Fire starter

Shiva Vista Project

Dave King, a member of the Shiva Vista Project and founder of Controlled Burn, spins fire.

Dave King, a member of the Shiva Vista Project and founder of Controlled Burn, spins fire.

Photo By David Robert

Shiva, the Hindu god, is said to bless us with creation through destruction. He is a symbol of constant regeneration. Some believe in the power of this regeneration and celebrate it by dancing with fire.

These dancers wear leather bustiers or maybe chaps. They use flaming “weapons” like swords, chains or staffs. Throbbing audio beats usually accompany the fire dance. The best part is that they’ll celebrate like this any time you invite them to.

The group is called Controlled Burn, and their latest effort is the Shiva Vista Project. At Burning Man, they’re in the Fire Conclave Convergence Camp, but you may have seen them around town at such events as last year’s Artown festival, or in February, when they performed at the Zephyr Bar to raise funds for the project.

The Shiva Vista Project is an art installation with a performance platform that stands six feet tall with ramps spreading almost 70 feet across when they’re down. It will boast 20 towers breathing fire and be easily visible for many miles across the playa when it comes to Burning Man in 2008.

“We can’t call it a stage because the Burning Man people don’t help in funding stages,” says Dave King of the project. King works in prosthetics and bears a passing resemblance to actor Tom Arnold. His energy, though, is much more stable, informed and low key. His lower leg was in a plastic cast the day we talked, and he referred to the cast as “Tupperware.” Plastic cast aside, he’s dressed in all black. King founded Controlled Burn in 1999 and is now pitching in time and money—of which the group needs about $7,000 more—to make Shiva Vista happen.

Ryan Ostler likes to think of himself as the “conductor” of the project. He looks like an actor who might star in a motorcycle blockbuster or romantic comedy. Last year, he enlisted help and funds to build a platform that was used by fire spinners and then burned in a huge bonfire during Burning Man. He promises Shiva Vista will be much more intricate, bigger—and hotter.

Then there’s Justin Cunningham with his cowboy persona. (There’s a site called the Justin Cunningham Fan Club, 20 members—hmmph, not bad.) He was in charge of constructing one of the shiny metal “talons” that stood at last month’s fundraiser at the Zephyr, entertaining crowds for hours. A pull cord makes fire blow into the sky.

King, Ostler and Cunningham have all tasted Shiva Vista’s fire. They, along with many other members of Controlled Burn, are working on construction from detailed blueprints, building what will appear like something close to a Mayan temple or an ancient ceremonial incinerator with fire blown out the top. But that’s next year, when the ramps will rise after the last performance, and the structure gets burned to ashes.

“There is no higher status out there than building an art installation and burning it,” Oster says proudly, referring to life in the ephemeral Black Rock City and the respect “burners” give for efforts of creativity.

But what about this tradition of burning something they’ve built? Maybe it’s to honor that good ole god of creation through destruction, Shiva.