Fire Arts Festival

22 Jul

Every year, the Crucible’s Fire Arts Festival in West Oakland brings the Bay Area a preview of the best part of Burning Man: lots of great art, tons of fire, a mixture of people, and man-made beauty in an unexpected place.

Athena, BART, Cranes

Photo by Dave Wright, courtesy of

This year was no exception. I went on Friday night and enjoyed fire arts with thousands of others from the Bay Area and beyond.

Though I go most every year, this year I knew I had to go because the Flaming Lotus Girls brought back the Serpent Mother, which was my favorite art piece on the playa last year. The Serpent Mother is a nearly 170′ long skeleton of metal and fire, its tail wrapping around and protecting a precious egg in the center, and its robotic head moving up and down spewing fire. But the best part is that it’s interactive. Approach its spine and press buttons to shoot flame throwers in the air off various vertebrates. At both Burning Man 2006 and the Fire Arts Festival, it was the communal gathering place. The location where you could be assured to run into your closest friend and an acquaintance you haven’t seen in years.


But amazingly, the Serpent Mother was not the most over-the-top attraction at the festival. Imagine this: an opera in an empty lot in West Oakland, with BART trains passing by, the faces of incredulous onlookers pressed up against the windows. And this was not just any opera, it was “The Fire Odyssey,” the Crucible’s interpretation of Odysseus’s story. Zeus and the gods were perched in several story high metal sculptures of the female body, created by Karen Cusolito and Dan DasMann, the artists who brought us Passage in 2005. (These 4 figures are just half of the figures that will be featured in this year’s Crude Awakening at BM.)


On the stage, all the familiar characters of the Odyssey appeared, including the Trojan Horse (above), the Cyclops, the Sirens, and Calypso. Every scene featured fire and/or water, moving from graceful to jarring. When Odysseus travels to Hades, lines of fire engulf the stage and surrounding set. Odysseus moves on to do graceful dances with the Sirens and then Calypso. And in one of the final scenes, Odysseus and his son draw swords and shields to fight off Penelope’s suitors, and the suitors fight back with fire. One spins poi, another fights with a fire hoola-hoop, and yet another plunges upon Odysseus from a tight rope on fire.

While the Fire Arts Festival is no substitute for Burning Man, it’s really great to see this annual event becoming part of the larger Bay Area culture. Oakland residents who might never be able to afford Burning Man (or who might just not want to spend a week in the desert) are able to appreciate the awe inspiring fire and arts that burners have been appreciating for years.

And it’s a great reminder that Burning Man is less than a couple months away and I need to start getting ready. Which I really should be doing right now…

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