For those of you who come to Burning Man to see the ART in store for you, I have traveled the playa and met with many good artists and can most joyfully tell you that the State of the ART in Black Rock City, despite the previous weeks’ weather is very, very good.
The largest project closest to the ARTery, up around 6:30, is Dan Fox’s Alien Siege Machine. This beast is growing daily, with all but the top floors installed, and it will eventually reach 40 ft tall. Participants can climb all over and inside this beast of a machine that will burn on Friday. I met Dan Swain, aka Dolphin, the project architect, who told me the structure should be completed by end of day today. Fox and his crew built Anubis and the Trojan Horse. They like big wooden sculptures that end in the most impressive burns, so this one will be a must see. They’re based out of the East Bay, Oakland and the project prefabrication is done at NIMBY. When you arrive in Black Rock City, please be sure to climb up in the Machine for the view and for a sense of back in the day when you had your forts and tree houses, complete with “NO GURLS (or BOYZ) ALLOWED” signs, however this time you’ll be inside an Alien Siege Machine that is ready to pilot into battle and lay waste to everything in its path. And there’s a really big bomb loaded in the bomb bay waiting to drop.
Following the Promenade to the Man, I ran into the fine folks at The Toilet Bowl along the 9 o’clock Promenade. Tracy Gillan, Don Rider and Gaylen Hamilton of Bathroom Beacons: Welcome to Fabulous Black Rock City (their group is collectively known as StarPony Labs) and hung out with them a moment. Tracy told me, “I bought all this bowling alley stuff on Craigslist and I wanted to make a bowling alley here on the playa. Don and I are in the same hula hooping class and I told him I wanted to call it the ‘Dust Bowl’ and asked if he wanted to be part of it. He asked if we could incorporate it into his Bathroom Beacons art then we decided, Toilet Bowl! History was made: a melding of bowling and bathrooms.” “The Big Lebowski” will play on continuous loops on the bowling lane consoles and their group is also building Bathroom Beacons: Welcome to Fabulous Black Rock City, the redux of the Las Vegas sign, guiding participants to spots of relief. They are also installing Twisted Bristles in the 3 o’clock plaza – a large toilet brush featuring optic fiber and LED lighting.
Musical Swings is also on the 9 o’clock Promenade, in closer to the Man from the Toilet Bowl. Ron Simmer and his crew are from Vancouver and are creating and ambient interactive set of swings with lights and sound that will be a place for graceful movement on swing sets that chime bells in an ambient environment. There will be a chandelier with spinning strobes. Ron makes a lot of art on and off the playa and this summer he built “What the Nose Knows”. He says there is an art scene in Vancouver that is becoming difficult as the real estate market booms and artists are more and more insecure as rents rise. Sounds familiar. Ron also tells me that artists in Vancouver are keen to support each other and people he works with have also worked with the Embrace project who are out of Vancouver and Reno.
Grant Toland and his fellow artists at Warp Detour were busily working on their piece and it is an elegant 100 ft long tunnel that leans slightly with each successive piece. It looks as if this is going to be really beautiful when they finish and they’re well on their way.
I cruised out to deep playa to meet up with Mr. Peter Hudson, our resident master Zoetrope sculptor and yes, Eternal Return is amazing and I only saw it in daylight. During the day, look for a tall structure to the 10 o’clock side out a bit further, of the Temple of Grace that stands with what looks like, from a distance, golden petals to some large steel flower. At night you will no doubt be able to follow the sounds of participants gasping in awe as this multidimensional Zoetrope illuminates with strobes all around to create infinite visual possibilities. Peter has a talented crew out there working with him including Marco Cochrane (Bliss Dance, Truth is Beauty) who did the steel lattice work on the base of Eternal Return. They’ve been setting up for three days now, installing the sculpture, tweaking animation and running electronics and they hope to test it tonight. Peter introduced me to Cardboard Mike who is attending his first Burning Man and is, according to Peter, “Busting his ass,” then Peter added, “I’ve just got a great crew, really great.”
