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WaterFire Providence®, the award-winning sculpture by Barnaby Evans installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence, has been praised by Rhode Island residents and international visitors alike as a powerful work of art and a moving symbol of Providence’s renaissance. WaterFire’s one hundred sparkling bonfires, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the flickering firelight on the arched bridges, the silhouettes of the firetenders passing by the flames, the torch-lit vessels traveling down the river, and the enchanting music from around the world engage all the senses and emotions of those who stroll the paths of Waterplace Park. WaterFire has captured the imagination of over ten million visitors, bringing life to downtown, and revitalizing Rhode Island’s capital city.

Cited by the [Providence Journal] in 1997 as “the most popular work of art created in the capital city’s 371-year history” and by Friedrich St. Florian as the "crown jewel of the Providence renaissance," WaterFire continues to grow and gain in popularity. Barnaby Evans created First Fire in 1994 as a commission to celebrate the tenth anniversary of First Night Providence. In June 1996, Evans created Second Fire for the International Sculpture Conference where it became the gathering place for thousands of participants from all over the world. Ardent art supporters convinced Evans to create an on-going fire installation and started a grass-roots effort to establish WaterFire as a non-profit arts organization. With the support of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, a hard working staff, generous donations from visitors, contributions from corporate leaders and support from the City and State, WaterFire’s bright flames now regularly return to illuminate downtown Providence.

In 1997, WaterFire Providence expanded to 42 braziers, and attracted an estimated attendance of 350,000 people during thirteen lightings. Evans received the Renaissance Award from the City of Providence for his work as an artist and his role in revitalizing downtown Providence.

In response to growing attendance, WaterFire expanded in size to 81 braziers in 1998; and 97 braziers in 1999. The 1999 season culminated with 100 bonfires in a special WaterFire lighting for the December 31 millennium celebrations. With WaterFire’s 2000 season more than thirty sponsors helped host 25 lightings during a season that ran from March to October. WaterFire celebrated its 200th lighting in August, 2006.

Hundreds of volunteers devote thousands of hours and join with the fulltime staff to create WaterFire for your enjoyment. The power of WaterFire Providence to attract millions of visitors is eloquent testimony to the importance of public art and to its capacity to restore our urban and social landscape.

WaterFire needs your support to keep the flames burning. WaterFire is an independent non-profit arts organization and we need your contributions to present the event and cover our expenses. Please give what you can and give your donation to the volunteers at any of the stands in the park marked by the blue columns.

Barnaby Evans

Barnaby Evans is an artist who works in many media, including site-specific sculpture installations, photography, film, garden design, architectural projects, writing, and conceptual works. His original training was in the sciences, but he has been working exclusively as an artist for more than twenty-five years.

Evans is best known for WaterFire, a sculpture that he installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence. In 1994, he created First Fire to celebrate the tenth anniversary of First Night Providence; in June 1996, he created Second Fire for the International Sculpture Conference and the Convergence International Arts Festival in Providence. With hundreds of volunteers and the broad support of the community, he established WaterFire as an on-going installation in 1997. Evans also created WaterFire Houston in 1998 and installed Moving Water for the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Vita Brevis Program in Boston in 2001. Among other installation works, Barnaby Evans created Temple to Milk in 1989, Protecting the Flag in 1990, Execution Coda (with artist Irene Lawrence) in 1993, and Solstice Courtyard in 1997. Evans created Rikyu’s Second Dream for the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art for the summer of 1999, a related work, 613 Lengths of Bamboo at the Brattleboro Museum of Art and Heart of Glass for the Museum of Glass and Contemporary Art in Tacoma, Washington, both in 2001. Evans is currently exploring art installations for a number of other cities including St. Petersburg, Barcelona, and Seoul.

Barnaby Evans is also known for his photography which is included in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Bibliotheque National, Paris; the Musee’ d’art et d’histoire, Fribourg, Switzerland; the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; and the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design among others. His photographs have also been nationally and internationally exhibited and published in Camera , Lucerne, Switzerland; Photokina, Cologne, Germany; Photography Annual, New York; and Schweizerische Photorundschau / Revue Suisse de Photographie.

