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The Leonardo Gallery

The Seven Sisters of The Flaming Lotus Girls

by Tamara Li

© Tamara Li. Photo © Waldemar Horwat.

The San Francisco-based Flaming Lotus Girls (FLG) have been creating fire art for the Burning Man art festival since 2000. With 10 members at its core, the group consists of about 100 women and men (all self-described "Girls") and is growing rapidly. The group works collaboratively, making decisions in a collective, democratic manner. Each project employs team leaders who design and manage, but as many as a dozen people at a time will work on different aspects of the fabrication process. Each Girl lends to the overall success of the group her own special expertise, including design, artistry, technical skill, technology, fabrication, administration, project management, photography and documentation, public relations, looking hot and rocking out.

We work primarily with metal and fire, including mild and stainless steel, copper, brass, magnesium and aluminum. The works incorporate liquid and vapor propane, kerosene, gasoline, methanol and other fuels in their delivery and effect systems. Most designs begin with the conceptual and sculptural aspects of the piece; flame effects are then integrated into the sculpture. Fire has always been an integral facet of the art of the FLG, most members professing pyromaniacal tendencies. An interest in fire and experimentation with flame effects has drawn into the fold many women and men who previously had no metalworking or flame-effects experience. The basic requirements to be a Flaming Lotus Girl are: the ability to learn, a diligent work ethic and a healthy, if not obsessive, interest in the element of fire.

In 2004, we brought our interactive sculptural installation, The Seven Sisters, to the playa at Burning Man. Modeled after the Pleiades constellation in theme and design, the installation was laid out on a 4,000-square-ft area, in the exact formation of the constellation in the heavens as seen from the Western hemisphere. Each star was named after one of the mythical Seven Sisters, daughters of Atlas in Roman folklore. Some placed close to the ground, some hovering 20 feet in the air, each individual piece was complete unto itself; but as a complete installation, the combined effect was dazzling and spellbinding.

Three of the stars spun with motors, spherical in shape, while three took on organic, seven-pointed, 3D star shapes. Each sculpture of a star included both an ambient flame and a unique flame effect. For example, Merope's manually controlled "sparkle poofer" propelled propane thorough a chamber and injected metallic and organic chemicals into the flame, emitting intermittent bursts of sparks. Another, Asterope, included a large propane "poofer" effect: a flame forced through a heptagonal nozzle produced a giant, seven-pointed, star-like blast effect. Alcyone, one of the spherically shaped stars, spun around a central axis, with constant flames burning down each spinning section of the globe, creating a solid ball of fire, speed and motion controlled by a custom-built variable transformer. Liquid propane was also injected into the flames from the center, producing a spectacular hot, yellow blast.

The seventh star, Elektra, was the centerpiece of the installation. This 12-ft-high, visually abstract star shot nitrogen-pressurized liquid fuel into a halo of flame through two sets of nozzles built into a spinning manifold, at times producing flames that whirled 30--100 ft into the air. Elektra was operated for approximately 1/2 hour, or until 80 gallons of fuel were exhausted. Because fire might fall back onto the playa, a safety perimeter 200 ft in diameter was created. After the Elektra show, participants were invited back inside the perimeters and encouraged to operate each star's manual effects and be warmed by the fire. The six propane sculptures burned for hours each night, sometimes until dawn, providing a sanctuary of light and heat on the cold, expansive playa landscape.

The coming together of art and technology is an important aspect of the work of the FLG. Because flame effects are integral to the artistic vision of the works that the Flaming Lotus Girls create, technical knowledge is imperative in the creation process: the process entails envisioning an artistic design, imagining the flame effects and then using technological knowledge, skill and ingenuity to manifest the inspiration. While each piece's sculptural elements allow it to be viewed/experienced on a purely visual level, the flame effects, and often an interactive element, complete the vision and lend visceral depth and sensual dimension to the art. In other words, fire is HOT!

For more information about the Flaming Lotus Girls, go to the website: http://www.flaminglotus.com

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Updated 16 April 2007.

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