The Flaming Lotus Girls’ “Soma” on San Francisco’s waterfront

photo Jason Chinn
photo Jason Chinn

With the Bay Lights as a glittering backdrop, the Flaming Lotus Girls  have installed their beautiful and interactive 2009 sculpture, “Soma”, at Pier 14.

San Francisco has been showcasing art at Pier 14 for a while now and Soma is the third art piece to have debuted in Black Rock City that will now grace this breathtaking corner of the City.  The piece was installed over the last two weeks and has already become the toast of San Francisco.

The sculpture is 60 ft long, dendrite to dendrite “depicting two communicating neurons connected by an axon bridge.  A soma is the cell body of a neuron, with branching dendrites projecting away at different angles, and an axon which conducts the nerve signal electrochemically to its neighboring cell.”

Soma is the combined work of over 100 Flaming Lotus Girls volunteers and the fire that glowed on the playa has been replaced with 97 LED lights that mix wonderfully with Leo Villareal’s Bay Lights behind them.

The  Flaming Lotus Girl’s Soma site describes Soma as a sculpture that

… represents the communication between two neurons:  She transforms the neuronal flow of electricity that forms the foundation of consciousness from a molecular to a monumental scale.

Built of stainless steel and LEDs, SOMA leads us to ask fundamental questions about human thought and neurological transmission. What is consciousness? What is communication? How does our physical and cultural environment shape us? What makes us human? Soma invites us to explore individual, collective and cosmic consciousness, the ego, and the hidden potential within us all for a more connected future.

The Black Rock Arts Foundation  was instrumental in collaborating with the Flaming Lotus Girls to have the piece installed at Pier 14.

Originally displayed at Burning Man in 2009, Soma is an interactive sculptural installation depicting two communicating neurons connected by an axon bridge.  A soma is the cell body of a neuron, with branching dendrites projecting away at different angles, and an axon which conducts the nerve signal electrochemically to its neighboring cell.

Soma translates the anatomy of neurons into metal, fire and light, magnifying the microscopic world to an epic scale. In this urban installation, Soma features interactive LEDs to create a spectacular daytime and nighttime experience. Soma is made entirely of stainless steel and a waterproof 12V lighting system. It occupies a 28′ high x 40′ long x 25′ wide rectangular footprint, secured to the ground beneath each nucleus with concrete anchors, covered by wooden platforms. Its weather resistant, stainless steel body features 70 custom LED units, each outputting 270 lumens of light. Each LED unit is mounted inside a unique resin casting. The LED units are individually controllable and capable of producing 16 million colors. The public can interact with Soma’s computer-controlled LED system by pushing buttons to activate the trans-synaptic action potential simulation. The on-board computer system can be remotely controlled and configured to automatically respond to factors such as time of day, lighting conditions or special events.”

Soma will be the third piece installed by BRAF in the Pier 14 Tidal Plaza on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront. BRAF previously collaborated with the Port of San Francisco in 2007 to bring Passage by Karen Cusolito and Dan Das Mann and in 2010 to bring the Raygun Gothic Rocketship by Sean Orlando, David Shulman, Nathaniel Taylor, Alan Rorie, and the Five Ton Crane crew to the same location.

Photo by Adin Miller
Photo by Adin Miller

Media coverage has included KPIX, SFGate and SFIst.

Soma was built at the Boxshop and has been installed at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, Black Rocky City, and at San Mateo, California’s  Maker Faire.  The Flaming Lotus Girls,  some original Soma builders and a bunch of new people – a few who were personally touched by Soma on the playa, worked for just under two years from proposal to completion, to bring Soma to the Embarcadero.  The process involved a lot of re-fabrication of the sculpture including the removal of fire, changing out all the LEDs,  adding new resin and UV-resistant  bulbs, then waterproofing the whole thing and making the piece City and “public” safe.   (Please do not climb on the sculpture!)  There are two buttons that allow participants to interact with the LEDs that are active from dusk until 2am.

It required a lot of work and money to make Soma  City ready and if you would like to support this project, it would be greatly appreciated. You can go directly to Soma’s website or you can donate through the Black Rock Art’s Foundation at their Click and Pledge page.

The Flaming Lotus Girls are throwing a Soma@Pier 14 – A Cerebral Celebration, August 1st to celebrate the installation.

photo by Caroline Miller
photo by Caroline Miller
photo by Matt Silvey
photo by Matt Silvey
photo by Mark Hogenson
photo by Mark Hogenson
photo by Jason Chinn
photo by Jason Chinn
photo by Tex Allen
photo by Tex Allen
photo by Caroline Miller
photo by Caroline Miller

About the author: Moze

Mosbaugh aka Moze is a San Francisco heretic and writer who spends his time producing pornographic puppet shows, writing novels and dark fairy tales and building art installations to haul out to the desert. He's been on the Burning Man webteam since aught two and serves as section manager for the art and afterburn sections, deputy image wrangler and overall whatever you need kind of guy. Moze has the complete works of Shakespeare on his iPhone and he's written for Piss Clear, the YEP and has been blogging about Burning Man since blogs came into existence. The Nebulous Entity first beckoned him into the community and he's been returning to the dry lake bed ever since.

