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Artist Roger Mooking eyeing international pop-up destinations for The Burn art installation

The vessels were available at various locations across Toronto and were part of the city’s Stronger TOgether program from Jan. 19 to March 12.

Artist Roger Mooking eyeing international pop-up destinations for The Burn art installation
Artists Roger Mooking and Javid JAH stand in front of 'The Burn' vessels at Nathan Phillips Square near Toronto City Hall. ANDREW WILLIAMSON/CITY OF TORONTO PHOTO

The Burn, an interactive art installation that captivated audiences across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) from Jan. 19 to March 12, could soon go international.

Roger Mooking, the award-winning artist who created the installation in collaboration with Javid JAH and Indigenous elder Catherine Tammaro, told Black Dollar Magazine that encouragement from residents and delegates inspired him to take it to places like Jerusalem, Syria, Congo, Ghana, and other international cities, hopefully, this year.

“It was really incredible — I felt every single emotion in those 24 hours, and I heard beautiful stories of joy, compassion, and resilience,” Mooking said.

“I heard horrifying stories of trauma and grief. I heard and witnessed people interacting with the vessel very recreationally. I also saw people reacting to the experience on a spiritual, almost religious level, taking the ball or praying with it in their hands. I'm very proud of what we created with the team to make something truly universal and approachable to everybody,” he added.

The vessels were available at various locations in the GTA and were part of the city’s Stronger TOgether program. It launched last November at Toronto City Hall, according to a city statement.

The Burn vessels attempt to trigger a process of healing. Residents burn cedar spheres, representing a cleansing through heat, ash, smoke, and water. Mooking said it acknowledges the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and commemorates the lives lost and affected.

“It’s the idea that we're burning away the old memories and old parts of ourselves that we've either come to grips with or haven't come to grips with — we're getting rid of that,” Mooking said. “You're burning away the old and regrowing the new, based on letting go, new beginnings, and transformation. Every culture around the world uses fire and water for healing and cleansing. It also has sacred alchemical implications within spiritual implications, so we're just leaning on human history.”

This installation is personal to Mooking, who has dealt with mental health challenges for most of his life. And while he’s struggled alone at times, he said he witnessed people go through the same struggles during the pandemic.

“I recognized that a lot of people were in a similar boat, and I felt not alone for the first time. So, I said, ‘I gotta do something to help people.’ And so, I went to sleep one night, and the universe delivered. It just so happens that our intentions of love and healing will feed us in perpetuity,” Mooking said.

He added ashes from The Burn will be harvested, mixed into soil, and then planted in community gardens across the GTA to honour the spirit of collective healing.

“In the spring, we're going to mix those into the soil of various community gardens around the city. So really, the installation never ends,” Mooking said.