A couple of weekends ago, I attended the Fire Arts Festival in Oakland CA.
I attended a forerunner of the show about 6 years ago. The show is hosted by The Crucible, an educational artists’ space for crafts like blacksmithy, ceramics, enameling, glass blowing, welding… all seemingly fire related.
The long-ago show that I attended was a low-key affair. During the day Crucible hosted an open house where the family-friendly crowd could watch artisans practice their craft and examine some samples of the finished goods. As night descended, the kids cleared out and a more adult crowd watched performances that included swinging fire torches, poi, and staffs, fire breathing, fire eating and much more. Off the loading dock was a collection of iron work sculpture that was mostly crafted from recycled materials. Occasionally, a crotchety old dude would get up from his lawn chair, make a couple of adjustments to a sculpture and it would come alive with fire, explosions, glowing white heat and electrical arcs. The entire experience had a real home-brew feel to it, but it was amazing and wonderful despite that (or maybe because of it.)
This most recent show was altogether different, and still wonderful. The venue was moved to a very large parking lot, and the scale of the artwork was considerably larger. There was a wrought iron tree that was nearly three stories tall…
… and another antique firetruck with a working steam engine.
… but I’ll highlight two of my favorites.
First is a piece called Exxothermia. It is a large block of ice, about five feet tall, three feet across and two feet thick. There is a vertical hole bored through the center of it, with gas coming in from the bottom. At the top, the gas is lit!
A brass block is set into the hole, and as it heats in the flame, it melts the hole larger and slowly descends. Occasionally a worker would kill the flame, fish out the sizzling hot brass block and replace it with a slightly larger blow at the top, and repeat the entire process over again.
Notice the hand print in the ice, where someone held their hand against it to melt an impression.
The second piece was the Fire Vortex. There was a flat space about 20 feet in radius, ringed with large industrial fans pointed just off center, to create a swirling vortex of air. Flammable gas is piped into the space, and lit by two brave crazy guys in fire-proof gear and long torches. They were able to build up flaming twisters that reached thirty feet in the air or more.
Notice what’s in the sky in the left of the picture? That’s the BART tracks, with a car of passengers zooming past the site. I can only imagine whet their reactions much have been to the flames swirling into the sky beside them!
It was a hell of a night, the rare sort of thing that manages to make me miss the bay area.