Fire, Water and Decay

Emma – one of my 2nd year visual arts students –  is interested in the process of decomposition and destruction by fire. She’s interested in the way things change as they end their existence, the visual qualities and the nature of change. She has been burning things and watching/filming natural objects decay and decompose as time passes.

She has also been filming ripples in water, (” the impact of a splash”) as well using ‘ripple’ photos as the basis for print-making, tying it with the idea of repercussions and the sometimes unintended and unexpected consequences of actions.

Her visual arts journal is full of notes, drawings and photos: its a fascinating record of her passion and artistic evolution.

All these processes – fire, natural decay and ripples in water – are time-based and by their nature temporary, and present a few organisational problems when it comes to putting up a final exhibition, not least selection.

Emma already has 26 videos and multiple photos of burning, decaying/rotting objects and ripples.

But how do you show the IB something that no longer exists (e.g. branches that were burned)?

The IB offer useful guidance in relation to documenting temporary artworks


“In the case of temporary artworks that are digitally documented, the artwork that the candidate submits for assessment must be the one that was actually displayed in the candidate’s exhibition.

The following cases are provided as examples.

Case 1: A melting ice sculpture is presented in the exhibition and, for assessment purposes, the candidate has opted to submit a video documenting the artwork. In this case, the melting ice sculpture is the artwork, the medium is melting ice and the size of the actual object must be provided.

Case 2: A video showing a melting ice sculpture is shown as part of the candidate’s exhibition, and this piece of video art is submitted for assessment. This will be a time-based artwork and the film duration will be indicated in the “Size” field when uploading the file.

Case 3: A printed photograph is part of the exhibition and, for assessment purposes, the digital version of the photo is presented. The actual artwork is the printed photograph, and the medium and size entered when uploading the file should refer to the exhibited object, specifying on what support the image was printed. The digital file should be submitted for assessment only if the final printed version did not differ significantly; otherwise, the final printed object should be reproduced and submitted.”

…So she is likely to have a combination of digital/video techniques in her show, although the exhibition will not be exclusively digital.

Emma is also creating some beautiful paintings of decay and fire, including one large and complex (1m x 1.6m) canvas painting “Fire at Night”. Her show will go up late March or early April 2020, so she has time to explore the options, including splicing/combining her fire and decay videos and/or developing prints and paintings further.

Of course, Emma has looked at the work of Sam Taylor Wood


 “A little death”


Is any of this relevant to you?

It’s important to understand that your exhibition can include the photographic or video record of things that no longer exist – “digitally documented temporary artworks” – with a choice of emphasis, as explained by the IB, e.g. the fire itself is the artwork, or the video of the fire is the artwork, or the photo of the fire is the artwork.


Fire photos by the author.