WaterFire is a state of mind, and yet it was undoubtedly also conceived as a visceral experience that combines all the senses. The smell of smoke, the rhythmic pacing of the braziers of fire flashing in the evening mist, the crackling of the flames as they consume the piled wood, and the sound of music blending with quiet conversation — all of these sensations overwhelm the visitors’ expectations, reaching into their soul with the warmth of humanity. Crowds react to WaterFire with a hushed reverence for the beauty of the place and its capacity to embrace and renew them. WaterFire creates a sense of community among disparate people whose collective imaginations are fired with primeval feelings of belonging to this place at this time.
Visitors feel both this immediacy and this link to the distant past in the WaterFire experience. They can imagine people huddled around fires in ancient times, sharing stories, making music, passing on to future generations their aspirations. They can imagine the spirit of the city radiating like the firelight that reflects upon the water, illuminates our faces, and passes up over the buildings into the sky. Crowds are transformed, taken to another place, lifted from the city yet there. In the middle of the evening, time stands still. Hushed, visitors become believers.
Barnaby Evans has created, with legions of supporters who believe in the transformative power of WaterFire, a major work of art, perhaps one of the great works of our time. The artists and designers of RISD express their gratitude to them and hope that WaterFire will light Providence’s rivers forever!
Roger Mandle is the President of the Rhode Island School of Design.