I get inspiration for episodes everywhere: conferences I attend, articles I read, colleagues making new work, and yes, even birthday parties.
During a recent, brief stop in the Bay Area, I celebrated the birthday of my friend, and Maker Faire Nantes organizer, Bertier Luyt at Form and Reform in Oakland, and ran into another friend of mine, Jeremiah (Jerry) Brown. By day, Jerry (literally) keeps the lights on in California by coaxing thousands of volts of electricity into submission for a major utility company. But in his free time, he makes crazy awesome electrical and fire art. (In 2007, he worked on the Crude Awakening oil rig installation at Burning Man.)
When I asked what he was up to these days, he told me he’s been working with the science/performance group Omega Recoil, particularly with the giant Tesla coil and Fire Arms (not that kind of fire arms… they’re flame effects you wear and operate with your hands… Get it? Get it?).
[Side note: This is one of the things I love about the Oakland art/tech scene. Here I am at a birthday party for a friend who’s an influential player in the maker scene in France, at a warehouse owned by John Sarriugarte, a crazy talented artist best known in some circles for his piece Serpent Twins, where I run into my artist friend Jerry, who happens to be working on an exciting art collaboration with John Behrans, which they happen to work on at Behrans’ shop across the street from Form and Reform. And so during the party, they drag the Tesla coil and Fire Arms into the street and give me a demonstration. Where else do you get such a confluence of creativity and ambition in one place? And the space and freedom to make big, exciting, dangerous art, in the middle of the street?]
So John Behrans and Jerry gave me a demonstration. I shot a little video with my Samsung Gear 360 at the party, but it was so cool to see how the tesla coil works, I decided to come back and shoot a whole piece with them.
That’s when Jerry explained how the Fire Arms work. It’s basically a tank of propane on your back that routes to each arm, with pilot lights fed from the same source. When you squeeze the actuators, the valves open, releasing pressurized propane past the pilot and igniting it.
Instant flaming super powers! But also super dangerous.
Which got me thinking about protective clothing, Apparently, John and Jerry wear flame-resistant clothing under their Faraday suits, to protect them from both the electricity and the fire.
I’ve also been working on a series on Polartec clothing, including Ariat’s fire-resistant line, so I decided to go to Ariat’s headquarters to check out their gear, and get a better sense of how it works for people like John and Jerry. My most surprising discovery was that their FR line is made out of a Polartec material whose fibers are inherently fire-resistant, rather than a textile that’s been treated with flame-resistant chemicals. (I say, the less chemicals, the better.)
It was super interesting, and they also hooked me up with a pair of boots, which I’ve been loving. They’re stylish and safe, meaning I’m able to go anywhere and feel empowered to do so.