Jour De Fête

Text & photography by Carly Jayne

Christian Löffler – A Forest
A Forest (2012)

Fireworks have played a huge part in rituals and celebrations for thousands of years. What was once a pile of gunpowder shot ruthlessly by mouth from shoots of bamboo in China has progressed through time, technology and design over to the West in the 17th century to become a status symbol for celebrations of the wealthy and the desirable. Back then, it was only available to the ones at the height of society’s class divide. The demand for bigger and better pyrotechnics brought about the birth of two schools in Europe that used painstaking methods to develop the trade. It was the Italian school of pyrotechnic science that discovered the technique to use colour within the explosion, taking the firework to a new visual dimension. The firework has undergone centuries of tinkering, chemical progression, the introduction of health and safety measures and the mass manufacturing of explosive powder to get to where it is today.

jour de fete fireworks pyrotechnics

Throughout my childhood, bonfire night was a major event. Alongside my family and the whole of the local estate, we wrapped up in jackets with hoods, wellington boots and embarrassing bobble hats and shuffled alongside the mass of people congregating at the local park for the display of the year. Rumour has it that it is going to be even bigger than last year. The anticipation in the crowd was rife and the giggly net of chatter was only broken when the first wooosh was launched into the air. For what seemed like hours, but in reality was just over 10 minutes, the entire crowd would immerse themselves in that very moment. For a short period of time the fields of people became beautifully connected as the shared experience of man-made momentary beauty enticed them to let go of their surroundings.

Through a housing estate just North of the seafront in Brighton, the renowned Generik Vapeur took over the streets and filled the pavements with an energetic production during their performance of Bivouac 2011. Painted head-to-toe in blue, constantly lighting flares and explosives, they ran through the crowd rolling drums and setting off huge booming fireworks led by a sergeant screaming French instructions through a megaphone. In an aggressive yet theatrical way, they growled and taunted the crowd who carried their children on their shoulders and walked beside the mayhem amongst the smoke, lost in the high energy of their rhythm. The audience was carried away by the lights and the fast paced nature of the show. As with every Generik Vapeur piece, the audience was left without a clue as to what had just happened.

Read more in N˚4: Flight.