Barnaby Evans received his Bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science from Brown University in 1975. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humanities by Brown University and an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Rhode Island College, both in 2000. Evans has also received the Aaron Siskind Fellowship in Photography, several fellowships from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Silver Prize for Colour Photography at the International Triennial Exhibition (in Switzerland) and Providence’s Renaissance Award in 1997. Evans received the 2003 Kevin Lynch Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and WaterFire was honored with the 2003 Rudy S. Bruner Silver Award for Urban Excellence from the Bruner Foundation given to Providence for the renaissance of its downtown. Evans has lectured at many universities including Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, MIT, Harvard, Cornell, McGill, and the University of Barcelona. Evans is a 2003/2004 Artist in Residence at MIT and is co-teaching a course at the Urban Studies Department at MIT on the impact of ephemera on the urban environment.

Rikyuu’s Second Dream and WaterFire:

Anyone who has been to Barnaby Evans’ studio and apartment in the converted schoolhouse in Providence’s Mount Pleasant section, will suspect that an explanation of his installation’s title might be found somewhere deep in his three libraries, stacked to the ceiling with books on architecture, mythology, art, fiction and science. The tea master Sen Rikyuu (1522-1591) is considered one of the most outstanding figures of Japanese cultural history. He not only perfected the traditional tea ceremony, but also designed the ideal spaces for this ritual, thereby firmly establishing concepts of tranquillity and deliberate simplicity (sabi and wabi) as aesthetic and philosophical ideals for daily life and expanding the concept of art beyond its traditional boundaries.

It is hardly surprising that an ancient creator of spaces and ritual like Rikyuu is a source of great inspiration for Barnaby Evans who has for the last 3 years enriched the lives of tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders by providing meditative encounters with water, fire, music and their own capital city at regular intervals during the summer. Barnaby Evans’ current installation at the RISD museum is in many ways a counterpart to WaterFire: while the fiery Stonehenge in Waterplace Park turns the well-known spaces of urban Providence into a magical landscape of public meditation and ritual, Rikyuu’s Second Dream does not rely on large crowds for its effect. It is about private encounters with unusual spaces that challenge our notions of inside and outside, nature and artifice, solid and void, presence and past.

The upper gallery of the RISD museum’s Farrago Wing has been transformed into a sequence of rooms, carved out of a mysterious forest of dangling Chinese bamboo poles. Curved paths lead us through this maze, providing constantly changing perspectives through the geometric grid pattern on which the poles are placed. Deep in this forest we perceive an amazingly beautiful Noo robe from the Museum’s collection, and a wondrous, veiled object, hiding, according to Barnaby Evans, a "Fetish of Modern Art" of great, but hidden importance (what might it be?) - a reminder of the deep connections between central ideas of modernity and the discovery of Japanese philosophy, design and architecture in the 19th century. Accompanied by the sounds of ocean waves, wind and water, we arrive in the central domed space, where three benches face a pile of dark stones in the center. But this space itself exists only as a fragile illusion, formed by the absence of the bamboo poles, its walls moving, parting and receding as we touch them.

The meaning of Rikyuu’s Second Dream continues to unfold as it leads us into the Asian Galleries of the RISD Museum: upon leaving the installation we are met by the quiet gaze of a standing figure of polychrome wood, created during the Chinese Ming Dynasty. As the museum’s label tells us, its name "Guanyin" means "looking on, heeding the sound," and recalls an "ancient goddess who paused at the threshold to heaven to listen to the cry of the world and look on the sound of prayers." As we continue through the galleries we encounter the precious collection of Japanese Woodblock Prints by the 19th Century Masters Hokusai and Hiroshige presenting "Meisho," famous places, "celebrated for their natural beauty, rich religious and literary association" and "locales for relaxation and pleasure." Barnaby Evans poetic initiation to our encounters with the museum’s Asian collection creates another such "Meisho" - one that Rikyuu could have dreamed.

Dietrich Neumann is Professor of the History of Architecture at Brown University. His latest book "Film Architecture" has just been released in paperback as well as a new book for children, "Joe and the Skyscraper" that came out last fall.

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review by . August 08, 2009
Waterfire 1
Having spent my entire life here in Rhode Island I can tell you that 25 years ago Downtown Providence was a run-down, dreary place.  In those days if you did happen to run into someone after dark there was a pretty fair chance that the person was up to no good and furthermore your own personal safety may have been in jeopardy.  Thankfully, much of this has changed due to the hard work and vision of a coalition of government officials, business interests, concerned citizens …
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