The Colosseum on Fire

Don’t freak out! It’s just virtual flames. They look totally cool, though.

Danish artist Thyra Hilden and her partner Pio Diaz have been setting famous historical monuments on virtual fire all over Europe for years. They use large scale video projection installations to make a point about the significance and fragility of Europe’s cultural heritage.

After several years of preparation, they’ve finally set up their vision of arson in a place where you can still see melted copper coins embedded in the pavement from the fires that blazed through the city 2,000 years ago.

Creating the flames inside the historical building had been demanding of the couple, said Hilden, but added that they had not allowed the technicalities to distract them from the main purpose of the installation.

“As far as I know it’s half a kilometre just to walk around the building so to set it on fire was a really, really huge effort but to us all the technical things are not important, we want to focus mainly and only on the content and the expression and why we want to do it,” she said.

Even the challenges were essentially part of the message of the display, Diaz added.

“I think that the most challenging is to go from and idea to something that is concrete and sometimes it’s pretty difficult, not just to burn the Colosseum but in every day life for everybody so I think that just to do it, in a way symbolises that, that you know, to have the idea and put it in realisation,” he said.

The timing just happens to suit the city’s plans as well. Rome is in the process of raising $32 million from private donors for a full restoration of the Colosseum, so curator Gianni Mercurio sees the fire as symbolizing the phoenix rising from the ashes.

(I haven’t blogged about this restoration project yet because there’s a strong chance it will involve advertising on the Colosseum and the thought makes me physically ill. They say it won’t be hideous billboards or anything like that, but rather some tasteful sky-projected laser logos. I am skeptical and I am grumpy.)

And now, without further ado, fire up your fiddle and clear your throat for a rousing rendition of the Sack of Illium.