This Photo Book Is a Love Letter to the Power and Beauty of Volcanoes

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Wanda Orme artist Volcano Songs book 2021
Volcano Songs by Wanda OrmeCourtesy the artist

“Volcanoes are apertures, where one world’s truth spills into another,” says artist Wanda Orme of the subject of her latest body of work, Volcano Songs

Born on the Isle of Man, raised in London, and now lost amidst the breathtaking landscape of California, artist Wanda Orme is in constant dialogue with nature. After dedicating ten years to the creation of images and installations inspired by the Salton Sea – a shallow body of saline water stretching on the San Andreas Fault in California – Orme took her craft to the south of Italy.

Having temporarily relocated to Naples between 2018 and 2021, Orme immersed herself in the mystical energy of Mount Vesuvius and the volcanic islands of Alicudi and Pantelleria. That same energy now echoes through the pages of her new book Volcano Songs; a collection of photographs and poems that questions the artist’s – and our own – relationship to the earth and its unrestrainable power.

Volcano Songs is about something that is completely beyond our control, something that is deeply mysterious, yet very present,” Orme tells AnOther. “In the built environment, we are rarely confronted with things that we can’t comprehend rationally. This book explores the unknowability that nature casts into our lives, the intimate relationship we can build with the non-human world, and how places like Naples – places where difference meets, negotiations happen – can change our understanding of who we are.”

Comprising 24 dreamy images and the same number of poems, the volume was carefully designed so as to look like “something born of the volcano itself.” In Volcano Songs, Orme’s experience of Southern Italy is translated into vivid imagery and moving text capable of breathing new life into the inactive cavities of Mount Vesuvius. Here, Orme reflects on Naples and the power of its landscape.

“Can you write a love song to power? Living in the presence of Vesuvius worked in its own way on my consciousness, the volcano became a point of orientation, both physically and emotionally. I moved to Naples three years ago. I’ve been thinking about how things work their way into you, the volcano becomes a part of your body in Naples you are literally eating it in produce from its fertile slopes. Here is a power that permeates, cycles, runs through and around bodies. At the water’s edge where lava has been worn smooth, the very ground you walk on. Power beyond our human constructs, power with a playfulness, but also with the capacity for both creation and destruction.” 

“Is this kind of power hard to love, or is an appreciation of this power exactly what we should be striving for? It’s something very real and honest; a world which both disregards and holds us, a world which does not belong to us but which we belong to. Volcanoes exist despite us, completely beyond the human realm. They remind us that this planet is not ours, but that we belong to the earth.”

“There is a humility and an audacity which comes with living on the slopes of a volcano. Such a specific natural feature commands attention in a different way, you become keenly aware of its presence as an entity – almost as an individual – but as this awareness grows you start to feel how it flows through things, how the energy of it flows through things. So that volcanoes become more than just one thing.”

Volcano Songs calls to the animal body of the world, a cycling animate energy, tangible in the in-between. Between words and images, there is a sense of hide and seek with an entity. At once there, at once not. Like shrines to the Madonna built of volcanic pumice for protection, there is a paradox at its core. Intimacy and expanse, upheaval and hope. Volcano Songs is an invitation to tap into the mainframe.”

Volcano Songs by Wanda Orme is published by Guest Editions, and is out now.