Rotting Flame I

400+ oranges on steel armature, 6 ft. (1.8 m) h . x 12 ft. (3.7 m) l., 1994

Left: installation view, 'Color in the Shadows, Bay Area Cyber Art, work by Mark Thompson at lower left,' CCAC, Oakland, CA, 1994, curated by Mark Bartlett.

Center: installation detail, Agricola: Four Works 1994-97, upper left: corner of Slump (Orchard) I, Hartnell College, Salinas, CA. 1998.

Right: installation view, The Rising Sea: Images and Constructions from South Florida and Other Selected Works, Museum of Contemporary Art, Lake Worth, FL, 1998.

Essay about the Florida exhibtion by Robert C. Morgan.

Images of Rotting Flame II, 2009

Rotting Flame I, first shown in, Color in the Shadows, Bay Area Cyber Art, along with the video, Deluge (Radiant Sleep/Helium Ash), 1994, is comprised of a branching steel armature in the shape of a large flame with over 400 ripe oranges impaled on spikes projecting from the structure. The structure is suspended out from a wall held in space by fine metal cables, the oranges are allowed to decay naturally given the conditions of the surrounding atmosphere. Rotting Flame II was constructed in Korea from images of Rotting Flame I, for the exhibition: Adventures of the Fire, as part of The 5th World Ceramic Biennale Korea, Icheon World Ceramic Center, Icheon, Korea – April 25-June 24, 2009.

Rotting Flame I & II are instruments of chemical transformation and time. The processes of fire and decay are essentially two forms of oxidation/reduction, fire is relatively fast and decay is much slower. In this sense Rotting Flame I & II are the image of fire animated within the time frame of the decay of oranges. The orange color of the citrus also parallels the orange incandescence of unburnt carbon particles of a reducing flame.


Important antecedents to Rotting Flame I & II were a series of site-process, kiln works from the late 1970’s into the early 1990’s in which fire was the essential agent of physical and durational change. Land Monitor/Fired Volcanic Boulder, 1980, Wave Ship (of Fire), 1984, Untitled (Earth Orchid), 1988 and Metabolism and Mortality/O2, 1992 are exemplary of this series. In these environmental projects the fire was an agent of change in the geologic sense, used to alter earth materials within a site-developed furnace structure; here geologic time was compressed into human time by speeding up the normally glacial rate of geologic transformations.

Rotting Flame I & II also engage metaphorically with metabolic and entropic change associated with landscape, photosynthesis and other bio/geochemical cycles as well as human metabolism, agriculture and energy systems. Many of these concepts were further explored in a subsequent body of process/photo works such as Robes I & II, 1995, Séance (Entropic) I & II, 1995 and Thyroid Portraits/Knights (1-6), as well as in the sculptures, Surrogate System, 1995 and Novum Organum II (Two Suns), 1998.

John Roloff, 1994/1999/2009