Asheville artists Joey Sheehan, Rachel Wilder and I got a grant to build a fire sculpture for the regional Burning Man festival called Transformus. Our vision was to make a larger than life-size figure out of clay, wood fire it from the inside out, and then reveal it glowing hot over 2000 degrees. We would bring the sculpture to the festival unfired and transform it into ceramic in front of everybody. It was a big experiment. A lot of things could go wrong. We had never done anything like it before and we didn't know what to expect.
The experience transformed us.
Below are some pictures I took of our process. There are still some gaps as we wait for missing photos to manifest. A huge thank you to everyone who took pictures and got them to me. If you have any pics of the sculpture please email me at email@example.com.
The drawings we submitted with the grant. The sculpture sits on top of a firebox. The wood goes in the openings in the front.
Drawing of cross section of kiln. The wood goes in the front and then through the sculpture.
Starting the sculpture. Joey operating the weed burner.
Our maquette sitting next to the big sculpture.
The first seam. We built the sculpture in sections so we could lift it. The seam has a flange to keep the section lined up.
View of the back. Rachel working on the hands.
Top of the second section almost done with some perspective.
We built the sculpture with big coils. We put plastic over the seams to keep the clay from sticking to itself.
Rachel operating the weed burner. Bandit looking concerned
The finished head before we drilled the holes.
And here's the first big gap. The journey from the studio to the festival was the most intimidating part. We took the sculpture apart in four sections and transported them on thick foam in a caravan of several cars and trucks with two trailers of wood 20 miles to the site. It went pretty smoothly.
The crew assembled in front of the sculpture on the burn field.
The effigy burn the night before. We candled the kiln the day and night with a propane burner to try and purge the moisture out of the clay.
We wrapped the sculpture in high temperature fiber blanket to insulate the heat and help us get it up past 2000 degrees. You can see where some of the moisture exploded part of the chest. Things had been going pretty smooth until the sculpture started cracking and exploding. We were afraid it might fall over at some point, hopefully not on us when we unwrapped it. At this point we were really riding by the seat of our pants.
Wrapping the fiber over the shoulders.
The sculpture glowing underneath the fiber.
Many thanks to all the people who were there taking pictures, especially Carter Smith, who took the above photo and some others below
Unwrapping the fiber (thanks Weasel for the photos!!)
The sculpture revealed glowing hot. There was a struggle to remove the fiber. By the time the bottom was uncovered the head had cooled some.
We didnt know what the fire was going to do with the small holes we drilled. Maybe it would flicker upwards? Flames wound up coming out from every hole.
photo: Carter Smith
We weren't sure if fire was going to come out of the pots in the hands at all when we made it. Every time we stoked it flames shot out several feet.
A beautiful shot of the crew with special celebrity appearance by Alex Greenwood who helped tremendously with the transportation and firing. Thanks dudebro!!! photo: Carter Smith
Our friends kept the kiln burning all night.
Personally, it is going to take a while to really process what we saw.
The sculpture in the morning. A combination of moisture exploding in the walls, shrinkage, and thermal shock shattered the sculpture into a million pieces.
The firebox was still over 600 degrees in the morning but we had to start breaking down to leave the festival that afternoon.
The top section removed. It came apart in several pieces.
Taking the next section down in pieces.
The firebricks and sculpture fragments cooling off around the floor of the firebox.
Some of the fragments
The site cleared.
Pack it in, pack it out.
(those aren't our chairs)