CPNAS - Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences
Print Page

Force Majeure: Wildfire and Wheat

Work by Adrien Segal

February 18, 2020 - July 15, 2020

NAS Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W.

Free. Photo ID required.

Download the exhibition e-catalog.

Force majeure means “superior force,” and refers to both natural disasters (such as floods) and human-caused events (such as war). In the 21st century, natural systems have been so drastically affected by human activity that wildfires, floods, and many other catastrophic events, previously identified as natural disasters, can no longer be so neatly categorized. With her Wildfire and Wheat sculpture and print exhibition, artist Adrien Segal explores the connections and blurring distinctions between natural disasters and human-caused events.

Based on the Cedar and Camp Fires in California, Segal created the two bronze sculptures and related drawings featured in this exhibition using data about the shape of the wildfires as they expanded geographically over time. Wildfire is a natural phenomenon that is a necessary process for a healthy forest ecosystem. We might think of wildfires as natural disasters, but in reality, as many as 90% of wildfires are caused by human activity, the result of campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, downed power lines, discarded cigarettes, and arson. The remaining 10% are caused by chance occurrences such as lightning strikes.

In the Wheat Mandala Series of prints, Segal explores the historical and cultural shift from seeing agricultural pathogens, disease, and the resulting famines through the lens of religion and divine intervention to that of a scientific problem to be solved with technology. Themes explored in the prints include genetic modification and famines that are the direct result of human activities and others that have been caused by natural disasters such as the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora of 1815. The layout of graphic imagery is carefully composed in the form of a mandala, creating a sense of stability and introspection while playing on the cultural shift from the spiritual and supernatural to the scientific.

Adrien Segal is an artist and data sculptor based in Oakland, CA. She works across disciplines and media, including cast glass and bronze, wood, marble, metal, clay, drawing and digital prints. Watch a recording of Segal speaking at the June 2020 D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous Experiment.


Pictured: Adrien Segal, Rim Fire Drawing, 2016, 26 x 40 inches, India ink and charcoal on paper.

Data Source: Fire progression map of the Rim Fire, Stanislaus National Forest, CA. California Department of Forestry (CDF) Fire and Resource Assessment Program (FRAP).

The Rim Fire started in 2013 when a lost hunter lost control of an illegal campfire in a remote canyon in the Stanislaus National Forest just outside of Yosemite National Park. The fire doubled in size overnight and within 4 days had consumed 100,000 acres. The fire's rapid spread was attributed to a record-breaking drought, a heat wave, past fire suppression efforts that had altered the normal fire regime, population growth, and Forest Service budget cuts.

Copyright © 2024. National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. 500 Fifth St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.
Privacy Statement | Institutional Policies and Procedures | Terms of Use
Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software