Breathe in Deep
Somehow this year’s Olympics were simultaneously more controversial and more boring than most. There was violence, the Zika virus, green swimming pools, crime, and a general lack of interest. In the weeks immediately following the games Brazil, the host country, impeached their president. Their interim leader, Michael Temer, has been implicated in the corruption allegations that have been plaguing the government for a number of years.
The Olympics; intended be a symbolic gesture towards peace amongst the nations of the world, a kind of proxy for war, has become an expensive joke. The fact that a number of people attempted to extinguish the Olympic torch as it travelled to the opening ceremony could be seen as being indicative of this. However, it might also be seen as kind of protest.
The Olympic torch, or more specifically its flame, is intended as a symbol of the fire stolen from Zeus by Prometheus, and delivered to humanity. Fire, in this context, is symbolic of divine knowledge, control over nature, and the possibilities of magic. It pushes back the darkness. Fire is the alchemical agent. It is the energy that allows for transmutation; from fire to ash and from lead to gold.
Fire is destructive. It is hypnotic. We pretend we can control it, but who has not be burned at least once in their lives? Perhaps we have not domesticated the flame; it has domesticated us. Perhaps fire is one entity, until our intervention kept in check by nature, and then set free to consume the world, until one day the whole world is burning and we become the fuel for a new sun. In this light, the kind thrown by a wildfire, the Olympic torch cannot be seen as anything else except a fiction, a performance of control, much like the games.
But this is not to say that, because of its destructiveness, fire is malevolent. It is democratic in its consumption; anything that can burn will, given enough air to breathe and the touch of a naked flame. Perhaps the fairest presentation of the information contained in the Library of Alexandria was as ash. The best museum might be one that has been melted down into a kind of liquid alloy, possessing all the best traits of the work contained within, and none of the impurities. The role of the Olympic torch might be to consume the materials along it journey, so that the flame might experience the world.
Fire is not just a kind of energy; it something experienced. The flame causes a pleasant sensation, it hypnotises you, it reaches into you and brings memories of warmth. You want to reach out and touch it, but if you do you know, from other memories, that it will burn you. Smoke, like petroleum, can smell good. You breathe it in. It does not smell like what it is consuming. Something happens to the object as it burns. It becomes pure.
Smoke is seductive. It can get you high. It can kill you. It can be used to communicate. When Baldessari burned all of his paintings in a crematorium, did the smoke smell witty? If I burn my paintings on one side of the world, the smoke might travel up into the highest parts of the atmosphere. Cruising at 40,000 feet, it might disperse. Small bits of my paintings, held in the smoke as atoms, might descend from the atmosphere and into your bedroom, where you are sleeping. You are snoring on your back. You breathe in deep, and a small part of a painting, one of the parts I liked the most, goes up your nose and dissolves into your bloodstream. It travels around your body and ends up in your brain. Now you are dreaming of my painting.
When I die I want to be burned. I want to be burned on top of the highest mountain, so that bits of me can travel high easily, and break apart. When I die I want the bits of me to travel the world, to go to places that I never went when I was alive. I want bits of me to go up your nose while you are asleep, and to travel into your brain. When I die, I want you to dream of me.
- Kieron Broadhurst 2016