I won’t share any pictures of the piece because Mr Hudson wants you to see it in person, so get out there when you arrive.
Out along the playa spine, past the Temple of Grace is the Black Rock Observatory. Major Tom is the lead artist and he is working with Gregg Fleishman of Otic Oasis and last year’s Temple of Whollyness as well as his distinguished artistic career off playa. There will be 5 Observatories made with Fleishman’s modular slotted wood technique and these are REAL observatories sporting REAL astronomical night time telescopes. Major Tom and his group have been on play setting up since Monday and he tells me we have Saturn and Mars all week, close and up personal, so if you want to stargaze, this is THE place to do it.
David Best’s Temple of Grace is coming together quickly. To watch his team work is to behold a thing of beauty as everyone is doing something, everyone is focused and they are all working together with such precision it kind of blows my mind. This crew has been working together a long time and David is an amazing leader. The courtyard is set, arches are built and every intricate piece of what will become the Temple is lovingly being prepared for placement.
Embrace is to the 3 o’clock side of the Temple and along with the Temple and the Man, it is one of the largest encampments on playa this year. The project is massive in size and Rachel told us they are working round the clock shifts now that the weather has abated a bit from the early weeks’ rains. The project site is rimmed with skins and hands as the main structure is completed. Heads have been up for a while now and the skin built at the Generator is being placed as people fill in gaps with individual wood bits to smooth and make it complete. I was told that they’ve been on playa since August 9th, and that is a good thing. This installation is huge.
Along the way back from Embrace towards Center Camp, you will encounter the Pyramid of Possibilities by Douglas Taphouse. They’re from the Washington D.C. area and prefabbed the entire thing in Doug’s backyard. The structure is meant to be climbed on and is of a wooden peg construction. Bill is their software engineer and he’s designed the lighting to use accelerometers to respond to people climbing on the structure, or to respond to art cars or people passing by. It is a tall, fully interconnected structure and it should be a delight at night, but be careful. While there are guard rails, Doug hopes people will enjoy it with an appropriate level of fear and caution.
The Library of Babel by Warrick MacMillan is between the Man and the Temple. He told me, on Tuesday that when the dust storms swelled and flowed over everyone out there, his crew just kept building through it for an hour or so. Once the dust finally stopped blowing, they stood back and for the first time saw what the bottom floor looked like completed. They knew they were building it, but couldn’t see what it looked like as a whole until the weather cleared. The inside is a towering mosque shape of two stories with a golden dome. The artists will be filling in the furniture and books they’ve created (they even made all the paper for the books)next and this was the first year they’d applied for an Honorarium grant and they were surprised when they got it. Warrick told me this is his first piece on the playa and that the outside is inspired by the Caravansary theme and the inside was inspired by a short story by Borges, “The Library of Babel”.
We met Big Red at Paha’oha’o, the Volcano of Transformation. They were laying out the structure footprint and unpacking their supplies. The volcano will be a very interactive space each night, with flowing lava, sacred drumming, fire dancers and a fireworks show on Thursday when it “erupts”. The group is very proud of their slide as it is linseed linoleum with no seams and is extra slick for those who want to sacrifice themselves into the volcano. 2009’s Wedge and the complications that arose for some on that slide came up and they said you’ll glide on our slide.
Squared by Charles Gadeken is installed and his crew is currently working on wiring it. The sculpture is 50 ft tall and they call it the Tree. This sculpture is beautiful by day, but by night be sure to visit. They built it in San Francisco’s Box Shop and it will have not only the visual, but a sound element as well.
We are well into the week before the event, and the artists I’ve talked with all believe they are on schedule. We’re getting there. You just show up, get your camp settled, grab a cocktail and enter this world they’ve created. Make you camps art, make yourself art. Be careful when climbing around the installations and don’t be stupid around fire. Come celebrate this thing we are all creating together. 2014 is truly going to be a banner year out here in Black Rock City.