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Garance Maurer

Artist, designer

  • Craft & Design
  • San Francisco

“How to live with fires, rather than against them? I want to observe and understand the extent to which this holistic strategy integrates all forest users and their skills, promoting a cultural, linguistic and disciplinary plurality, welcoming the more than human perspective.”

I practice moving. My travels across land invite me to explore the relationships that we maintain with various environments (especially natural, urban, and social ones). As an artist and designer, I take disciplinary detours that compel me to blend together a variety of methods. By traversing landscapes and disciplines, I, in turn, am traversed by them. This ever-moving practice fuels my research into ways of inhabiting space.

My design practice, on the other hand, is fundamentally grounded by, for, and with the territories that I explore. Rooted in research-action methodology, I compare this multidisciplinary approach with that of a translation or vector. In other words, I stand at the crossroads of several areas and converse with the various individuals involved in a territory or topic, aiming to weave ties and build bridges of practices and knowledge. I seek to do with rather than against; to do (together) and find out.

My sensitive, technical approach to materials allows me to question and reveal the issues and stories contained in them. Since I gather these issues and stories from different places, they usually surface within a specific spatial and temporal context, but also adhere to a more universal narrative of ecosystems and lifecycles. The ultra-local holds in it the potential for scaling up and allows for a (re)consideration of overall dynamics. By shifting the perspective, I strive to cultivate alternative narratives of ecological and social sustainability.

With this in mind, during my residency at Villa Albertine, I hope to go through, feel, understand, connect, make, and express the various aspects and dynamics of fire in California.

Garance Maurer is an independent designer and transdisciplinary artist, specialized in textiles, graduated with a Master’s in textile design from ENSCI-Les Ateliers (2018). She has been working in various sectors from craft to industry, from design to architecture, and from artistic research to activism. She was an artist in residence in Mexico (Alliances Françaises du Mexique), in the French Alps, in Corsica (Fabbrica Design), and in Hungary (Balatorium) and exhibited in Villa Cavrois, Musée Dauphinois, La Villette and Biblioteca Vasconcelos among others. A firmly situated practice leads her to work and live in different spaces, between Berlin and France.

Cultivating alterity, collective practices, and community knowledge, she’s involved in several collectives as co-founder of Collectif Trouble and member of Floating Berlin.

The project I will develop in San Francisco, lies in the continuity of a research started in 2022 in Corsica during a residency on vegetal fibers and local resources. There, part of my explorations led me to question the potential of transformation through fire, in relation to the wildfires that arise every summer -and more often and intensely now- in Corsica and worldwide. To that extent, I researched the symbolics of fires in ceremonies, religion, pagan beliefs, environment, activism, eco-feminism… I also used fire as a tool. I made local charcoal, ceramic glazes with ashes of plants. I met with scientists and environmentalists, shepherds and persons engaged with controlled burnings practiced locally.

Prescribed burning is a tradition that communities concerned by wildfire around the globe have always practiced. It is a maintenance technique consisting of setting fire to a forest, under specific and favorable circumstances, to burn the accumulated fuel, preventing the fallen trees and branches to feed the harmful wildfires. These preventive techniques act as a very beneficial action for biodiversity and are today a recognized method to administrate forests.

For this new residency in 2024, I would like to explore the Californian issue of fire, wildfires, megafires, and controlled fires by meeting local actors, and collecting stories and materials in order to grasp the details and nuances of the issue locally. Within that framework, I would like to raise questions such as: What are our relationships with fire? What does the disappearance of a landscape cause us, and our personal and common narrations? How can we promote traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous communities’ actions? How can we escape the dichotomy of a “war against fire and confrontation politics” and a “romanticized and sanctified nature- preservation policies” moving toward practices of decolonial maintenance, care, hybridization, and co-habitation.

Native American communities in California were periodically setting fire to their forests. These methods, within their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), were one of the reasons why California was such a diverse and balanced ecosystem before the Europeans came, and colonized the land. Nevertheless, in the industrial Eurocentric and production-driven point of view of the 19th century, controlled burning was seen as a naive and dangerous process, considered a waste of valuable material. Following this, fires were forbidden, TEK devalued, and forests overexploited in intense monoculture ways.

Today, we observe a phenomenon called megafires: they are unpredictable, uncontrollable, extremely intense and consume immense superficies of land almost every year. Considered today one of the most violent climatic catastrophes, they are both a consequence and a cause of the climate change and symptoms of the Anthropocene. California, a region particularly touched by megafires and the cradle of their analysis, is today regaining controlled fires techniques learning from Native American communities.

How to live with fires, rather than against them? I want to observe and understand the extent to which this holistic strategy integrates all forest users and their skills, promoting a cultural, linguistic and disciplinary plurality, welcoming the more than human perspective.

I will use fire as a topic, a tool and a metaphor, to enter the territory, and to meet actors entangled to the topic. This paradoxical element, containing both creation and destruction will be the reason to meet and collaborate with scientists, environmentalists, keepers of TEK, crafts and artistic communities, thinkers and makers. From high-TEK to low-tech, I want to unfold the dichotomy and navigate inside the nuances of fire in California.

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