With nightfall, detail fades and all of our eyes are drawn to the crackling blaze. The stark contrast of dark and light provides a welcome respite from distractions. It is hard here to hold on to the complexities of our sunlit lives and there is a sorting out of opposites in the senses. With elemental simplicity, the outer blaze rekindles an inner glow. The succession of beacons leads us onward, weaving a path through the heart of the city. The direction is clear, linear, and slowly paced. There is the feel of a procession to it — a ritual of group movement and meditation. We feel the urgency of destination as we approach the reflecting basin. We feel, as part of the throng, that we are coursing through an inner artery just beneath the city’s concrete skin…only to be poured out into a place to view and be viewed within the soft, warm bath of sounds and scents and light. Our glance upward through the smoke and into the indistinct skyline deceives our sense of distances. The only clear visibility is the shifting, sparking flame, which dances in reflections on the water.
Below us in the water, the fire does not destroy or consume, but is repeatedly renewed.We too are renewed by the sight of many hands bending to their tasks with silent concentration. Clear evidence that people can still create an environment for themselves, can shape a space. Human hands and simple materials, an antidote for every other living space we habit.
This is a return to pre-technology. A time when fire glow made faces wonderfully open and inviting. Soft light is beautiful light, and no technology can recreate the velvet effects of a live flame’s reflections. No technology can create this sense of unity with others when we experience art. An aura of smoke, and sound, and incense bathes this river and its banks. Do we yearn for a return to this shared world of shadow…a time when we didn’t need to see all…to know all…to want all.
Rebecca Leuchak is an Assistant Professor of Art and Architectural History at the School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation at Roger Williams University.