Force-Fire  
[Antidote to the ills of our age]

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2015
An action for the Opening of Helmsdale Highland Games

Force-fire or Teine-éiginn was a folklore ritual used in the Scottish Highlands, which was believed to be an antidote to bewitching, plague and murrain [infectious disease in cattle and sheep]. When struck by these ills, the whole parish would extinguish every single fire and gather together, working in teams doing shifts they would generate fire by friction. From this new “clean” fire embers would be distributed to relight all the hearths in the Parish so warding off the evils. The custom died out around the time of the Highland Clearances with one of the last recorded Force-fires in Helmsdale in 1818.

Using rough hewn timber Tim Knowles constructed a contemporary Force-fire device which was employed by participants from the community and games visitors to create fire as the opening of the 2015 Highland games. The event was not a historic re-enactment but rather a contemporary reworking and from this newly kindled ember a fire was lit that burnt for the duration of the game, the games audience were then invited to burn inscriptions describing contemporary ills.


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Force-fire serves as an antidote for the ills of our age both in it's construction by the artist working outside with hand tools and simple methods to construct a large, robust object which then functions both as a sculpture and a mechanism to bring the community together in a combined, collaborative, communal, effort to create fire by friction. The ritual of the burning of ills invites people to consider the problems facing contemporary society and our world and in their naming [and burning] to make a gesture to rid ourselves of these contemporary evils.