Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Kraken death 2002 By Justin Gray

It was a night to remember, it was a night to forget, a night I only look upon with pure passion, an intensity only fire can light.

A haze of memory, blurred by fire and dust.

It was a cold and windy Friday night on the Black Rock desert, the Burning Man event had come and just about gone in its usual fiery way, burning itself intentionally, lit buy the crew who built it. I had spent the entire night running around in our rocket car seeing all that there was to be seen. Saving only the best  for last: the Kraken. I arrived just in time to see Dave's dusty boots departing the scene, elated by fire, soothed by the glow of her heart, he sped off into the night with a “ see ya later Justin!” Skeeter, Davis and I began the start up sequence that would change our lives forever, impress our souls with a melt down only believable by those who were actually there.

The ThermoKraken usually takes four people to run her, but for the week we were at burning man we had all enjoyed solo running our behemoth fire sculpture. I had decided that I needed some solo time with her and began the start up sequence, turning valves, opening regulators, charging methanol tanks… She popped to life beautifully, emitting colors only god could have come up with, she gargled and grumbled as she always did, turbine happily running along as we had instructed and constructed it to do. A whine so sharp and deep, it could be felt and heard for miles across the open playa. We loved every minute of it. We felt every vibration. Hot and throaty, she whined in fiery lust for life.

Then, as if to break her fragile state, shatter a state of mind taken for granted, she gave up inside.... No, not literally… not a sudden shut down, but a sort of new fire emanating from her insides, from places she should NOT burn, (the salts in her fuel doing its job) the fire was green and intense, but worse coming from the wrong place. From Inside her breast: inside her protective shell !!! The fire bounced first off the interior panels then gushed like a burning waterfall into her most sensitive core. A critical fuel line had been damaged by the 2000 degree blast furnace adjacent to it. A thermodynamic oversight gone very wrong. My heart stopped, Skeeter standing next to me couldn't comprehend what exactly was going on. Neither could I, for half a second I was paralyzed, heart, breathing, stopped....

Blow off valves, quarter turn ball valves, regulators, fail safe electric solenoid valves.... we moved as fast as we could turning stuff off, but like Apollo 13, a series of  events led to one final conclusion: fire! … green fire at that.

Shut down and still bleeding fire, lines purged, valves and tanks shut down, I ran to her, fire extinguisher in one hand, my heart bleeding in another. I dumped the contents into her core, the fire seemed to be out at first but it kept coming. Another extinguisher…. down then another, and another, then an argon tank, a nitrogen tank then we got desperate: playa dirt! … all in an effort to keep her alive, no one's personal safety was threatened, just the life our largest group endeavor, our passion's lined up all burning in front of me.

Then it stopped, minutes after her initial failure, a life time of emotions on fire were out, smothered by my will and the will of those around me. She smoldered for a bit. I smoldered for a bit. From the outside you could see charred internals. I could not believe what had just happened, I had been making fire art for about 3 years by then, and had never imagined anything like could happen.

I have no memory of the following 12 hours, I made it back to camp,.. somehow… i found my bed…somehow…and slept,…somehow. The following morning, sitting in front of Camp Carp, i broke the news to Vance. An emotional break down ensued for a few minutes. Until Dave arrived, Orion in tow, all smiles. I broke the news to him. Dave, took it like a true leader with positivity, optimism and strangely enough Orion followed suit. I had a hard time believing that the two of them were so easy about it. Then off they went, tools in hand to fix our dear Lady.

Later that night those boys had her running. They cobbled her back together with what few systems still left and made her core howl again. That very night, the night right after her seeming death, she howled and gurgled for one night. Our friends, our camp, our Burning man cried that night, not with sorrow, but with triumph: our passion had lit her fire once again!

She is our phoenix. It was one of the most pivotal points in my life forever changed, forever scared with a passion for the art form we had created. To be able to create a sculpture so magnificent, so overpoweringly beautiful, created a bond of honor amongst her builders, a permanent respect among peers…. a brotherhood.

I believe it was our resolve that night that impressed the Burning Man event producers enough to invite us back for a second year grant. We were truly honored, and in turn, completely re-built the Kraken. So in 2003 we brought her back and ran for a full 7 nights plus a couple nights before and after the event. Since then Therm has shown Kraken at least once a year, sometimes twice at events all over the country until recently when we decided to permanently install her in the woods of Occidental California.


Timothy Banks said...

for a brief period, I work with a few folks in a shop in berkely california. just to the west of the bart tracks. I believe it would be the second year at the playa we were preparing for. I had only been around for a couple weeks when I first saw her roar to life and breath her fire. we called them "pops" but they were more like cuncusive explosions! the sound was deafening, the force took my breath away. for every breath she took from me, I became more and more awe-struck! we attracted some negative attention that evening. police and fire from three agencies responded to the shop. if memory serves me correctly there was even some feds there as well! nobody got in trouble, in fact the fire department wanted to see her come to life. she roared once again! her power, her beauty. incredible. I never imagined I could find such beauty in such an odd seeming sculpture. to those eyes who have not seen, I feel pain. for the hearts that have never beat in rhythm to her "pops", I am sorry. for all those who have never felt the heat from her breast, you have never lived. I will miss that short time I spent with her, and the ever generous and accepting people of that shop by the tracks. thank you thank you for letting me be a very very very small part. I take no credit for her life, and there is none due to me. I am just thankfull to have been a part of her life.

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Unknown said...

I was sitting around sipping some Manhattans with friends last night reliving some of our favorite sculptural experiences, and I brought up your fire tree that I saw at Burning Man in 2003. I'm glad to see it still lives in the electronic ether.

Whenever I heard the turbine whine and concussive popping and hissing, my friend Foster and I went running. We would stand together enthralled and giggled into nirvana every time we were fortunate enough to catch a performance. Thanks for such an imaginative and awesome experience. Do you ever fire it up any more in the woods? I would do my best to make a family pilgrimage out for another gigglefest.