747 Rolls In — It’s Art, Right?

A 747 landed in the desert yesterday (well, it actually rolled in), but not without a bit of turbulence.

The actual arrival couldn’t have been smoother. The Big Imagination group, which has been trying to bring a 747 to the desert for two years, left Mojave on Monday and pulled into Gerlach early Wednesday morning. A late route change meant that the crew had to spend the night in Nixon, where townsfolk came out to ogle the jet.

“They couldn’t have been nicer,” Kari, the editor of the documentary team, said of the reception by the tribal townspeople in Nixon. Bianca, one of the camera operators, agreed: “They kept asking us if we had what we needed, did we want anything,” she said. “It was great.”

When the crew got back on the road this morning, they moved fast: We thought we’d be stuck watching the jet crawl along at 10 or 15 miles an hour. But as the police convoy came out Route 34 from Gerlach and passed us on the way to the playa, the rig carrying the jet must have been doing 40 mph. The driver, Gaylord, said later his top speed during the journey was 56 mph, and he averaged about 50. Impressive.

Still, Gaylord was not at all impressed with the scope of the task. Was this the biggest thing he’d ever hauled? “Oh hell no,” he said. “We did an old house one time, and we had an inch and half on either side for the (power) poles.” But he did say that this was a lot of fun, and that people seemed to line up when they came rolling by.

Carlos Danger, the playa safety manager, and Ira, the head of Gate, Perimeter and Exodus, were there at the 8 Mile entrance to make sure everything went smoothly. The convoy made its way slowly along the rocky entrance road, then kicked up dust as it moved along the shoreline. Soon enough, it was passing through Point 1, where a good-sized crowed had gathered to watch the entrance.

“I won’t really feel good until we get it where it’s going, off the truck and all secured,” Ken Feldman, the project lead, said. “That and 24 hours of sleep.”

On the way in from Eight Mile
On the way in from Eight Mile

So the convoy made its way to 9:30 and Esplanade, where the straps came off and the landing was complete. No matter what it looked like back in the hanger, its massiveness was diminished by the surroundings of the desert. Even if the entire jet had made it to Black Rock City, no doubt it would still seem small. There’s no eclipsing the natural vastness here.

Kari, the video editor, scrambled onto the back of one of the support trucks and started unpacking gear. She got hooked on the project last year. I donated money … but then it didn’t happen. … But I was hanging out on LA Burners (on Facebook), and they posted, hey, does anyone want to come out and work on the plane, because we need help.” So she did, and here it is.

If you go to the group’s website at bigimagination.org, you’d get the impression that an entire jet was going to be here. So that might have tempered the general playa reaction. “Where’s the rest of it?” was asked more than once. But if all goes well, and this year’s portion can be stored somewhere nearby, and fundraising continues, and other good things happen, the dream is still to have an entire 747 on the playa.

But the presence of the jet has been the subject of a lot of conversation, and it would seem to be just getting started. The project is big, but is it art? Lots of people don’t think so.

“Having someone drag an annoying POS from the real world into the playa is so very tone-deaf and arrogant,” Constance Sebastian commented on a Facebook photo of the arrival.

“Maybe they should just keep driving,” said another. “I hear Louisiana is in need of temporary shelters,” said another.

And the beat went on: “So, I know it will be cool to see out there, and I know it took a lot of effort to get it to the desert,” said Beth Kittle. “But honestly, I’m annoyed that this has gotten so much press as opposed to other super impressive art projects, things that were built by artists instead of just moved from one place to another place where it’s less expected. In fact you might then call it matter out of place. Hmmm ;) I kid, I kid.”

But these were by no means the only sentiments on the interwebs:

“Holy crap they actually did it, neat!” another poster said. Chimed in another: “This is happening. Dream big, people.”

Rolling into Black Rock City
Rolling into Black Rock City

It’s clear that Feldman has been wrestling with his dream for quite some time. Last year he tried to get the 747 here, but had to abandon the effort when fundraising efforts came up short.

But the group had a camp anyway, even without the jet, and hosted some of the activities that would have taken place on the jet: “Travelers were welcomed up to our Front Desk where they were prepped for their pre-flight experience, then ushered through the Insecurity Checkpoint, where they were scanned by our friendly and efficient TSA (Total Self Acceptance) agents to make sure they divested themselves of all those pesky sharp objects and negative vibes.

“Once entering the lounge area, they were invited to take a moment and reflect on what Emotional Baggage they chose to check and leave behind (later transported by camp Flight Crew to the Temple to be burned). Finally, they were asked to ponder what their chosen destinations would be — what vistas, be they destinations, life goals, or inner states, were they deciding to commit their experience to?”

