The Serpent Mother at the Fire Arts Festival.
Artists tame, manipulate flames
By William Brand, STAFF WRITER
OAKLAND — With a flick of a switch, Oakland artist Don Cain sent a streak of fire roaring 100 feet into the air late Thursday, casting an eerie shadow on a passing BART train and spinning a rush of hot wind across a once-empty lot on 7th Street.
Fifty feet away, a crew of San Francisco techno-artists on a 20-foot ladder adjusted the jaws of a glowing 30-foot-long serpent, its scales and bones a tangle of welded aluminum, steel, wires and propane pipes.
“The serpent will open her jaws, flames will shoot out and each of her teeth will have a flame effect,” explained Jessica Hobbs, a member of the Flaming Lotus Girls, who have worked all year on the project.
The tower of flame, the coiling serpent and many other fire-breathing installations destined for the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada next month are part of the Sixth Annual Fire Arts Festival, a benefit for the Crucible, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the fire arts. They include glass making, foundry work, blacksmithing, holography, fire eating and stilt walking. There’s even a class on installing solar panels.
The festival, which continues through tonight, is far beyond the cutting edge — acauldron of technical, artistic innovation. It features many performers and artist groups who regularly create works for the annual Burning Man.
Crucible founder Michael Stutz, 37, says fire is maligned in modern society. Many disasters are linked to fire, he said. “We’re trying to change the reputation of fire.”
It has attracted a long list of corporate and private sponsors and benefactors.
The lot is littered with projects destined for the Black Rock Desert in Nevada for the annual Burning Man art festival, Aug. 28 to Sept. 4.
The device that shoots a river of flame skyward is called a fire cannon, explained crew member Scott Cocking of Arcata. In this case, the crew, which also includes the artist Bohdi of Oakland and Scott Simpson of Petaluma, has three fire cannons tied together. A click of a computer sends bursts of gaseous propane upward. A small pilot light flame burning at the mouth of the cannons ignites the gas in spectacular fashion.
“I was at Burning Man one year, playing with little torches and this guy fired off a cannon that sent a flame 50 feet into the air,” Cocking said. “I realized what I was doing was yesterday’s news.”
The serpent head assembled by the Flaming Lotus Girls is just part of the Burning Man project called Serpent Mother, Pouneh Mortazavi, one of the founders, explained. When completed at Burning Man next month, the serpent will be 168 feet long, made of steel, copper, glass, fire and light, coiled around a huge egg, which will have its own spectacular pyrotechnics.
The final performance is at 8 p.m. tonight. Tickets are sold only at the gate: $25 for Crucible members, $30 for non-members. Information: http://www.thecrucible.org/fireartsfestival, (510) 444-0919.
Information on the Burning Man part of the show can be found at: http://www.burningman.com.
Contact William Brand at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAF on ABC’s The View from the Bay (has a good video clip of Michael Sturtz talking about FAF)
Blanche Shaheen previews this year’s Fire Arts Festival live from The Crucible in Oakland!
Blanche Shaheen takes us to the Fire Arts Festival in Oakland, a four-day festival celebrating creations through fire and art.