Architecture of fire

The Common Campfire is an interactive, responsive light installation by Adam Grant, whose previous creative endeavours include Jafflechutes and This Bike Has MS. This particular work appeared under the auspices of Test Sites, a City of Melbourne support program for interdisciplinary artists to develop and share works with the community.

But enough facts. This is art. Here is my response.

Architecture of fire

I am LED here. A cubed camp of fire rests between pavers delineating the rectangles of plastic turf that form this oasis in the CBD.

Beneath young eucalypts, bounded by blue stone and red brick educational edifices, we wait. Perhaps people have ever waited here for fire.

A campfire is always constructed. It is careful placement, an arrangement of infrastructure and a spark. This is the same. The spark of an idea that was built as it was given air.

A small clear box of diodes and wires, pleasing in its visual simplicity, is connected to a larger, disguised electrical source. It’s linked to the city: to the lit up library facade, to the trams with their ringing bells and thus to all those reading and travelling. The growing chill in the air is as if I can feel the frisson of exchanging electrons.

I watch the installation take shape, censors, stones, aligned…and I want to build a bonfire of my inanities. This will do. I sacrifice my evening to see if light feels like fire because the city, like a campfire is primarily a locus of exchange.

Street lights silver the fake turf. Squealing brakes and the susurration of electric bikes can’t interrupt this contemplative work. The back of Francis Ormond is turned from this.

There’s gentle movement in the air, waving the drooping leaves. Ghosts of earlier campfires?

Unexpected activity.

I contribute. Arranging logs in a circle between the stones and the box on its platform. An imitation fire, indicator of potential energy, governed by dreams of the body electric (as Walt Whitman says).

Sirens like bird calls pierce the growing darkness, taxis and car horns echo over this proving ground. Testing is complete.


Shining spidery quadrilateral filaments, as a layered undifferentiated array, elegant in its symmetry, convey the electricity and the data. Such a delicate web.

Diodes flare and fade through orange, yellow, passing through green and red, higher and lower. Acting to their own irregular rhythm, they bring an orderly disorder to this geometry.

We move in an out, a genteel dance, diodes flicker.

Communing via calibrated cameras, colours rise and fall, grow and fade. Crackling sounds build from the disguised speaker (another source of exchange, a magnetic field transforming electricity into sound). I think about amplitude. As if in response the stars come out.

Amplitude: the angular distance along the horizon from true east or west to the intersection of the vertical circle of a celestial body with the horizon.

We move closer and the diodes wake: trapezing, constellating, mesmerising.

We think about telling stories, offering food. We imagine multiple boxes, or a large climbing frame suspending pulsing colour. An architecture of (false) flames.

Art, like fire, elicits a response.

I hold my hands over the perspex box.

This common campfire, this electric impression of flame, is complete.

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