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Glow: Festival of Fire and Light returns to the MAH

Fire Skee-Ball among the latest additions to this year’s festival

It's lit: Matthew Gordon and friends tried out ‘Hot Hand Luke’ in the desert earlier this year, and no one caught on fire. PHOTO: LAURA BROWN

Apparently, no one ever told Matthew Gordon not to play with matches. Or maybe they did, and he didn’t listen. But who doesn’t like to light stuff on fire?

Gordon’s motto as part of the San Francisco-based Hydrocarbon Collective group is “because art should be dangerous.” He obviously abides by that, since his newest piece is a Skee-Ball game on fire.

“I don’t just like making fire art, I like making dangerous art, because you don’t even know if it’s possible to do,” he says. “It involves physics and science and a whole lot of perspiration. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you want, but it turns out anyway.”

Dubbed “Hot Hand Luke,” the game was a side project while they were working on a seperate piece—they made fire balls for playing games as a fun distraction. Yes, that’s the kind of “fun distraction” that they have. “Hot Hand Luke” took about three months to make, compared to his other piece known as “Torch Song”—an eight-foot diamond shape fire machine—which took around three years. Gordon didn’t expect that anyone would actually show his game, since at the time it was a bit of an off-hand liability.

“I tried to bring it to Burning Man precompression, and the San Francisco fire department turned it down,” he says.

But the Santa Cruz Fire Department didn’t (high fives). Hot Hand Luke will be featured in this year’s Glow: Festival of Fire and Light, hosted by the Museum of Art and History (MAH). This will be the first time Gordon shows the Skee-Ball game publicly.

“As anyone who’s ever gone to Burning Man and seen the fire art there knows, it’s very tactile,” he says. “You feel it from like 10 feet away, you experience it in a way that you don’t experience other art that doesn’t have that physical feedback. It’s really amazing in that way.”

“Hot Hand Luke” won’t actually hurt players hands, thanks to some heavy duty Kevlar gloves. The four-inch balls are made from steel, with a central core wrapped in Kevlar-cotton weave wick, dipped in methylated spirits, and ignited. The Santa Cruz Fire Department has tentatively approved it for those age 15 and over, though they could still turn it down when Gordon shows up next weekend. Which would really, really suck.

“This isn’t standard by any means,” Gordon says. “It’s a combination of fire art and fire performance. So it’s a more complex approval process with the fire department. I’m adding some minor safety features to it right now to comply with a few of their requests.”

Glow will be spread out around the MAH and Abbott Square, with more digital art, projections, and LED sculptures within the museum and spilling out onto Cooper Street., where the 16 fire dancers and fire art will be.

Similar to a small-scale Burning Man in Santa Cruz, minus the dust storms, Glow is one of the MAH’s largest events of the year. Alongside Gordon there will be a few returning artists, including local light artist Geoffrey Nelson, who’s perhaps most recognized by his lit female form sculptures seen sailing over the San Lorenzo, Michele Guieu and her Plankton Soup With Plastic and Caroline Mills of the Flaming Lotus girls—a Burning Man icon—that will be bringing the flaming Angel of the Apocalypse.

“It’s really very exciting. I am so excited to be doing a museum show, that’s a first for me,” he says. “In terms of the amount of sheer joy, ‘Hot Hand Luke’ is a huge success. It’s throwing fireballs around, I don’t know if it’s art with a capital A, but it’s really fun.”

Glow: A Festival of Fire and Light: 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20. Museum of Art and History, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. 429-1964. santacruzmah.org. $15/$20.

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