Another object, performance & back story from

Fluxus Indian Fire Pole
Experimental Sculpture

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no. 1 no. 2
no. 3
no. 4


Fire Pole No. 2
Time-lapse view
Fire Pole No. 3

The Story of The Fluxus Indian Fire Pole
Making and burning fire poles was a significant activity among the Fluxus Indians. Fire poles were made from wood (brances and sticks), dried leaves, string, rope and other naturally flammable material. Fire poles ranged in size from very small (only several inches tall) to very large (poles up to 20-feet high have been reported). Fire poles up to 8 feet in height generally were created by one person working alone while the taller versions were typically constructed by small teams.

Making and lighting a fire pole was considered a "lesson" and a mental discipline that helped the Fluxus Indians learn to reverse the left brain's natural tendency to dominate and

lead. The Fluxus Indians knew that the act of building--in this case designing and building a specific "path of fire" (i.e., how the fire was to travel up and around the pole)--is a heavily left-brain activity involving materials use, mechanics, physics and planning. Watching the fire pole burn, however, is a right-brain dominated activity. The conscious perception of the raw flames dancing and moving through space is a visual experience that replaces or transcends the left brain planning and activities that came before it. Creating the conditions for a fire and planning a fire are engaging mental activities that evaporate in the face of the experience of watching a burning fire. Personal repetition of the fire-pole building activity helped improve the Fluxus Indian's ability to surrender and sublimate the left brain in the service of a right-brained goal and experience. This ability to switch back and forth between left- and right-brain "leadership" made a major contribution to their unique way of life.

When first discovered, Fluxus Indian Fire Pole activities were dismissed as adolescent pyromania. The Port Huron Artifacts (discovered by a young Thomas Edison revealed that the Fire Pole had a sophisticated motivation and mental goal--analogous to the meditation practices found in other cultures.

Making it


I recently attended a fire sculpture festival staged by Artcite, Inc., the Canadian "artist-run centre for the contemporary arts" to which I belong. This--and the fact that I am a bit of a pyromaniac--inspired me to begin tinkering around with making my own fire sculptures. I figured I could start by building some small scale models--more feasible place to start than trying to build the ten-foot-plus lumber and hay sculptures I had seen at the Artcite festival.

So I began by taking a scrap block of wood, drilling a half-inch hole in it, finding a short stick that would fit snugly in the hole, and then drilling smaller horizontal holes in this pole for "side branches." Gathered up a lot of small kindling-sized sticks and picked through them to find sticks that would fit in the pole holes. After turning the hole into a "tree" with branches, I began to add other sticks, either by "weaving" them up and through several different branches (using the natural tension to hold this sticks in place) or by tying small sticks using some hemp string that Janice offered me. Besides the natural kindling sticks that fall from the trees in my yard (and that I gather to help me start fireplace fires), I also included some fat wood--a very resinous and flammable wood that I have used to help me light fires in the chiminea on our deck. My fat wood sticks were too big, so I splintered the sticks into smaller pieces (using pliers and scissors) comparable to the kindling sticks I was using. In addition to tying individual sticks on to the pole and its branches, I also tied a half-dozen of more short sticks together to make a stick ball or "star" that I then tied on to a branch or wedged into a branch and kindling networks. I reasoned that these stick balls would burn the longest on the fire pole and started thinking of them as "fire centers." I didn't trust that a stick-only sculpture would easily ignite and quickly spread, so I decided to cut and use small strips of newspaper as the material that would quickly inflame, spread, and set the pieces of kindling and stick balls on fire. I knew that a lot of paper would give the fire pole a dramatic start--just as it does in my fireplace fires. Newspaper was my substitution for the hay that was used as the main propellant for the fire sculptures I had seen at the Artcite festival.

Some of the things I learned:

  • In order to maintain the basic fire pole structure for the length of the burn, I started using much greener sticks for the pole and the branches. This worked.
  • I noticed at the Artcite event that as the night went on and the humidity became dense, it became more difficult to light the sculptures and keep the hay burning. Newsprint will absorb humidity and lose its flammability even more quickly. So after wrapping the fire pole in newsprint and photographing it outside, I put it in the warmest, driest room in our house to keep the paper strips dry and to give the kindling a chance to dry out even more before burning.
  • I first used the paper strips to create a paper ball at the base of the pole to help the fire get going and established. I then added additional paper balls to help move the fire up the pole and the branches. I also wrapped the stick balls in paper strips to help these get burning. As I worked with the paper strips I realized that I could tie the ends of the strips together in a loose knot or tuck the loose ends through a paper loop. Almost all the paper was secured to the fire pole and itself in this way.
  • With the third fire pole I decided to create an upward spiral with the branches and see if I couldn't get the fire to create more of a circular path instead of burning just straight up the pole. This was more of a challenge, because the "burning path" was now not a simple vertical burn. I used extra paper and started bridging some paper chains across the branches but there were still gaps that the fire didn't jump. We had to light the third fire sculpture three different times to complete its burn. For fire pole number four I decided to make sure the fire traveled all the way up and around the spiral by creating a continuous "burning path" with the paper strips.
  • I started with a focus on twigs and ended with a focus on paper.

twigs twigs & paper

Back backstory

Documenting the performance. I hastily set up the movie camera for the first fire pole in the dark, got the scene framed wrong, and then spent most of the burn trying to get the camera properly framed on the burning object. Useless video and I really didn't even get to watch the fire pole burn. For the second fire pole I carefully set-up and prepared a video camera and a digital camera while it was light out. I set the digital camera to take repeated pictures (up to one picture a second if the light allowed). This time I got useable video (although it wavers in and out of focus) and a good time-lapse photo series. I discovered that the still photos portray dramatic trails and streaks of light when pieces of burning paper and wood drop off the sculpture. I used the same video and digital camera set-up for the third

fire pole. This time both the recordings went well, but the fire bath burned out twice and had to be relit twice to complete the burn. I decided it would be easier to edit these gaps out with a time-lapse animation of my still photos and I wanted to see how a speeded-up time-lapse protrayal of the burn would look and feel. I really like the result and prefer it to the feel of the real-time video of the performance. I had digital camera difficulties at the beginning of the burning of the fourth fire pole. The sequential picture taking froze up for some reason and by the time I got it going again, the digital camera had missed the most dramatic parts of the initial burn. I also discovered that I had accidentally set the video camera to a low quality recording format--the resulting video isn't very good or interesting to watch.

Developing the Fluxus Indian connection. Before completing the first fire pole, I got the idea to link this activity to my Fluxus Indian mythology and call these objects Fluxus Indian Fire Poles. When I realized that constructing the fire poles was a predominantly left-brained task and that staring into a burning fire is a more right-brained and "dreamy" experience (at least for me), I used this insight as the basis for my Fluxus Indian Fire Pole story (presented above).

My actual experience while burning these fire poles has been pretty left-brained, however, because I am busy monitoring the performance of two different cameras.  These duties--and the brevity of the fires--have so far prevented me from giving the burning fire my complete attention. Art gives and it takes away. 

Another object, performance & back story from

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