As for the current effort, we encourage art theorists to weigh in. We know when we are out of our depth. But we think of Andy Warhol’s soup cans, and we’re reminded of the giant Facebook “like” sculpture last year. There is no doubt that this form and scope is iconic. Has it been “transformed” enough to call it art? You tell us.

Great thoughts aside, there is no doubt that it still looks like a great DJ booth, and it’s hard not to think of the dance parties that will happen here. But that’s the thing about Burning Man: It’s no one thing. It’s a dance party and an art venue. It is, quite literally, what you make it.

So we’ll just have to see where this one goes. Because, as ever, intent is one thing, reality another. And these are Burners you are dealing with: “I don’t imagine anyone has considered a highjacking during week,” another poster said. … “I’d suggest they wait until the interior is finished out and the blinky things, the bar and sound system are installed.”

 

About the author: John Curley

John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person In a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients, and I'm especially fond of shooting weddings. I'm also the editor at large of the Tasting Panel magazine, which is devoted to the beverage industry. I've also taught a bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on a (house)boat in Alameda, California.

52 Comments on “747 Rolls In — It’s Art, Right?

  • Justin Credible says:

    Great article Curley!

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  • Melissa Alexander says:

    The thing that still holds true for Burning Man is that people get to decide what their version of art is. This is one of the few spaces left where anyone and everyone everyone gets to be in the pool- not just folks deemed worthy by art theorists nor the art market. ( While it’s not my cup of tea it’s theirs and that’s okay. Hell, they did it.

    I’m no size queen either. So, I’d also humbly suggest that perhaps the “art” was in part, all of the social interactions they had along the way. Imagine explaining their crazy concept to cops and residents in Nixon as they urged this along. “Izzat ART you Say?”. And imagine the stories that truck driver will have to tell his kids when he finally pulls in at home.)

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    • The Hustler says:

      And, what I think the human interactions around this will be on the playa.

      I think it’s interesting, but I don’t care if someone thinks it’s art or not. I don’t care.

      I’ve seen a lot of “art” that I thought was a total waste of my time, and many things that were not “art” that completely captivated me.

      I imagine we’re seeing this year’s giant controversy develop. Maybe instead of misguided hippies getting all cranked up over plug-and-play camps (instead of focusing on the other 99.2% of Burning Man) they’ll be “protesting” this, therefore making it art.

      If nothing else, it’s going to be pretty awesome.

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    • Melissa Alexander says:

      Also…Maybe I was remembering a little about when Christo built his fence around here ( I was in high school.)
      Many screamed that it wasn’t art but just a fence. But Christo won in the end because he was really all about the process. That elegant line drawing in the form of a fence was the output, not the outcome.

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    • Mason says:

      Whoever said the comment, hey should just keep driving because they heard Louisiana needs temporary shelters clearly doesn’t belong at BM. Eat shit.

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  • The Hustler says:

    This is what I wrote on my FB thing when I shared this article:

    “If you have to ask if it’s art, then it’s probably art. If someone feels they need to force their opinion on someone else whether something is or is not art, then it most certainly is art.
    Which raises questions about what art actually is and illustrates how grey the idea of art really is.
    OK, so if it isn’t “art,” (whatever that means) then is it ok if it’s just interesting with a good story — or does that, in fact, mean it’s art?
    Why worry about wether it is or is not?
    Burning Man is GIANT with countless of things that may or may not be art, may or may not be interesting, may or may not have a phenomenal beat and wonderful lines.
    This brings up another point: Move this ideology away from Black Rock City and I believe it is just as sound.
    Perception is not reality. Reality is abstract. Anything and nothing, simultaneously, is art.”

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  • mark says:

    I’m also bringing a 747 to Burning Man. I’m encouraging other burners to do the same. I’m looking forward to taking my 747 to get a look at their 747. I’m open minded as to what I’m going to think of it when I see it. But remember, you too can bring a 747 to Burning Man. They’re not that expensive.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhA0OdFQCCc

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    • Jet Burns says:

      There are over a hundred people that have come to work on this Burning Man 747 Project. Many of them have come to use tools, power tools, and other tools for the very first time. They have learned about safety procedures, how to disassemble and fabricate wood, steel, aluminum, wires, LEDs, and so much more, and again for the very first time. What art or creation will just one of these of the hundreds make in the future on their own for Burning Man or for the (cough) ‘Art Industry’.

      I have seen children visit the 747 project, some of them in Nixon, Nevada. How many children will see it on the Playa when Kidsville comes to visit. It is big, it is huge, but so are most monuments to great things. They are inspiring to behold, and what if it takes only one child to say, “I want to be a pilot” or “I want to understand how something that big can fly in the air.” Who the hell cares what ‘category’ of art it is. It’s fun, it took hundreds of people to bring it, to Dare Mighty Things and inspire the child in all of us.

