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Exposing the devastating impact of forest fires

By Prof Uta Kögelsberger

Fire Complex, a project by a Newcastle University artist, is highlighting the brutal impact of forest fires and is setting about making a difference for the future.


What is Fire Complex?

Fire Complex comes from Professor Uta Kögelsberger, and unites photography and video in the public realm to build momentum and resources for the regeneration of our forests.

The anchor piece of Fire Complex is the multi-channel video work, Cull.

Cull follows the post-fire recovery process following the 2020 Castle Fire in California, which burned 174,000 acres of Sequoia National Forest, and destroyed 14% of the world giant sequoia population. It charts the efforts of the teams responsible for cutting down the dead trees left standing that are now endangering the remaining structures and roads.

In an orchestrated choreography, each tree is documented as it comes crashing to the ground like a dead carcass, sometimes falling with such force that the earth beneath it shakes.

A series of photographs presents the now dead giant sequoias on their side; enormous, charred monuments for a world that has been turned upside down. One of Kögelsberger’s billboard performances – or rather, as she calls them, action photographs – shows the stumps of the now cut-down trees layered on top of one another, bearing witness to hundreds of years of growth with each tree erasing the history of the previous one.


Where can I expect to see Fire Complex?

Fire Complex was designed to be seen on billboards, directly becoming an agent in the public realm.

Set in stark contrast to the urban environment where the impact of climate change often seems an abstract reality, the works become a timely reminder of the impact of our daily actions.

On 1st February, the project went live in Los Angeles with Cull exhibited on a large digital screen in Downtown Los Angeles, and a series of photographic works hosted across four different locations in Hollywood.


Find out more about Professor Uta Kögelsberger

Kögelsberger , a Professor of Practice in Fine Art at Newcastle University, initiated Fire Complex after a large part of the community in Sequoia Crest, including her cabin, burned to the ground in the 2020 Castle Fire.

This is a project that starts with the very personal, but communicates a universal emergency.

Additional collaborators included the Rotary Club, whos volunteers will help us replant 6000 trees in spring the communities of Sequoia Crest, Alpine Village and Cedar Slope.

Fire Complex is aimed at raising resources and momentum towards the regeneration of the area. It involves a replanting project in collaboration with the community, Forest Services, with the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, and Cal Fire. Additional collaborators included the Rotary Club, whose volunteers will help us replant 6000 trees in spring in the communities of Sequoia Crest, Alpine Village and Cedar Slope.

You can see more of Professor Kögelsberger's images on the Fire Complex Instagram account. Alternatively, learn more about the work Newcastle University academics are doing in the realm of culture and creative arts on our blog. You can also receive the latest research stories directly to your inbox, when you sign up for our research newsletter.


Tags: Culture & Creative Arts, Research Excellence