the wet springs of their childhoods, of snow in winter, of green (Pine free) hillsides. In half a century, life in this region has changed dramatically. Almería currently endures over 80% of the year without rain, or chance of rain (that’s in a non-drought year). 

But what has all this to do with the topic of Rising Horizon? The answer is, everything. Drought and inundation are both sides of the same coin and symptoms of climate change. A warmer world means faster evaporation and irregularities in the ability of our atmosphere to hold and transport moisture. This means dry areas of the world become even drier, while wet areas get wetter. When the rain does arrive, it is increasingly likely to be torrential, in the form of a storm, causing flash flooding and stripping soil and nutrients from the land.

(© David Cass, all rights reserved).


16 Dundas Street

30 January 2019 - 23 February 2019