Judy Chicago: On Fire

Reflecting on Fireworks and Feminism with the Renowned Artist’s Explosive Career

Trailblazing artist, author, feminist, and educator Judy Chicago, has devoted her five-decade career to expanding women’s presence in the arts and in art history. She was one of the first women to enter the world of pyrotechnics in the late 1960s, and has since created a rich and diverse body of work in fireworks display.

Lack of funding forced Judy to pause her work with fireworks, but after 40 years she picked up where she left off, and her most recent piece A Butterfly for Brookyln, was the most complex fireworks project she had ever worked on. The processes, triumphs and challenges of creating the display were reveled in this documentary of the same name, by Oscar winning editor, Kate Amend.

We caught up with Judy, as Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) showcase her renowned pyrotechnic work with a preview of documentary, A Butterfly for Brookyln, and an evening of conversation with the artist.

The Plus: You wanted to feminise the pyrotechnics world, but what first drew you to fireworks rather than any other medium?
Judy Chicago:
I was first interested in coloured smokes that filled the air and softened the environment when they were released into the air and I used those in many pieces.

TP: How has the place of women in arts and pyrotechnics evolved over the decades that you have worked in the industry?
When I was first doing fireworks there were no female pyrotechnics and but that has changed. Still – like the art world – that has changed but not enough.

TP: What has been the most challenging aspect for you to overcome, working with this medium?
I stopped doing fireworks in 1974 because of a lack of funding. I only started again in 2011 and by then coloured smokes were no longer available. By then I was interested in creating images with fireworks but I had to figure out how to work with aerial fireworks to accomplish this which was very challenging.

TP: Why has the butterfly motif been so important to you?
The butterfly is an ancient symbol of the goddess and I’ve long been interested in the feminine as divine. Why should that only be the province of men?

Judy Chicago: On Fire, a Special Two-Night Event Exploring the Artist’s Fireworks, took place at Brooklyn Museum on the 9th of April, and at the Museum of Arts and Design on the 10th of April.