USA Map Made Out of 50,000 Matchsticks

Photo: Dan Kvitka. Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art/Flickr

In her artwork America (Burnt/Unburnt), French artist Claire Fontaine created a map of the United States out of 50,000 matches ... and then set it on fire!

In 2011, Fontaine created the (unlit) artwork for the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, as part of its 2011 Time-Based Art Festival:

Last month, Fontaine's America Burnt/Unburnt artwork installation at the Queen's Nail in San Francisco, was taken a step further: the matches were lit ... but everyone who watched the USA set on fire got a bit more than they bargained for as the artwork set the gallery on fire!

Someone who attended the show told the Bernalwood blog:

I was at the gallery when the fire broke out. It was slow-going to attach 50,000 matches, and the show had already been pushed to opening Wednesday night instead of its original date of this past Saturday.

I arrived just as the first matches were being lit. There was a hose ready in the gallery and fire extinguishers around in case things got out of control– I remember feeling relieved to see that. Everyone had their iPhones and camcorders out to document the slow burn of the piece. At first, when the map was lit on fire (intentionally), it burnt slowly and was rather gorgeous.

However, within about 15 seconds of burning, something went wrong and the flame began to surge out of control. We were not sure if it was part of the art piece… however, soon the smoke was billowing over the entire crowd and the sulphur was so hot and thick that it hurt the lungs.

Someone yelled “EVERYONE OUT!!!” and the small crowd stumbled out the front door on Mission Street. The smoke was so thick and yellow that one couldn’t see.

Todd Lappin of Telstar Logistics has the "after" photo showing damage to the art gallery:

Links: PICA TBA:11 ON SIGHT artwork on Flickr - via Colossal | Bernalwood blog - via Hyperallergic

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