15 July 2008

The Crucible Fire Arts Festival

It is rare in my adult life that I attend a "Festival" or "Event" of any kind that, in the words of David Cross, "blows the shit out of your ass, into the toilet and flushes itself." The Crucible Fire Arts Festival this past weekend in Oakland California did that for me. At the urging and charity of my old friend and Art Institute of Chicago school mate Pierre Riche, I flew to Oakland and attended. The event turned out to be 100 times larger and more entertaining than I had expected.

The Crucible is a world renowned metal artists workshop that is also intertwined with the Burning Man Project as many of the artists are also funded through grants from that event.

This is pure Gen X, sideshow, Rockabilly-Betty, alternative circus. Why this sort of thing isn't in Vegas permanently, is beyond me. Fire art involves a lot of metal. Almost every artist or group of artists are welders/metal workers/robotics expert with a second self taught major in pyrotechnics. Apparently, once the initial knowledge of how to build a flamethrower became a little more widespread, artists branched off in many directions to expand the technology. The result is a fairground filled with fire. I mean BIG fire. Fire that explodes with such intensity over your head you feel the "Whoomp" of the event hitting your chest. Fire of such heat you need to back up. Yet, as the cool wet fog of the bay moved in, being close to fire seemed a good idea.

Highlights:

The Fire Vortex by Nate Smith
So, you rig 10 giant fans in a circle, like the ones the fire department uses to clear smoke out of a building, put vents on it to direct the air flow better, wear one of those silver suits the steel foundry workers / volcanologists wear and squirt copious amounts of flame from a hose into the air at the center of the fan-driven centerfuge. What you get is a 30ft tornado of fire. Absolutely awe inspiring.

Giant Tesla Coil by Omega Recoil
I love Tesla Coils and this is the largest I've seen. The bolts of electricity produced by this thing created an un-godly noise and near lightening bolt sized fingers of light reaching out into the air. I was hypnotized by the almost evil searching the electricity would do fanning out into purplish pink branches into the air a few feet from me. Can that be topped? Try thinking about a man in a metallic-mesh suit with a metal birdcage over his head wandering into the electricity field and "playing" with the bolts of small lightening over his head. Yup, it happened.

The Healing Eye by Pierre Riche
Apart from the pure spectacle of flame and noise is a symbolic sculpture by Pierre. The healing eye is a pyramid with flames, a water fall, lighted details, and video projection all controlled by a separate button filled control module manipulated by the public. The symbolism of the Staff of Caduceus is a natural draw and the personable Pierre is eager to develop the ideas of healing for you.

Also in the show:

A 1920's steam engine kept alive and periodically spouting a whistle driven expelling of steam.
The completely metal Steampunk Treehouse with elevator to visit and get a birds eye view of the festival.
A glass and crystal buddha statue with swirling lights inside that instigate rays of light and fire.
An interactive bubble machine that fills soap bubbles with propane that can be popped explosively by participants.
A piano keyboard that triggers a row of flames that coincide with the keys as you play.
A spinning sculpture that creates an actual 'ball of flame"
Tractor treaded robots that heat up and glow red.
Insect alien sculptures controlled by a dj that whistle and bang from internal build-ups of flame and gas. Loud!
An ice sculpture with drilled holes that channel gas to metal 'burn points' that melt through the ice.
Fire dancers.
Trapeze artists.

So much amazement that I wandered about for 3-4hrs and kept discovering new stuff. Like a kid in a candy store. Anyone into making stuff, anyone into steam punk, anyone into fire, anyone into art... What will these people be doing 20 yrs from now? Making lots of money putting on a fire festival.

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