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The Tesla Coils

Updated: Jul 27



When Torrey Smith agreed to be interviewed, I was ecstatic. His big art has inspired me, so many of us, for so long. I expected him to be creative and inspiring, but I had no idea that he would be magical. Torrey inspired me! His life story, his whimsy and his passion inform his work and is a call to action for all artists everywhere and Everywhen.


I joined Torrey with Amberosia and Aftermath on an online video call, and we learned his story.


Torrey Pines Smith at the San Mateo Maker Faire in 2017

Torrey: I was raised on a lot of science fiction. I'm a kid that has always just wanted to like fly jets around, you know, do loops around cumulonimbus clouds and I've always felt a little bit um kind of like frustrated by -- by the fact that that's actually kinda hard to do uh for most people.

Terri: When did you realize that your destiny was art?

Torrey: I’ve been homeless, not a lot as a kid but I used to live in a span of trees north of Santa Cruz. I've been thrown in dumpsters, I've been woken up by cops where you know it's not, it's not legal to be you, right? It's not legal to be a homeless poverty kid, right? Your very existence is illegal. Thank you big art because that was the missing piece.

Terri: What made you want to work with Tesla Coils?


Tesla Coils at the San Mateo Maker Faire in 2017

Torrey: The idea of going into a Tesla coil project was was the last thing on my mind. I'd always wanted to build a geodesic dome and the art community seemed like a good place to do it. So, I started building a dome. I actually built that dome not because I wanted to build a tower and a zip line and and I wanted to build, you know, the Sextant we know of today. I built that dome because I had just come on to the scene and I wanted to be cool. So, yeah, here's me as I entered our community. I was like, wow, this is really cool. I wanna be cool. So, I'm gonna dress like these people and I'm gonna see uh who's cool out here? The DJ's are cool. Uh little little bars are cool. Chill zones are cool. So, I'll get a cool shade structure and we'll have a bar and we'll get some DJs to play it and that is the mindset kind of that I was initially operating on.

Torrey: I am an engineer. I'm kinda, I feel like I'm kinda smart and creative. I'll build a geodesic dome to save money. That's what I'll do. What else? Oh! We can put a tower on it and I start thinking like that would be cool right cuz it'll be cool to be up high so I start designing a tower. Anyways, and then I'm like zip line! Zip line from the tower um so it just kind of evolved and my goal with Sextant cuz I'm trying to answer your question about the Tesla Coils in sort of roundabout way there is um my goal with Sextant was to just build the ever larger series of towers, right? Like that's about how creative I am and I was like, I'll build another dome below the first dome and then it'll be like tier two and then I'll build a third dome and then it'll be tier three and then we'll put like the rings of Saturn around it and it was like it's gonna be like domes and like asteroid belts and like like I want like rope ladders and girders and like you know suspended walkways and and that was kind of like my vision for Sextant.

Torrey: Um and then my buddy Dan Bastard, uh, Dan Moyer um, monstrously intelligent dude. We like to think of him as composed of three different equal parts. Um Dan Moyer is one third um alien. Just in terms of his intelligence, and just other-worldliness. He's one third western fence lizard, blue variety, and then he's one third teenage girl. You put those components in and you've got one of my best friends, Dan Moyer. Anyways, he's like, hey, Torrey. I was thinking, I kinda wanna build a big, giant Tesla coil. Could we put it, I don't know, on the dome or in front of camp or something? And I was like, "Yeah, sounds good, man. You know, as long as you don't get in the way of my zip line," which is obviously way more important than your dome idea, *laughs* your Tesla coil idea.


Torrey: We're calling up companies that literally make parts for particle colliders on the other side of the planet, like custom magnetic cores in very specific shapes made out of thousands of layers of varying, uh, specially formulated metal to carry magnetic fields, and it was like, we're calling them up and saying like, hey, can you instead of supporting CERN, could you help us with our Tesla Coil Project? And in all these cases, it was like, sure. Uh that's like the sheet metal people at Costa Manufacturing were like, I was like, could you run steel through this machine? Well, rather they they were running steel through the machine. I was like, could you run aluminum tape through it? And they're like, you know, we never tried it but maybe uh would you buy the roll of aluminum at, you know, it's the kind of thing that comes on a semi truck and I was like, do you take American Express?

Torrey: I think there's value in big art, crazy, inspiring, insanely inefficient big art. Because it kind of has the effect of aligning people in some very beautiful ways. Like suddenly, you see that damn thing and you're like, all right! Astronauts call it the "Overview Effect." For the, for the, for the few people who have been in lower orbit and beyond, and have seen the world from from space. Apparently, there's this effect it has on you where you kind of, you kind of see things slightly differently after that. You know, it affects you. Like, when I go to Yosemite, every time I go, it affects me. I'm like, I'm changed by being there by seeing amazing stuff. Seeing the Earth from space is kind of a big version of that. Big art, I think is tapping into something along those lines. Um, there's something uniting about it. There's something that kinda makes you feel good by simple virtue of being alive, and maybe having other people, other beings to kinda share that experience with.



Torrey at Beakerhead in Calgary, Canada. Photograph by Mary Guthro Sabbe

These Tesla Coils are arriving at the Everywhen and the Electric Universe event in October! Be sure to grab your ticket and come journey through the Everywhen in the Mojave Desert from October 10-18th, 2021.


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