If you’ve ever wondered what it might look like if a solar flare was to consume our planet, as has been the subject of one too many sci-fi movies, then one New York-based artist may be able to give you some idea. Yes, watching this enormous sphere of matches burn is absolutely mesmerizing, and just a little terrifying. Either way, if you’ve ever wanted to see 42,000 matches go up in flames, now’s your chance.
The man behind the incredible project is Ben Ahles, an artist from Vermont. He now resides in New York, where he runs a YouTube channel called “All is Art.” Ahles has uploaded more than 30 videos in the past four years, which together have millions of views, earning him over 5,000 subscribers.
Some of his most popular projects have involved his pet rabbit, Wallace. In September 2014, for instance, he constructed a huge cardboard castle for the bunny to explore. And as part of the structure, he included an Iron Throne from the Game of Thrones TV series comprised entirely of carrots.
His videos of the castle and throne’s construction drew in over 200,000 views. And after designing, cutting out and building Wallace’s castle, Ahles let his rabbit loose on it. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the bunny to completely chew it up, destroying his new home from the inside. But the subsequent video of Wallace running rampant racked up another 191,000 views.
One of Ahles’ more complex projects is his “dream scaffolding” woven mandala. After years of designing it virtually, Ahles used a combination of woven wire and laser-cut frames to build his vision in the real world. Eleven simple patterns layer to contribute to the final, intricate artwork. One fan, Andrew, wrote in response, “Bewildered and taken back by your artistic talent.”
Far and away Ahles’ most popular video, however, involves nothing as complex as the mandala. Instead, it simply uses matches – 42,000 of them, in fact. Ahles was playing around with a few matches when he noticed that when glued together, they start taking on a spherical shape, thanks to their heads being wider than their bodies. And so, he decided to see how many it would take to make a full sphere.
He didn’t just whip out the glue and go to town, of course. Instead, he first loaded up some modeling software and began building his enormous match-sphere virtually, as he had done with the woven mandala. And in doing so, he determined that he would need somewhere in the region of 42,000 matches to complete it – so that’s exactly what he set off to purchase.
Indeed, the materials necessary for the sphere cost a whopping $500 – a considerable chunk of change on just matches and hot glue. Then again, as any true art connoisseur will likely tell you, it’s hard to put a price on art. And the results of Ahles’ experiment are probably impressive enough to justify both the cost, and the time.
Yes, gluing all those matches together wasn’t something that Ahles could do overnight. In fact, it took him ten long months to assemble them all into a huge globe. And then, he set it on fire. But he didn’t just do it for his own personal pleasure. No, he decided to share this majestic feat with the world by filming it and uploading it to the internet.
As the nine-minute clip begins, Ahles reveals the type of matches he’s using for the project. Seemingly in the interests of being eco-friendly, particularly considering the large fire he’s intending to light, Ahles is using Diamond-brand “greenlight” matches. According to the packaging, the green-headed matches are “sourced from responsible forests.”
The video then shows a short time-lapse of Ahles assembling the first few matches. Just gluing those few together looks to be mind-numbingly excruciating, so it’s difficult to imagine having to assemble 42,000 of them. Indeed, we really don’t envy the amount of time and effort he must have had to put in – but it’s undoubtedly all in the pursuit of artistic purpose.
Ahles then shows the sphere at various points throughout its construction. It’s awe-inspiring to see it come together, even in snapshots. And the amount of patience and perseverance that would have been required of Ahles at this stage is both highly apparent and hugely admirable. Even if he’s only sticking matches together, it still demands huge dedication.
Once the sphere is halfway done, Ahles lays it out on the table, next to the matches that still need to be added. So, if you’re struggling to properly visualize just how many matches 42,000 is, then Ahles has you covered. And it’s safe to say that it is, in fact, a whole lot. This shot also allows us to see that the sphere is, as you might have guessed, hollow inside.
Finally, the sphere is complete, and the video cuts to it standing between trees in a snowy forest. Despite using the same brand of matches for the entire sphere, the end result is actually a few different shades of green. In fact, the striped nature of the pattern almost makes it look deliberate.
Then, Ahles decides to undo ten months’ of hard work in ten seconds, and takes one final match out of the box. Unlike the previous 42,000, however, he actually lights this one – and moves it towards the sphere. Surprisingly, it doesn’t instantly go up in flames, and the lit match actually extinguishes before it manages to light the rest of them.
Thankfully, the second match works, and suddenly, the ball is ablaze. Ahles ducks for cover, just in case it should go awry. But instead, it burns slower than anyone might have presumed, as the fire gradually envelops the entire structure.
Watching the sphere go up in flames is strangely satisfying, and of course, completely mesmerizing. In less than a minute, the green ball has turned entirely black. Indeed, it’s not unlike watching a sci-fi movie where a solar flare consumes the earth, such as the 2009 Nicolas Cage film Knowing.
And, in the spirit of those sci-fi movies, one commenter on YouTube quoted Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Indeed, Bradley Herron wrote, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”
Eugege Bell, meanwhile, offered Ahles some tongue-in-cheek advice. “Very well done. Thank you,” he wrote. “Next time, please light it by dragging the striker box on the sphere.” Somehow, we can’t imagine Ahles will be too quick to recreate his ten-month experiment, but it’s an interesting idea should he – or anyone else – decide to give it another go in future.
So, we now know what 42,000 matches being lit simultaneously looks like, and it’s hard to deny how captivating it was. Indeed, Ahles’ artwork may typify “modern art” in how off-kilter it is, but the results are wholly impressive. And with more than five million views on YouTube, it seems the internet agrees.