OUTSIDE EDGE / Tom Morris watches the 'Danton Organ' set the sky alight

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The Independent Culture
The Nottingham Now Festival opens this evening with a dance in the old market square performed by five flame-throwers and a computerised keyboard. The machine, called the Danton Organ, is played like an electric piano but instead of notes, throws huge fountains of fire 13 metres into the air. 'It has the aesthetic of violence,' says its unpredictable Dutch creator, Erik Hobijn. 'It begins very beautiful and then the heat gets so intense that beauty becomes the beast.'

Hobijn, 35, is fairly intense himself. 'We did this show in Hamburg,' he says. 'The Germans have a very strange attitude to art and (a characteristic sinister non sequitur) we were performing in quite a confined space. When the organ started to get really hot, you could see the audience saying to themselves: 'This is art, so it must be safe.' They stood right beside the machine. Then someone got too hot and suddenly they all panicked.' According to Hobijn there was a small riot in which several people were burnt.

'The press was furious but the people who were actually burnt were very interesting. They wanted to understand why I wanted to frighten people who came to be entertained.'

Hobijn has been shaking up a cocktail of art and fear since 1978, when he founded an art terrorist group, the SKG, in Amsterdam. Visitors to Nottingham should be warned that his particular enemies are tourists and those who try to please them. He has notebooks full of odd inventions to burn himself and frighten others. Last month he took his 'suicide machine' to the Autumn Festival at Graz in Austria. It consists of a crucifix-like central platform slung between two steel towers. One tower is a flame- thrower which ignites the victim on the crucifix; the other fires a jet of water to extinguish him. Hobijn covers himself with flame-resistant gel and rides the machine in front of baffled audiences. 'It is not a performance. It's a demonstration. This machine is utility. I am showing it the same way you demonstrate a Moulinex.' Sure enough, at the Graz Festival, two tourists lined up and had a go.

My favourite of Erik's toys is still under construction. Called the 'Love Bed', it consists of a four- poster, surrounded by gas burners. As the bed detects the weight of two bodies moving rhythmically, it becomes engulfed in a curtain of fire. Hobijn hopes to program the computer to recognise genuine love- making only. 'It's the ultimate pyromaniac fantasy,' he says. 'Will they go on, or will they stop?'

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