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Where There's Smoke 

It takes a special kind of aficionado to love art that can kill you

Wednesday, Jul 7 2004
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It takes a special kind of aficionado to love art that can kill you. Just about anyone can groove on nice little impressionist flower paintings. But appreciating works that stink of fuel and threaten to leap out of control and engulf the audience? That requires dedication. But hey, that's fire art for you.

Though even ancient folks acknowledged flames' eye-catching appeal, fire art reached a new pinnacle at Burning Man. In the barren desert, against the inky night sky, artists began using materials both new (like the electrified tubes similar to glow sticks and known as EL wires) and old (chiefly flammable gases) to create pieces that glowed, flickered, and blazed, including some unimaginably hazardous creations that spit fire into the air. Inspired, they began applying the lessons they learned in the desert to works back home. And voilà! The Crucible's Fire Arts Festival was born.

This annual event represents the apex of the art form, with five days of metalworking, neon sculpture, and fire-performing classes plus three evenings of scorching visual and performance art. Not surprisingly, the night parties are the fest's highlight, with wide-eyed gawkers crowding into the open-air Fire Arts Arena to watch performers of all stripes play amid a collection of illuminated installations from artists such as DA Therrien (whose 42-foot-tall tower features suspended human "flesh chimes," who set off light displays by swinging their bodies to-and-fro) and Kal Spelletich (whose interactive Fire Shower encases volunteers in a menacing cone of conflagration). The brilliant artworks would be a fine show all on their own, but with the nighttime events adding in fire-eaters, dancers, singers, acrobats, vocalists, musicians, and contortionists, the whole shebang becomes the sort of mind-blowing eye candy you have to see to believe. It's the best reason around to get all fired up. -- Joyce Slaton

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Joyce Slaton

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