Egeria Description


Egeria is the Roman goddess of fountains.  Counsel and lover to the Roman king Numa, when her lover died, she wept in a grove for so long she became a fountain.

A firefall is a water fountain on fire.  A small amount of fuel on the surface of the water appears like the water itself is on fire.  The water protects you, so you can hold the fire in your bare hands.

A fountain is traditionally a town or city's center and focus -- a park-like recreation area, rimmed by cafes and shops, where people can sit at the edge, enjoy the sounds of falling water, and relax and take in the activities of the surrounding City.  The KeyHole position in front of the Cafe is the ideal place to be transformed into an Italian-like plaza -- a Venice-like home-port for the many "floating worlds" that will drift around the playa this year.

The firefall Egeria will be based on much of the classic Roman sculpture form, yet because it uses copper and steel instead of marble, will also reflect our modern industrial world, and because it incoporates fire as an artistic element, it also reflects the aesthetics of Burning Man.

I prefer not to explain my own symbolism in my artwork, because I want to invite the viewer to have their own interpretation.  I find this is far more powerful than layering specific or obscure symbolism in my art.  So I attempt to sprinkle enough symbols [meaningful to me, and some not meaningful to me] throughout my work, so there is a lot of room for personal interpretation.

However, here are some of the very intentional and meaningful symbols in Egeria:

Spirals are a common aesthetic theme throughout the fountain.  In ancient times, the circle was the symbol of life.  Their rituals centered on making the beginning come back around because they felt if the cycles stopped, that life would stop.  In modern times, the straight line is the symbol of life.  Modern people strive always to make progress becuse we, as modern people, feel that if progress is not being made, that life will stop.  For me, I like to live by the spiral -- because it is a balance of the ancient circle symbol of always-return, with the modern straight line symbol of always-making-progress.

Six-fold symmetry [as opposed to the more traditional, Roman, square-ish four-fold symmetry] is also a common theme, because it has a more organic and pleasing rhythm, mimicking flowers and other natural forms.  This is also a break from the traditional ancient cycle of four.

There are many female forms in my work -- in fact, the hourglass shape is wholly a subconscious shape I cannot get away from!  I find the firefall to be a very feminine form of fire art.  It is calming, creative, intimate, as opposed to the explosive, ejaculation-like typical pyro art at Burning Man.  On a personal note, I believe we have moved out of the realm of the feminist era, into an era of the celebration of the male -- which can be seen clearly at Burning Man in the plethora of phallic symbols and, as I said, ejaculative artwork.  I think this is fantastic and wonderful!  It is a time women should gently give way and let men have their day.  Yet, we need balance or the pendulum will swing again the other way.  In that way, I believe the firefall is a very gentle and subtle, but very feminine artwork.

I feel I have succeeded in capturing this female energy, because since I have put the call out for volunteers, I have had a flood of women interested in this project!  It appears that it will end up being mostly built by women!  And yet, I also feel it's not overtly-feminine and exclusive of men, because many men, too, are excited about it!

One last personal note: Burning Man 1998 was my first year, and the One Tree -- a giant copper tree that flowed water and spewed fire -- was the breath-taking focus of the City that year, aside from the Man Himself.  Egeria will pay homage to this master work, not only because it is water and fire, but also because it will be built out of copper.

       Fountain model lit up
Overview: Egeria will be a 3-tiered fountain, approximately 10' tall at the top tier, spilling into a larger, wide basin area.

The tiers: The three flat, wide tiers will be made from copper sheet.  These tiers will each have six 12" wide spouts spilling over.  The bottom tier will be 10' in diameter, the middle 6' and the top 3'.

Windows in the model Under-bowl windows: In the bottom curve of the bowls will be six round "windows".  These windows will allow light from the flames [and from the sun in the day] to pass through the water, down, onto the sculptures holding the fountain up, giving form to the dark areas underneath.  Jets of water from the pumps will keep the windows from being covered in settling dust.

Spiral tier supports Tier supports: The bowls will be supported by 6 or 12 upright steel spirals, painted black to accent the copper.  Steel supports will run the length of the seams as well as around under the bowls.  The supports will be aligned so as each tier is supported, the spirals will also support the tiers above.  This will also act as a guy-wire.

Flames underneith Base illumination: At the base of each pedestal holding up each bowl will be 6 small flames to help illuminate the base.  The pedestals holding up each tier will be decorated with classic Roman fish shapes, tails up, with the flames coming from their mouths.

Fountain top: At the top of the fountain will a spout of water during the day and fire at night, to mimic the typical statue that frequently adorns the tops of fountains.  If there is time and resources, this water/fire spray will come from the mouth of a fish sculpture leaping upward.  [If not, the water or fire will come from a straight nozzle in the center.]

Artist vision Basin: The water will overflow into an outside basin area 25' in diameter.  This outside area will be able to catch all blowing water spillage, so running the water will not be affected by moderate winds.
Fountain vision all
(mockup using Oakland fountain)

Within the basin area: The basin area will be bricked either completely or in pathways to each fountain spout.  Thus the participant can approach the fountain by walking directly within the basin area, to the fountain itself.  The bricks will have small residual flames darting in and out between the cracks.  The surface of the bricks will be 1"-2" from the flames, and the fuel will be so sparse by that time that there will be no danger of clothing catching fire from these flames.

