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Gallery: Fire Arts Festival Opens in Blaze of Glory

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Gallery: Fire Arts Festival Opens in Blaze of Glory
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comOAKLAND, California -- Talk about a hot night. From a fire-spouting piano to flame cannons that licked the smoky sky, the attractions Wednesday night at the Fire Arts Festival kicked California's heat wave up a few degrees.
"Who doesn't like fire?" said Hick Messiah, 47, of Oakland as he took in the event.
More than 50 different artists from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond showcased infernal contraptions and sizzling performances at the fest, which was more three-ring circus than safety demonstration. The Fire Arts Festival, organized by Oakland industrial arts nonprofit The Crucible, runs through Saturday.
Modeled after a county fair attraction, this shooting gallery substitutes flamethrowers for pop guns.
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comAn member of the Unmata urban belly-dance group twirls balls of flame during opening night festivities at the Fire Arts Festival.
During Unmata's short routine, which was set to up-tempo techno and ethnic beats, members of the Sacramento, California-based collective swiveled their hips and twirled flaming poi balls on a stage festooned with colored lights. The stage was also rigged to shoot bursts of fire synchronized with songs.
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comArtist Sean Orlando's Steampunk Tree House could double as a set prop in a Tim Burton film. The 25,000-pound monstrosity is powered by a 1920s steam engine that breathes life into the coppery creation, sounding a cacophony of steam whistles.
The towering structure stands tall within the patron pavilion at the Fire Arts Festival. Visitors willing to pony up the additional cash for a VIP ticket are granted the opportunity to climb hand-over-foot to the top of the 40-foot-tall sculpture for a bird's-eye view of the event. The roped-off pavilion also housed a bar, catered snacks and a s****y red-velvet lounge area.
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comUnmata's dancers sway and shake their bellies to electronic tunes. The crowd swelled forward as the group's performance opened the Fire Festival.
Afterward, a wide array of acts -- including a troupe of fire-swallowing vaudeville bartenders, youth dance troupes, trapeze artists and fiery Flamenco dancers -- occupied the stage until midnight. For the grand finale, San Francisco-based lo-fi funk band Gooferman created a crazed carnival atmosphere with its bouncy beats.
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comA Pswarm fire sculpture presented by Department of Spontaneous Combustion bursts into flames. All the Pswarm sculptures were interactive, with the group pulling people from the crowd and letting them fire up the artwork.
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comBay Area-based Omega Recoil inverts a Tesla Coil for a performance dubbed Electricity Theater. "To our knowledge, that's never been done before," said Omega Recoil member Sparky Jewell.
The Tesla coil wasn't the only aspect flipped during the campy show: Members dressed as mad scientists coerced an unwilling soul -- Human Test Subject No. 1 -- through the high-voltage maze.
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comWhat keeps the human guinea pig from becoming Fried Human Test Subject No. 1? "It's definitely not prayer," quipped Omega Recoil's Chris Ruedy, who played the test subject, after the show. Ruedy wore a homemade Faraday cage made from steel mesh that kept the electric charge flowing around his body rather than through it. After successfully completing his tasks, he claimed his reward -- a can of beer.
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comSmoke and flames pour from a large 3-D skull constructed by Oakland's Department of Spontaneous Combustion. To build the piece, members of the art collective bought a wooden 3-D puzzle of a human skull, scanned each piece and enlarged it several times. After tracing and cutting the shapes from steel, they refit the pieces together.
The Department of Spontaneous Combustion also displayed a fire-breathing Venus flytrap and a 20-foot fire cannon, which member Matthew Andreoli affectionately referred to as the "Space Invaders cannon."
"If any aliens attacked me, I'd blast 'em with it!" he said.
First-time festival attendee Shana Muwwakkil took aim Wednesday and fired the cannon from behind a protective cage. "A friend made me come tonight," said Muwwakkil afterward. "But I really liked that -- it was different."
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comAt Matisse Enzer's Flamethrower Shooting Gallery, people blast steel targets shaped like the Burning Man effigy known as "The Man."
Enzer got the idea for this fiery twist on a traditional county fair game after Paul Addis prematurely torched Burning Man's giant icon at 2007's desert art party. "My nickname for this project is, 'You too can burn the Man,'" said Enzer, who lives in the Bay Area.
Flamethrowers are illegal in California, so Enzer's rig got an in-depth assessment from the Oakland fire inspector -- and failed. "She took a step back when all four throwers went off," Enzer said. "And she's been working this event for years." The inspector decided that demonstrations were permissible -- but only technicians and safety personnel were allowed to participate.
: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comSan Francisco electronica outfit Gooferman closes out opening night at the Fire Arts Festival with a high-octane performance. In addition to shooting bursts of fire synchronized to songs, band members wore sparkling costumes and jester's caps, along with harlequin-inspired face paint, creating a crazed carnival atmosphere.
Gooferman's gritty beats filled the air as the band's entourage -- including latex-wrapped stilt-walkers, gymnastic floor tumblers and cheerleaders clad in spangled bodysuits -- moved to the music. Earlier acts on the main stage included fire-eating vaudeville bartenders, youth dance troupes and trapeze artists.
The Crucible's eighth annual Fire Arts Festival runs every night through Saturday. Tickets range from $5 to $55.

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