Multitalented makers Kyrsten Mate and Jon Sarriugarte need no introduction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their large-scale mobile art pieces bear their signature style of old-world metalwork worked into otherworldly design infused with electronics. Their repertoire includes a gorgeous snail-shaped vehicle named The Golden Mean. Its design is based on the golden ratio, it was built on a 1966 Volkswagen Bug chassis, seats six, shoots flames from its antannae, and was conceived by Kyrsten in a dream. Then there’s the perfectly patina’ed futuristic version of a prehistoric trilobite built on a wheelchair base and made of hand-hammered sheet metal and forged steel, named The Electrobite Olenoides.
But we certainly can’t forget the Serpent Twins, Jormungand (Midgard) and Julunggul (Rainbow), each 4-foot-wide and 50-foot-long, encrusted in an array of over 15,000 individually addressable LEDs capable of creating rainbows, plasma fields, water drops, fire, and video. Add to this a soundtrack of serpent calls designed at Skywalker Sound by Kyrsten, played on the 2,000-watt sound system built into each head, and you have an unforgettable encounter. Jormungand graced the cover of Make: Volume 35 with Kyrsten, Jon, and their daughter Zolie.
Made for the Burning Man festival and shown multiple times at Maker Faires in the Bay Area, the Serpent Twins are making their way to Nantes, France, for the first annual Maker Faire Nantes, taking place July 9 and 10 at the renowned Les Machines de l’île. We were dying to know how one goes about shipping two 50-foot serpents across the globe, so we caught up with Kyrsten and Jon en route to France.
How did the opportunity to take the Serpent Twins to France come about?
Jon: We talked to Bertier Luyt (lead organizer of the French Maker Faires) at Maker Faire Bay Area about coming to Maker Faire Nantes and bringing all our animals from the U.S.: the snail, our serpents, our trilobite, and the giraffe.
When Les Machine came to visit the Bay Area, we had dinner and talked more about our coming to Nantes. After dinner, we gave François Delarozière a ride in the snail. He didn’t want to go back to the party. We all really wanted to bring the snail, but shipping her was just too difficult.
Check out Boing Boing’s test drive of the Electrobite:
What are the logistics of shipping over large-scale works of art like the Serpents?
Jon: Unlike the snail, we designed the serpents to fit into a shipping container. We had to make a custom rack to double-stack the bodies, but everything fit perfectly into a 40-foot box. The worst problem was the carnet, the temporary export papers for the art to leave the country and return without being taxed. This was quite a learning curve for us, and I have to give a big thanks to Michelle, who runs my office, for her work in getting it all done. Also a big shout out to Burning Man for paying for the shipping costs to get us to Nantes. We had fun tracking the ship as it progressed around the world, stopping at several East Coast ports, England, and finally France. The mythology of the serpents talk about them circling the world swallowing boys and spitting out men. A few more tours and we will do just that! Kyrsten can fill in the myth better.
Kyrsten: Jormangand is the mythical serpent that encircles the Earth biting his tail. Mostly because he is ornery, he refuses to let go. But Julunggul is the rainbow serpent, which makes one think of traveling and optimism. They are both always traveling, always moving, in their own way.
Have you taken any of your pieces overseas before?
Jon: When Zolie was 2 years old, we took our vortex fire cannons and the shock-wave cannon to Robodock in Amsterdam to perform with Survival Research Labs (SRL). It was quite a show, and we were very impressed with the theater of the EU work. We were also taken with the fact that every piece of art seemed to have revenue stream, beer sales, food, and gifts. It was a great way to pay for art one drink at a time.
We took the concept home and created the Boiler Bar and later the stage show. We took this to the early Maker Faires and even shipped the Boiler Bar and stage to Texas for Maker Faire Austin, where with the power of the Boiler Bar we managed to levitate a large tent.
The Robodoc show was also the first show we did with Les Machine! I think it might have been the first show they did too after they split from Royal Deluxe. This Maker Faire Nantes show is the 10-year anniversary for them!
Have you seen any of Les Machine’s creations in person before or worked with them previously?
Jon: At Robodock they had created a wonderful bar and a music machine with circus-like performances. I really took to heart the theater and costumes we saw them use. We are always incorporating these into all of our work. I’ve never seen any of their current work in person. I’ve admired their work for years and hoped we could find the time to visit them. I never dreamed we would be performing with them. It’s such an honor to be part of their show!
Kyrsten: It’s an understatement to say we’re huge fans of Les Machine. Their creations’ beauty and character expressed through metal and machinery was the inspiration for the Golden Mean (the snail) and later the Serpents as well. Especially the concept that the Serpents are giant puppets, that their movement is part of their artistic concept. All of Les Machine’s pieces have such personality; they transcend the materials that make them. I can only hope we bestowed the same sort of character into our pieces!
How will the Serpent Twins be displayed at Maker Faire Nantes? Any plans to collaborate with the Les Machine pieces?
Jon: We’ll be just outside the Maker Faire in the Camp of the Artists. Here, we’ll set up the Empire of Dirt camp from Burning Man with lighting and sets made by our crew members Toast, Jillian, and Be from Because We Can. I can picture the nimble Serpents dancing around the feet of the elephant with the Electrobite nipping at its heels. I hope they’re thinking the same!
The Serpent Twins, in concept as well as creation, are a nod to the old world and new world coming together, as are Les Machine’s pieces. And to take the Twins from the States to a place with as much history as France adds yet another layer. What is most exciting to you about all of this coming together?
There’s so much to think about. We just landed in Paris and walking around town makes me so excited to be in the hub of the masters of art and architecture. I love the history of metalwork from the E.U. and the new artistic twist the Bay Area has added to it. Big art is hard to place, but now that we have become accustomed to seeing it at places like Burning Man and in Oakland, California, it’s a natural fit to see it now in the plazas and streets of Europe.
Will you be showing off the Serpents anywhere else in Europe?
Jon: We sure hope so! We plan to tour them and the Electrobite for the next year, possibly visiting other Maker Faires. We’re really into inspiring young makers, and old ones too. We’re looking for events that celebrate art and making. We really want to show the old-world craftsmanship that we use in our metalwork mixed with new technology. The Serpents are crusted on the inside with Wi-Fi, networking, and sound and light controllers, with a mix of off-the-shelf controllers and custom boards.
You always seem to have wonderfully sublime outfits that go with your creations. Do you conceive of these while you’re making your pieces or do you just have a great wardrobe?
Jon: Both! Kyrsten is the costume goddess and seems to have something in the basement for every event. She knows her stuff and is great at creating a new look for each of our projects. The crew has been great at adding to the mix, too, and we always look so together as a group. You can always tell who is with us!
Are you working on any new pieces currently? What’s next for you?
Jon: We’re currently working on a new project called EMPIRE (Early Manned Planetary-Interplanetary Roundtrip Expedition). It’s a lost mission to Mars from 1965 that returns to Earth half alien and half vintage NASA. We’ll be completing this over the next year. Stay tuned!
For all the information you need to join the Serpent Twins and a whole incredible array of maker-made projects at Maker Faire Nantes, head to the site!