Stones: The stones bricking the basin will primarily be round spiral shapes to mimic water flowing.  Among the spiral bricks will occasionally be fish stones -- each stone will be colored similar to koi, with mica embedded into the bodies to give them flash and sparkle like real fish swimming in the fountain.  The spirals and fish will be hand-built concrete shells, stained and sealed.

Basin wall: The basin will be surrounded by a low 1'-2' wall to invite passersby to sit, rest, and contemplate the fountain.  If the basin is entirely bricked in, the viewer will not be able to put their feet directly into the water, but will be able to rest their feet on the cool stones.  If it is entirely bricked in, this will discourage people from stealing the stones.  If any are stolen, they will be replaced daily.

Outer torch illumination: Built into the basin area, will be 6 torches to illuminate the fountain at night.  The flames in the torches will be spinning like tornadoes, to go along with the many spirals throughout the fountain.

Run Schedule:

Overview: The fountain will run water all day and night.  The firefall aspect -- fire on the surface of water -- will run for 3-4 hours each night, with those hours beginning around 10pm, and after the Burn on the night of the Burn.  The illumination fires will burn all night.  If fuel use becomes a concern, the illumination flames will be shut down at 3am.

Fountain top: In the day, the top of the fountain will spew a spray of water.  At night, the top will have a plume of fire to illuminate the fountain and the area around -- much like the plumes of fire illuminated the area around The One Tree.


Access to the flames: The 6 or 12 spouts will help limit access to the flaming water.  These points of activity will be more easily watched by spotters for safety.  The areas around the fountain that do not overflow will allow others only to dip their hands in the flaming water, helping to reduce the chances of costumes being dragged directly into the flames.

Spotters: 6 spotters will be actively watching and helping people while the firefall aspect runs.  These six spotters will watch for dangling costumes and other safety issues with direct interaction with the firey water.

Safety record: After over 30 hours of running time with The Cauldron -- a large firefall with nearly 15 linear feet of access -- using only two spotters, we have had no incidents among hundreds of first-time participants playing directly in the firey water, so I am confident 6 spotters for 6 linear feet of access is overkill.

Walking on fire: The stones in the basin will have the residual fuel allowing small blue flames to skitter like lightening in among the stones.  Because people will be walking over fire, much like the Helix of 2001, people will be aware that draping costumes are discouraged.  When I tested this concept, I stood on such stones barefoot, and felt no heat at all, so I am confident that walking over the stones is not an issue.

Flames underfoot: The only remaining issue is that once the participant has approached the fountain, they will be standing still and may not pay attention to what's at their feet, therefore the stones near where people will be standing to play will be blocked so no fuel can get between the feet of the playing participants.  So those standing still on the stones are not at risk.  Again, this is probably overkill.

Climbing: Climbing on the fountain itself might be an issue.  The fountain will sag if weight is put on it -- indicating that it cannot hold weight.  If it becomes damaged from climbing, it can be pounded back into shape.

Sanitation: People will get into the water, however, and I will be implementing a filtration system to do the best I can.  However, it is stressed that this fountain is not meant to be a public shower, so anyone soaking themselves in the water does so at their own risk -- much like public fountains in Italy and elsewhere.


Disassembly: The wedges of the fountain will come apart and so can pack in pieces.  The parts should be able to all fit within a single shipping container with padding and shipping supports.

Water: Water will need to come from Burning Man, but since it is not meant to be sanitary, local spring water is acceptable.

Evaporation: I do not yet know how much water will be lost daily to evaporation, but I hope to have storage tanks available very early in the week so there is no need for water later in the week when the Event is in full swing.  [I plan to do playa-experiments to get a better idea of what to expect for evaporation.]  If evaporation becomes a more serious issue, then the water will not flow during the day.  If it is still an issue, the water surface will be covered with a floating cover [like a pool cover], such that it does not detract from the artistic form of the fountain against the backdrop of the magnificent playa.


Personnel: We will have 10 full-time workers on-site for assembly and for rotating shifts among 6 spotting positions throughout the Event.  Because much of this project is modular and can be taken home, intermittant volunteers with little experience or training are welcome.

Water: water needs have not been determined yet, but, at a guess, will probably be around the 500-700 for fill and ~300-500 for evaporation/storage.  We hope to have the fountain done before the weekend before the Event, so fillup can happen days before the Event starts.  We have yet to determine evaporation needs, but we will have water storage on-site which can also be filled before the Event begins.  Thus the water needs will be early, with minor top-off during the week being the maximum need once the Event begins.

Resources: set up will begin at least a week before the Event begins, hopefully earlier depending on how well the schedule goes.  Minor uses of on-site tools might be needed during those weeks.  A crane will be needed short-term to help place the top tiers.

The hook:

I want Egeria to be grand and spectacular, and to give this year's first-time attendees the same breath-taking experience that The One Tree gave to me for my first year.

I want to see pictures of Egeria with The Man behind like I see pictures of The One Tree -- flaming glory at night, with the red-fire copper reflecting firelight like no other metal can; shimmering tower of flowing water during the day.

I want Egeria to be the jewel in the crown of Burning Man 2002.