In honour of the Spring Equinox, I decided to burn Memento Mori V, the installation in the upper ruined cave house. This piece was created entirely out of found objects: a wooden box from Shah Dede’s, a skull from the valley, bones from the house’s sod roof, stones from a corner of the room itself, apricot tree branches, cotton headscarf material, golden twigs, and two banners made from garbage plastic sheets painted with a cruciform design in red and pink inspired by rock-cut church frescos. It had been installed in the room for several days and was perfectly constructed to be set ablaze. In Turkey the Spring Equinox has special significance and I decided that this moment was absolutely the right time for the conflagration.
In setting the fire I was helped by Yunus Wegner, Almut’s son, Fire Maestro extraordinaire. Although the plastic banners went up in flames quickly, with liquid melting fire dropping in globs to the ground, the little pyramid of twigs was stubbornly refusing to light. I had given up on it but Yunus got it going and, from there, the flames spread easily to the cotton cloth. Myself, Willemijn, Almut and her two sons watched as the installation burned with purgatorial fire.
See more pictures here.
Thanks to Yunus, Jahja, Almut and Willemijn for their help.
Read about Spring Equinox celebrations in the Asia below:
Leaping across the fire to embrace Nevruz
ISTANBUL – Few days of the year have more historical significance than the current turning point on Earth’s orbit: spring equinox. For many people in Turkey and its near abroad, the day is celebrated as a new year holiday and is recognized as the official birth of spring.
Turks call it Nevruz, which this year will fall on Monday, March 23, but it is also known as Newruz to the Kurds and many people across the Middle East. It is an ancient holiday based on astronomical calculations. Ancient night-sky observers were experts because it was essential to calculate when plants would appear, when a crop should be sown and when the ceremonies customarily held on special dates such as the spring equinox should be carried out.
Western historians believe that the festival originated with the Zoroastrians; the dates for the appearance of this monotheistic religion vary widely from after 330 BC to 6000 BC. However, the ancient Persians believed that this day was the first day of the New Year, hence NawRuz (naw, new; ruz, year) and this belief continues today. Nowruz is celebrated in Greater Iran, Caucasus, Central Asia and by Iranians worldwide. Additionally, Nowruz is also celebrated by Kurds in Iraq and Turkey and among some of the Alevi groups.
The Turks believe Nevruz originated at the time when their ancestors finally escaped from the mountains of Central Asia. Ergenekon is a legendary place located in the inaccessible valleys of the Altay Mountains where the Turkic peoples were first gathered. [Today it has a far different connotation as it has been applied to an alleged conspiracy of prominent people in Turkey to destabilize the country.] The Kurds consider Nevruz their day of liberation from oppression as expressed in a legend about the evil king Dehaq being overcome by the Blacksmith Kawa who subsequently led the people through Ergenekon Mountain to freedom.
Practices and beliefs.
One of the main concepts of Nevruz is the importance of light. It celebrates the victory of a god of light over the powers of darkness, a basic tenet in Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster is supposed to have preached in the royal court of Bactria that there were two forces in the world, good and evil, and that they were in constant combat with each other. Out of this battle came the origins of life and when the cycle of life began it was termed the new day or Nevruz. The ceremonial rituals and traditions surrounding this cosmology form the roots of Nevruz.
How the celebrations were held in the first days is unknown with the exception of lighting bonfires. Leaping across them would be part of a purification ritual in which everyone would be rid of their illnesses or bad luck. They would also demonstrate their bravery and agility at the same time. In addition to that, eggs formed an important part of the rituals with eggs being dyed yellow, green and red. These are the three colors associated with today’s Kurds.
Today lighting bonfires is usually done outside of urban areas to prevent any serious fires breaking out. The festivities might continue over several days starting from the time of the equinox but usually occur between the 20th and 24th of March. Since Nevruz was related to purification, people would bathe and then put on new clothes; over time bathing as part of the tradition was eliminated but the donning of new clothes continues as it represents freshness and the new.