The FireFlower

The FireFlower represents my second fully self-designed interactive art project. It incorporates LEDs, color theory, propane flame effects, and an interactive puzzle game to trigger the effects. The project is made of steel and wood, uses a 30 gallon air compressor tank as a vapor accumulator, and is driven by two arduinos and a custom microprocessor. It debuted at Burning Flipside in 2016, and made an appearance at Burning Man the same year.

What you see in the photo is the business end of the installation. Hard to see in this photo, but the top of the piece is about 15′ tall. Each of the petals are hand cut steel plate, with a piece of 1.5″ angle steel to house the LEDs welded along each edge. The idea for this piece lay in my fascination with pentagonal tilings. As you may or may not know, there are not that many ways that a pentagon can tile a 2 dimensional plane, and none that a regular pentagon can. Even fewer are the ways that an equilateral pentagon can tile the plane. You can see this fascination in some of my other art:

Heliocentric, by Matthew DeVay, copper.

The petals are geometrically similar, in that each is an equilateral pentagon with irregular angles. In the arrangement shown, they exhibit a 5-fold rotational symmetry, that extended, would look like this. These pentagons will also tile the plane in other arrangements, such as a version of Cairo Tiling.

Also included is my fascination with color theory. Once again, hard to tell in the title image, but here is a short video that demonstrates the interaction of the painted bands with the color shifting LEDs:

As you can see from the photo, there are some metal bits sticking out orthogonal from each petal – these are small, 3/4″ flame effect outputs, each topped with a firefly hot surface igniter. In the center of the petals is a large, 2″ flame effect.

Now, the good stuff. Sitting about 20 feet away and standing about waist level was a small wooden replica with arcade buttons instead of flame effects served as the control panel. There was no button for the large flame effect. So how does it work? Well, by pushing a button on the control panel, you activate the flame effect for the corresponding petal. That particular button would either light up or stay dark depending on whether or not you had guessed the first button in the pattern. From there, you had to select another button. If you happened to guess the correct button in the sequence, it too would stay lit, leaving you with three remaining buttons to choose from. If you chose wrong, all the buttons would go dark again. So the goal is to remember which buttons in which order you need to push in order to have all of them light up – a memory game.

Once you push that last button, the pilot for the main effect would light, the whole piece would go dark and it would start to cycle through various colors and patterns of flame effects, finishing with an ascending strobe that culminated in an accumulator-draining firing of the 2″ main flame effect. As mentioned in an earlier post, the fireball created by expelling several pounds of propane through a 2 inch throat is impressive and startling to say the least!

My next post will detail some of the process of making this beast, including the physical layer and code for the Arduinos.

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