16 thoughts on “The Flaming Lotus Girls’ “Soma” on San Francisco’s waterfront

  • Try? More like DO! Here is a little bit about the FLGs.

    About the Artists

    The Flaming Lotus Girls are a female-driven, volunteer-based group of artists who have been making kinetic, mechanical fire art since 2000. Their work stands at the intersection of sculpture, kinetics, robotics, pyrotechnics, and electronic technology. They create interactive large-scale installations that engage viewers and invite them to become part of the art. Flaming Lotus Girls’ work is a collaborative process that empowers participants to learn new skills and become experienced, talented and active artists. They use a unique design methodology with a hyper-fluid organizational structure. Through an open and supportive cultural environment, the Flaming Lotus Girls promote creativity, education, volunteer contribution and leadership opportunities.

    For more than ten years, the flaming lotus girls have created installations for The Burning Man Arts Festival in Nevada. These pieces include: Soma (2009); Mutopia (2008); Serpent Mother (2006); Angel of the Apocalypse (2005); Seven Sisters (2004); Hand of God (2003); Fire Island (2002); Flower Garden (2001); and Flaming Lotus Sr. (2000).

    They have also exhibited at many local and international events, including: Power Tool Drag Races, San Francisco (June 2004, 2006); Fire Arts Exposition: Art on Fire, San Francisco (2006); The Crucible’s Fire Arts Festival, Oakland (July 2005, 2006 & 2007); Festival of Lights, Sausalito (Dec. 2004, 2005); Robodock (2005, 2007), Amsterdam (Sept. 2007); the Big Day Out, Australia (Jan 2007), Maker Faire, San Mateo, CA (May 2008, 2009), and Coachella Arts and Music Festival, Indio, CA (April 2009).

    The FLG work in an egalitarian fashion, accepting input from anyone who regularly attends meetings. All creative decisions are made collaboratively.

    Ladies (and gentlemen) can join the FLG with no previous experience in metal working and the fire arts. There are hands-on opportunities for members to learn the techniques used in the design, building, and operation of their projects. Many work to refine these skills to further their own art. Their collaborative process includes an open and supportive culture promoting volunteer contribution and leadership opportunities.

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  • @Stacy

    I’m sure it’s open to all… genders. The qualifier ‘girls’ does imply the exclusion of cis gender males. It would or should be called, ‘Flaming Lotuses’, or ‘Flaming Lotus People’ to be inclusive of all genders (including cis males). Otherwise the name is sexist and implies ‘girls’ are inferior to ‘boys’, needing a special gender designation creating separational hierarchy based on gender further supporting the patriarchy.

    I thought we were above this by now.

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  • The Flaming Lotus Girls include many boys and girls. The name is snarky. Burning Man is snarky. They’re a really cool group who makes amazing art. You should go check them out, or protest their name, or do whatever you want, but just because they are “female driven” see their bio “Ladies (and gentlemen) can join the FLG with no previous experience in metal working and the fire arts.” Can we move on now?

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  • As a FLG volunteer member, I can say that these “girls” aren’t just doing what guys do, they are pioneers in large scale fire art (I would say we but I got there after most of the pioneering was done).

    Working in a shop environment with a bunch of creative and daring “girls” is quite refreshing compared to the old boys club atmosphere present in most shops.

    I’m proud to call myself a Flaming Lotus Girl despite my gender and I can say that the members (female and otherwise) worry about the FLG name about 0% of the time.

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  • Soma is scheduled to stay for a year but it could be extended.

    You can see Soma any time but the LED lights only work from sunset to 2:00 am. Daylight just washes out the light.

    Its cool during the day but its great at night.

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  • Seconding Dan here, as a usually superficially cismale Flaming Lotus Girl, I’ve never felt anything but welcomed by the group. I do encounter people who are surprised that I accept the “Girl” designation with a smile and without shame, but it’s easy. I don’t think being a girl is something to be ashamed of.

    My experience has been that the group is welcoming to people of all genders as long as they contribute, collaborate, and don’t mind the name. The name sometimes helps remind gender-privileged folks in the group to make room for everyone. Beyond that, Dan is exactly right. We worry about the name exactly 0% of the time. This is just my opinion – if anyone thinks this is sexist, I’m kind of curious why. I notice a lot more sexism almost everywhere else I go than I do when I’m working with the FLG.

    @rose, I believe we’ll have her there for a year, with an option to extend to two years. You can stop by any time, and she looks great in the daylight, but the lights are on and the buttons work from dark (a few minutes after sunset) until 2 AM

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