Temple of the Eternal Fire

Electric Fireplace

Cast foam, Aluminum, Acrylic, PETG, Adhesive Mirror, Arduino, Stepper Motors, Light Bulbs, Epoxy Resin, Dirt collected from the Ateşgah Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Baku, Azerbaijan.



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Temple of the Eternal Fire explores the devotion to unreachable origins and ‘authenticity’ in a space of contemporary mediation, through a frame of thirdness. It entangles an electric fireplace–a contemporary simulacra–with the 17th century Zoroastrian temple, Ateşgah of Baku, in Azerbaijan. The temple is home to the ‘eternal fire’ phenomenon (natural gas vents beneath the earth that fuel perpetually burning fires). In my object, a single brick cast with dirt collected from the site assimilates the primordial with the simulated, collapsing the real and unreal into a third dimension: a reality where fire, the Zoroastrian symbol of purity and truth, is a mechanically induced projection, haunted by the memory of its primordial ancestor.
    In limbo between the phantom past and mediated present, thirdness can also serve as a metaphor for intangible cultural identifications, such as the apparitional quality that a heritage-based identity takes on in a contemporary Western reality. The primordial material memory and quietly yearning simulacra reconcile in Temple of the Eternal Fire, into a being that is neither here nor there.

Influences and Dissemination

In the built world, materiality and heritage serve as traces of distant origins. These origins have become memory, a power used to suspend apparitions on both individual and cultural scales from disappearance. Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction describes aura as a vitality experienced through a material’s primordial status—something only resembled in the pastiche of postmodern reproductions. Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation describes hyperreality as the blurring of reality and representation into an indistinguishable third. In Baudrillard's model of the simulacral world, primordial beings are phantoms haunting the hyperreal plane. Their memory entangles original with simulated, ritualistic with cinematic, and living with dead. A third realm of being emerges in between the primordial and the simulacral, vitalized by their mutually enlivening assemblage–a notion in Jane Bennett’s framework of material vitality emerging in situational assemblages from Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things. This “thirdness” resonates with the capacity for communicating the intangible through ontological disruption, explained in Eugene L. Arva’s Writing the Vanishing Real: Hyperreality and Magical Realism. In the absence of the real, Magical Realism creates a reality felt and understood through references–an elusive felt reality. It provides a space to navigate the inaccessibility that defines our mediated realities, identities, and memories. By harnessing notions of thirdness and felt-reality, I explore the devotion to unreachable origins and ‘authenticity’ that lingers in a space of contemporary mediation.

Approach and Methodology

Temple of the Eternal Fire is built of foam bricks encasing a reflection mechanism. The object pulls cues from elements of the Zoroastrian temple, Ateşgah of Baku, in Azerbaijan, and is vitalized by dirt collected directly from the site, contained in the top brick. In this way the making itself is archaeological, as processual remnants build the memory of the object’s production. To navigate the architectural quality of memory and reality, the work examines contemporary simulacral forms in a primordial and ritualistic frame. I adapted, 3D printed, and programmed reflection mechanisms, derived from contemporary electric fireplaces, to project a four-sided orthographic fire within the structure. Surrounding the projected fires are foam bricks, cast from collected eroded bricks. This material is reminiscent of prop design, fitting for this simulacral reproduction. Aluminum scaffolding creates the illusion of floating bricks. The mechanical spectacle inside is revealed through the interstitial space between the bricks, unobscured by grout. Aluminum reappears throughout the structure, referencing vernacular material usage and folk architecture in Azerbaijan.

Aydan Huseynli (she/they)