      I for one can’t wait to check your bags. Let loose your BIG IMAGINATION and take an impossible flight on a PALE BLUE DOT around an insignificant star.

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  • CG says:

    Tone-deaf self-involved dreck. My art teachers would rip these guys apart in crit, first year.

    Christo, Heizer, et. al, have philosophies behind their work, and it is real work (like the work or not).

    The people involved here took it upon themselves to take money from their friends for a party.

    Just ’cause its big don’t mean its good. First law of male sculpture education.

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    • Pooh Bear says:

      Any art teacher who thinks they can define the scope of what art is should not be teaching art.

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      • CG says:

        Please, decry the structure of the college level fine arts education and its discipline into critical thinking. For all its flaws, this is the legacy of being questioned about your motives in front of your peers in an academic environment. Argue this reality on the internet extensively.

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    • Corvus says:

      Academia says it. I believe it. That settles it.

      Phooey on that.

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    • Roy333 says:

      CG says:
      “My art teachers would rip these guys apart in crit, first year.”

      If your “art teachers” are so smart, why aren’t they making a living selling their art rather than teaching?”

      This reminds me of an English class I took in college years ago
      Early in the class the Professor told us that poems don’t have to have a specific meaning. It means what we get out of it, or something to that effect. The meaning comes from the reader.
      Later in the semester we had a test. It consisted of a poem for us to read and one question, something like, “What is this poem about?”, Or , “What does this poem mean?” So I read and thought and I remembered what he had told us earlier, and I got what I felt the poem was about and I put that down, in what I thought was a good readable answer.
      I was not an English major, didn’t know the professor personally, was on the verge of dropping out of college anyway, and got an f on my paper because he said my answer wasn’t what the poem was about at all, that the poem had nothing to do with what I said. Then he had one of his favorite students read what the poem, “really” was about to enlighten me.
      My wife, who WAS an English major, got an A. We later compared our papers. I told her I thought mine was actually better than hers, and she reluctantly agreed.
      After a brief stint in Vietnam I did complete college, I have written 7 novels, two were published, plus I have published short stories, written numerous poems (all for fun, not a living as I continued to pursue my first career love until I retired- Flying) and I feel my writings are as good as any professor could do, even though they could still give me an F because they are the “Experts”.
      Yes, English and Art teachers are good at telling others why they are wrong, but in doing so they are taking away the very thing that makes Art and poetry unique. That is the ability to take your wild, unconventional thoughts and turn them into something beautiful.
      As for poetry in motion, you haven’t experienced it if you never got to ride in a helicopter with me doing my ballet in the sky. Yes, flying is an art.

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  • perspective says:

    will it be filled with energy?…if so, then it’s art.

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  • Karina Grotz says:

    I think the idea is that if you set your mind to something — like even a totally massive installation/art car with insane logistical obstacles– you can achieve the seemingly impossible. It’s about the challenge and actualization of the goal. Anyone seen that giant boulder in front of LACMA in LA? Similarly, that multi millionion dollar chunk of granite represents the same kind of challenges and process. Ken is just a plane fanatic and wants to share that wonder w the BM community. Now is it art? Whatever– if people have to ask or question it or criticize it or appreciate it — it’s really more telling / revealing about their own psyche, their own outlook on the world and their own perspectives… THAT is why it is art– it is opening that dialogue within oneself and with others.

    I have a degree in this.

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  • sparks says:

    there is one thing that Curley hits on that has been bothernig me. There is a lot of media, a lot of hullaballo around this particular piece going around. Where is that love for Harmoniscope, the giant fucking robot mechan9, the last apothecary, piazza di ferro, the list goes on and on.

    This is a big piece, but is the herculean effort to get it to playa any more important than the story? Did it really, really deserve another article wrote about it? Not my call but I have to give the group one thing they know the art of PR.

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    • DrTune says:

      Exactly… I could care less if I see this thing on the playa but I’m wildly excited (as usual) to see the really imaginative, funny, well engineered stuff that’ll be there. I always describe BM to people as (for me) primarily a giant engineering Show’n’Tell

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    • Pooh Bear says:

      The media we are talking about (excluding this article) is for the general public, not Burners. The general public knows what a 747 is. They can understand the difficult logistics of moving a 747 overland. Those articles aren’t art criticism, they are “man bites dog” stories.

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  • MtWoman says:

    Did anyone commenting read the article…the part about the “process” that happens IN the piece? THIS is ART.

    “But the group had a camp anyway, even without the jet, and hosted some of the activities that would have taken place on the jet: “Travelers were welcomed up to our Front Desk where they were prepped for their pre-flight experience, then ushered through the Insecurity Checkpoint, where they were scanned by our friendly and efficient TSA (Total Self Acceptance) agents to make sure they divested themselves of all those pesky sharp objects and negative vibes. They did this even without the 747 there…..

