When you create a mirrored infinity room that draws thousands of visitors for a show’s inaugural outing, it’s pretty hard to top yourself.
But Ron Simmer’s willing to give it a whirl.
The Burnaby sculptor is perhaps best known locally for his self-described “accidental viral” installation, A Night Walk in Falling Snow, at the first Luminescence exhibition in 2016. He’s returning for the fourth incarnation of Luminescence with another sure-to-be-popular creation: the Berzerkatroid Dragon.
The dragon – which checks in at 16 feet long, nine feet high and seven feet wide, weighing about 450 pounds – will be installed on the lawn at Deer Lake Gallery, and it will be breathing fire for the opening and closing night festivities. (Because it requires fire permits, the flame won’t be active all the time.)
Yes, that’s actual fire. The sculpture features a propane fire effect, fabricated by Daniel Stratten of Think Industrial, that viewers can set off with a lever when they climb aboard the dragon.
“Every little kid has seen a movie about riding a dragon,” Simmer says with a laugh.
The dragon was a hit when it appeared at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s plaza as part of the Lumiere Festival in November – “we had a ton of little kids riding on it,” Simmer says.
The dragon initially came about as a result of a $1,500 grant from the Greater Vancouver Interactive Arts Society, a local arm of the Burning Man community.
“The whole Burning Man thing is about interactive art in the public sphere,” Simmer notes.
His dragon was designed to travel to a variety of local events around the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. Originally, Simmer notes, his intention had been to buy a dragon to refit. He knew of artists who had created such a creature out of old car parts for the Bass Coast Festival in Merritt years ago. But a deal to buy that dragon fell through, so he decided to create his own instead.
He worked alongside metalworker Nathyn Sanche to scrounge large-diameter, curved stainless steel tubing.
“We just raided all the scrap yards,” he says, noting they only had to use a few new pieces to create the body. The whole thing was created in parts so that it can be easily assembled and disassembled for transport. (“Building big things is a bad idea if you can’t transport them,” he says wryly, in the tone of one who’s been there, done that.)
Simmer doesn’t make his living from art; he runs a patent research business as his full-time occupation.
But his large-scale public art creations can be found in a variety of different locations. Many of his pieces, he notes, are rented to take part in special events or to display in public places for periods of time. His giant nose sculpture is currently on display on El Paseo, the high-end shopping area of Palm Desert, California; other works have taken part in sculpture crawls in B.C. communities including Oak Bay, Castlegar and Nanoose Bay.
He’s also a board member of Burnaby Arts Council, and he’s currently contemplating ways to help channel the whole “selfie art” culture into new, immersive art experiences right here at home.
“We’ve got lots of good plans around here,” he says. “Maybe we can put Burnaby on the map.”