Reimagining fire and people on 'the edge'

Courtesy photo

"The Edge Effect: re-Imagining the East Jemez Landscape" was co-created with local artist Kathleen Brennan. It is on display through May 6.

Editor's note: This story was published in print April 26, 2018 but was added online today (July 9). The event mentioned in this story has ended.

The area around Los Alamos is a fractured landscape where changes in climate and wildfires expose the dividing lines between different human communities as well as between humans and their environment. A group of artists and scientists have teamed up for a sprawling oral history project and art installation that seeks to understand and reimagine the places where people, governments, fire and water meet to create their collective futures.

As part of the East Jemez Landscape Futures Project, local photographer and filmmaker Kathleen Brennan and collaborator Shawn Skabelund have mounted an art installation in the fire lookout tower on the boundary of the Bandelier National Monument. "The Edge Effect: Re-Imagining the East Jemez Landscape" is open to the public daily through May 6.

For decades, people have stationed themselves in the tower to search the landscape for wisps of smoke. And for most of that history, the federal government has put out any fires that started in this area. But that policy led to terrifying wildfires of massive proportions that forever altered the landscape, such as the Las Conchas Fire in 2011.

The artists have transformed the windows of the tower into a series of transparent maps with layers of historical fires, topography, watersheds and political divisions, giving folks a chance to imagine the landscape in radically new ways.

"Like most maps, you have to take some time to look at them," Brennan told The Taos News. "You have to know where you are before you know where you're going."

In addition to the art installation, the creators of the project have collected oral histories about the landscape from locals who've seen the effects of fires, floods and climate change. They've been archived not only for use by the general public but also for land managers; it's a novel way of handing decision-makers and on-the-ground specialists a new tool to broaden their own perspectives and strategies.

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