By Cornelia Parker, located 1988.


“When I visited the forest in December it was raining gently and the place seemed to glow as if it were twilight. There was a feeling of being underwater, the bare trees were rimed with green, covered as they were with various lichen. This green vibrated against the bright orange floor, carpeted with leaves and pine needles. I was struck by the spirituality of the place, its hush that you might experience on entering a small church. (Later I pondered on the thought that forests were probably the first churches, and on how they were used to build the great cathedrals.) I half expected to encounter something quite extraordinary, a feeling that kept me looking upwards and over my shoulder as we walked. When considering the piece I should like to make, the idea that the sculpture should hang aloft in a tree persisted. The impression I wanted the sculpture to create was that of a natural phenomenon or a magical vision, but also of something ancient, as old as the forest. To invoke this feeling of age, cast iron seemed a very appropriate material to use. As well as being one of the first metals used by man and indigenous to the Forest of Dean, I liked the fact it would record the damp atmosphere and echo the colours of the place by rusting. Thinking of an image that would encourage this idea of elusive eternity, fire sprang to mind, a flame that would perpetually burn because it was cast in iron. A circle or fairy ring was another image that kept recurring, this evolved eventually into a crown. The image that I arrived at, that satisfied my first intentions, was that of a crown of flames hanging upside down in an oak tree.

The idea of the piece Hanging Fire evolved over a period of time after the initial visit to the forest. I worked on the sculpture in my London studio, modelling the flames out of clay and casting them in resin. These patterns (three different interlocking flames) I sent to Cannop foundry in the Forest of Dean to be cast in iron. I had a steel ring 5′6” in diameter welded, reinforced within by two slightly smaller hoops; this would be the armature from which to hang the flames.

When installing the piece I spent a week in the forest becoming familiar with the sculpture trail and trying to find a suitable site for Hanging Fire. In my proposal I envisaged the work falling from a large oak tree, but looking more closely at their baroque branches I realised that a more uncluttered space was needed for the piece to be effective, after exhaustive searches the ideal spot was found, a circle of five tall sycamores around a central tree. They grew tall and straight and there were no branches till about 25′ up, approximately the height from which I wanted the crown to hang.

The next step was to liaise with Rupert Martin and the Forestry Commission to make sure the trees would take the weight, that they would not be needed to be felled and that there was enough access for a lorry with hoist to get to the spot. Luckily all these issues were discussed quickly and the site was approved.”

From notes by Cornelia Parker.