    “Once entering the lounge area, they were invited to take a moment and reflect on what Emotional Baggage they chose to check and leave behind (later transported by camp Flight Crew to the Temple to be burned). Finally, they were asked to ponder what their chosen destinations would be — what vistas, be they destinations, life goals, or inner states, were they deciding to commit their experience to?”

    Report comment

    • OShawn says:

      exactly this is a performance piece not a traditional sculptural piece of art so the 747 is just part of the stage which, is what so much of the rest of burning man is.

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  • Mazzrey says:

    I think the many engineers who built this aircraft originally are definitely artists… Just because it was built with science and for a purpose, makes it no less a piece of art. There are no bigger dreamers than those who aim for the sky.

    I am beyond excited to see this thing at the playa. I hope one day that it will be there complete.

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  • DustyRusty says:

    Ironically, it may be the only thing on the playa that doesn’t need to be tied down so it doesn’t fly away!

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    • Joe says:

      It actually does need to be tied down. Believe it or not, a 70 MPH wind will cause 25,000 Lb of lift and about the same load pushing sideways. It will be strapped down really well.

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  • Dilbert says:

    As a non-qualified bystander, it seems to me that a “thing” is art to the extent that it catches and holds your attention. “Hmm. What’s this for?” Once you figure out the answer to that question, you tend to move on. Perhaps Project Apollo was the biggest art project since the pyramids.

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  • Prism says:

    Comment from the peanut gallery:

    Please put some paint on it so we can be taken away by its otherworldliness/parallel worldliness.

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  • Karina Grotz says:

    “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

    –Leonardo da Vinci

    From Of Leonardo da Vinci’s many areas of study, perhaps this Renaissance man’s favorite was the area of aviation. Da Vinci seemed truly excited by the possibility of people soaring through the skies like birds.

    One of da Vinci’s most famous inventions, the flying machine (also known as the “ornithopter”) ideally displays his powers of observation and imagination, as well as his enthusiasm for the potential of flight. The design for this invention is clearly inspired by the flight of winged animals, which da Vinci hoped to replicate. In fact, in his notes, he mentions bats, kites and birds as sources of inspiration. — ©2008 Davinci Inventions

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  • Artpoop 2016 says:

    I think it’s hilarious that after 104 years of the dada movement proving “anything is art” we are having this useless debate. Yes. It’s art. The thing that we get to talk about is wether or not it’s *good* art. But no one wants to step on toes and everyone gets a fucking ribbon for participating. (Eyeroll) yes it’s art. Bad art. IMPRESSIVE bad art but bad art.

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  • Benny Church says:

    1. Where’s the rest of it?
    2. Meh.
    3. When you compare it to that big facebook advert that was out there then, yeah. It’s art. I guess.
    4. I’ll bet it stinks like hell when it’s on fire.
    5. Please set it on fire ASAP.

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  • Ringmaster says:

    Surely Ooligan Alley got the prior art in by bringing a 737 in for the last three years or so…? Big fuss over a copycat!

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  • Joyride says:

    The sky’s the limit at Burning Man.

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  • Bullux says:

    Ummm…if not art than shelter. And you can’t knock the reuse of materials for good. Better then buying a bunch of new stuff to make a shelter. If you question the validity of this, you must question the validity of all shelter on the playa. This is great! Way to go everyone who worked on it. Big ups! And yes, it’s art.

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  • Stuart M says:

    My emotional baggage is all carry-on, thanks.

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  • Dr Helix says:

    That’s not a 747, its the SPACE SHUTTLE! Ya can’t fool me!

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  • flight risk says:

    I’m just hoping to get good and scanned by the TSA agents…you know, in an artful sort of way.

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  • Melissa Alexander says:

    I’m having a perfect moment reading this discussion! thank you all so much! Curley-see what I’m saying’? Everyone’s in the pool!

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  • Corvus says:

    For DG.

    Someone who knows art vs someone who makes it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shpVA9rSHuc

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  • Thanks for sharing the information. It is very useful for my future. keep sharing

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  • Pras says:

    Art is completely subjective. Anyone who tries to apply definitions and rules is fooling themselves and and all those who believe them. (There: that’s my foolish lecture.)

    I think de plane is great, because it was a challenge to do and it looks like it will be fun.

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  • Steve Mobia says:

    It’s not staying in Gerlach is it? Did the costs cover a round trip?

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  • WALT! says:

    Right now, hundreds of media outlets around the world are showing the illustrations and reporting this as a fully mobile gigantic art car roaming around Black Rock City. When actuality, it is just a big aluminum shell plopped on the playa. It is the straddling bus of the Black Rock desert. Good to see pranks are alive and well at Burning Man.

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