Draka, the Flaming Metal Dragon
by Lisa Nigro

Lisa Nigro, Draka, The Dragon Car, metal, wood and vehicles, 124 x 12 x 22 ft, 2000. (©Lisa Nigro. Photo: Gabe Kirchheimer.)
(© Lisa Nigro. Photo: Gabe Kirchheimer.)

Draka is the Flaming Metal Dragon I built as a mobile Art Installation for the Burning Man 2000 festival. In relation to the Burning Man theme of the Body, this creature was designed to function as the Man's Spirit. Originally I envisioned my dragon as Shen Lung, the Chinese Spiritual Dragon who controls the winds and the rain. I named my art installation Draka, a feminine interpretation of Draco the constellation.

From the onset the beast was to be mobile so we could transport people to other art installations and events around the Playa. I dreamed that it would have wings that flapped up and down and made a sound like a bellows, that its tail would swish back and forth and that its surface would be cut from metal in a series of scales, all rusted and green, with eyes glowing red and a vicious mouth that would blow fire and orange balls of sulfurous stink.

The dragon became a four-vehicle party wagon extraordinaire. Her impressive 25-ft bursting breath-of-fire was hard to miss. She was gothic in size and expression; everyone wanted to jump on the over-crowded compartment for fun and a tour of Black Rock City. At birth she measured 124 x 12 x 22 ft, with a wingspan of 30 ft; her train-like appearance being attributed to the connection of one truck to three trailers.

Her "belly" was built on a 1-ton 1980 Ford Econoline box truck. This section supported the dragon's head, neck and wings plus a saddle on her back; the rear of the belly was secured by two handmade medieval-looking wooden doors. Her wings were made from square tubing, steel rod and parachute material spray-painted gold. Designed to open and close with a rope-and-pulley system operated from the top, we met failure with high winds and a dust storm that mangled them enough to where we had to keep them either opened or closed.

With a core crew of about 10, mostly women, and another 40 volunteers trickling in and out, we managed to build her within 3 months. Draka's exterior was covered with metal "scales" that were cut with a torch from 55-gallon barrels, spray painted, arranged and connected in rows then welded into place. The underside of the dragon was completed with wood shingles, which, like the barrels, were gathered from local Nevada ranches. Torching was the easiest task to learn and one that many of the volunteers seemed to enjoy the most.

The driver's "cock-pit" ended up having a real road-warrior feel with its red-washed walls, fur- and leather-wrapped steering wheel and with no windshield. There was just enough room for the driver and flame-thrower controller to sit cozily next to the 30-gallon propane tank. By flipping a switch, we released 75 psi of pressurized propane from a plenum chamber through a solenoid valve, causing a large burst of fire at the ignition source seated strategically in the Dragon's mouth. Many a night my co-pilots and I set out to "seek and burn" in the name of fun! With safety in mind, we had at least one flame-patrol person in front of us to clear the way.

The second trailer, "Bar, Lounge and Kitchen Compartment," could be described with one good word---Swanky! Curved benches lined with red velvet quilting and backed with black fur, a zebra print rug and a bar covered with shingles. The third trailer, the "entertainment car," was created for carrying musicians, equipment, DJs and performers. By the end of the event we had to drop this car all together due to the mechanical stress caused by the excessive number of people on board. The fourth and smallest trailer, "Tail Section" finished off the piece and was utilized for storage of maintenance supplies and a generator.

Draka was modified to operate as Burning Man's first mode of public transportation in Black Rock City 2001---Dragon Public Transportation (BRC-DPT). Eventually, I’d like to see Draka travel to outdoor sculpture parks across the country and possibly even in Europe.

Lisa Nigro
1173 Valencia
San Francisco, CA 94110

P.O. Box 92
Gerlach, NV 89412

Email: lisa@drakaarts.org
Web: http://www.drakaarts.org
Web: http://www.drakathedragon.com

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