The Fueled by Firefly arts series is set to begin this Thursday with the world premiere of a new piece by media artists Toshi Anders Hoo and Eric Freeman. “The Evolution of Fire” explores humanity’s spiritual and practical relationship with fire through stop-motion light painting. The event begins at 7 pm at Public Works in San Francisco with a cocktail hour, followed by a presentation by the artists detailing the process of the piece’s creation. The premiere will be followed by a live light painting demo and two 45-minute sessions and attendees will have the opportunity to have their portrait light painted. There will also be live music by Daniel Berkman and a gallery of still images from “The Evolution of Fire.”
The series represents the culmination of a collaborative process of experimentation with a technique known as “light painting.” Light painting involves taking long exposure photographs of LED lights being manipulated, resulting in dramatic images that hang in mid-air. Hoo and Freeman have taken this technique one step further by using bundles of fiber optic filaments bound together to create a more organic feel. In addition to the brushes, the artists use a “variety of LED toys,” including found objects, such as the lit-up bouquets from a friend’s wedding centerpieces.
The exciting event is the first in a planned series of exhibitions in the “Fueled by Firefly” series, sponsored by vaporizer maker Firefly. Thursday’s event will serve as a pilot program for the series, which the company hopes to expand into an ongoing series that will feature not only visual arts, but performances, lectures and roundtable discussions.
For the makers of the Firefly, building community through relationships with artists is “such a perfect fit that there was no way we could not recognize it”; the company’s founders Mark Williams and Sasha Robinson both have a background in design and the vaporizer itself is nearly as much art object as tool, with a sleek, retro-modern design. The lack of any plastic in the construction and no long, easily-broken stem makes it much sturdier than most portable vapes. That durability does come with a small trade-off: it is a bit on the heavy side, as a result. However, there is nothing retro about the technology of the Firefly, which is the world’s first portable vaporizer to take advantage of dynamic convection technology.
Conduction vaporizers rely on direct contact between heat source and smoking material, which can end up “cooking” the plant, resulting in a burnt taste and the neutralization of many of its beneficial properties. Convection vaporizers, on the other hand, move hot air over the material; this is a more effective method but does require significantly more power, often resulting in large, bulky affairs that don’t exactly fit in your pocket. The Firefly addresses this problem with a powerful lithium-ion battery that gives the device some of its heft. However, there is a third problem to be overcome – temperature adjustment.
Different strains are activated at different temperatures and even the same strain can give two different experiences when inhaled at different temperatures. While many vaporizers do offer manual temperature control, the Firefly goes one step farther with dynamic convection technology that changes temperature with the strength of your inhalation. Imagine someone smoking a cigarette; the more forcefully the smoker inhales, the brighter and hotter the cherry glows. Dynamic convection gives a similar experience, allowing the user intuitive temperature control, resulting in a more complete experience in terms of both taste and effect.
The combination of retro-future style and cutting-edge technology represents a part of the company’s ethos: the Firefly aims to help transform vaporizers from clunky, flimsy objects kept in the pocket and surreptitiously used in shadowy doorways into conversation pieces that the owners are proud to display.
To create “The Evolution of Fire,” the artists combined light painting with a classic cinematic animation technique known as stop-motion.
“When my friend Erik told me let’s do stop motion, at first I said, ‘that’s impossible’…but was like, ‘no, no, let’s try it’, and we did it,” Hoo recounts.
The technique involves taking a series of still frames with the objects moved slightly between each shot. When played together the result is an animated scene similar to a flipbook. However, rather than clay models like the old 60’s Sinbad movies, “The Evolution of Fire” used a real human performer who also created the mask worn in the piece.
“He showed up in this incredible getup and was not only able to look the part, but it turns out he had over four years in Hollywood as a stop motion animator so he knew how slow he had to move, so there was a lot of synchronicity there,” Hoo says.
Over the course of three shoots, a team of artists worked to create 900 hand-painted frames. Rather than laboriously setting up each shot, an automated camera was set up on a motion track, opening for an eight-second exposure during which a team of “light ninjas” furiously painted using fiber optic brushes with only three seconds to re-set between each exposure.
The result is an intensely visual piece that uses technology to address something fundamentally human.
“I’m always interested in working with new technologies; I always really try make sure that if I find something that’s interesting from a technique standpoint, that [I] take it beyond the novelty factor and really say ‘what is unique about this that allows me to say something that hasn’t been said before?’” Hoo says.
The combination of cutting-edge technology with in-camera practical effects reflects one part of the duo’s techno-primitive aesthetic; the piece looks at the changing relationship between human beings and fire, and they see the Firefly vaporizer as emblematic of that relationship.
“Smoking is one of the few ways that we actually still see flame,” says Hoo. “Fire is one of the defining elements of being human and we still use fire all day but we don’t necessarily have it in our lives. This [vaporizer] runs on fire; this piece is about the crossover from primitive to modern uses of fire.”
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