A Month in the Life of a Big Art Project

It’s been four months since we started the designs for the FLUX Foundation’s latest piece, Zoa. And now, it is less than a month before it comes to life in the Black Rock Desert. Our many teams have been working collectively to create a monumental experience. When you go out to the desert and see these massive sculptures, it’s nearly impossible to fathom the work it took to get them there, in front of you, blowing your mind. We thought it was high time we shared our experience with you, to give you – A month in the life of a Big Art project.

Flux Foundation by Anthony Piscitella

It is at this point in the project the theme music from Chariots of Fire starts playing in my head in full rotation, (I apologize in advance for the earworm). In other words, we are gonna make it, but we are pushing ourselves to the finish line. And yes this happens every year!

Zoa concept drawing

The build out for Zoa is coming along brilliantly. Production in all areas of the project are well underway and the shop is a flurry of sawdust, grinding, welding, soldering and, most importantly, FUN! And, in the center of all the activity we are still madly raising the funds we need to finish building Zoa.

FLUX is working simultaneously out of 4 locations for this project: three spaces within American Steel Studios and the remaining one over at the Department of Spontaneous Combustion. The overall excitement and interest in Zoa has been phenomenal, with more than 130 individuals volunteering to work on the project! Of these, a consistent crew of 60-70 dedicated people have put in thousands of shop hours to bring Zoa to life, with a dozen more working tirelessly behind the scenes to solve the logistical and financial challenges.

Model making

Our friends and colleagues in art, Ardent Heavy Industries, have just given us an enormous gift of support via usage of their space, tools and volunteer force to help with this last-month crunch of the Zoa build. We are grateful and humbled by this gift, and it comes at the exact right time, as we launch into building out the 3 metal sculptures, known as the NeuMorphs. Now we can build two of the NeuMorphs simultaneously! (I think we all want to wear shirts that say FLUX <3’s Ardent).

Big Art takes Big Collaboration

The Flux metal team, aka the Metalheads, are cranking out the legs of the NeuMorphs, now, in assembly line style. Taking our time in making the first sculpture, Billie, gave us a clear pathway to the rapid build of the next two, Nina and Etta (FLUX FAQ: we normally give names to our structures. It makes building way more fun and engaging. The 3 NeuMorphs are named for some great ladies of jazz: Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Etta James).

Building Zoa
Finishing NeuMorph Billie

The wood crew, aka the Woodchucks, are cutting, measuring, and sanding away. They have one complete seadpod with wings! Production of the parts for the other 3 pods is nearly done and assembly for those will be starting next week. They are also collaborating with the burn team to make sure burn packs and airflow holes are well designed in the wing-ribs to make everything go more smoothly on Wednesday night, our burn night. We are so excited about the burn, we are counting down the days. (FLUX FAQ: Why, yes, of course, the seadpods have names, too. Named for some great jazzy men: Charles Mingus, Sam Cooke, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie “Bird” Parker).

Concept image for metal sculptures – NeuMorphs

The team that brings the beauty of the materials to life, the Surfacing Team, aka SkinTight, is pestering and nagging the Woodchucks and the Metalheads to “Hurry Up” so they can put the finishing touches on Zoa to really make the installation come together. They have been experimenting with all sorts of materials to create just the right look. They are sorta of like mad scientists – really really messy mad scientists. With all this experimentation they have come up with some beautiful treatments for the surface of Zoa, which they are starting on this week.

While most of the Flux artists are hell bent on construction there is one team that is all about graceful, beautiful, awe inspiring, and choreographed destruction; and that would be the Burn Team. This team has worked tirelessly melting wax, collecting saw dust from the Woodchucks and our neighbors the Bottlecap Gazebo, making “spores”, and carefully planning the burn logistics. We really can’t wait to see this burn on Wednesday night (I know I already said that, but we are really really excited about it!).

Making the “Exploding” world

After the burn team has its performance the team that will be stepping up to the plate will be our plumbing team, to be henceforth known as the Fire Hussies (a much better label for this wild bunch of gals). The Fire Hussies have been working everyday (I swear I’m not lying about EVERYday) to construct the three magnificent flame effects heads that will come to life with interactive fire on Thursday night of the event. All of these heads are well under-construction with Nina’s head nearing completion as I type.

Programing for Zoa at DSC

But where would we be without the team that ties it all together with interactivity thru technology, the Geexxx Team (FLUX FAQ: Yes that is the correct spelling for the geek team, because we make technology sexy and fun!). This team has been holding hack-a-thons and working away to create some truly amazing new forms of interactivity. Zoa in the Wood form will be both globally and locally reactive to sound, so say for instance a large vehicle with a few speakers drives by, Zoa will react globally to this, or if someone figures out where the sound sensors are and shouts/sings/warbles, Zoa will react locally to this. When Zoa transforms into its third phase, the NeuMorphs,12 interactive glowing foot buttons will rise from the playa surface for participants to play with and create patterns of fire. When the fire effects are not active, this crew has developed proximity sensors that will ripple and undulate the lighting system as people cross the path of the sensor.

Zoa's Lighting
Geeking out

Phew! That’s a lot of work going on, huh? And with all that tireless work, we know how important it is for our crew to be well cared for. Not only are there builders on this project, there are also those wise enough to know that a healthy crew is a productive and happy crew.  The Crew Care Team, aka the Fluffers, has given so much love and care to the artists of Zoa. They make the time to visit our builders on work nights and are planning moments of rest, rejuvenation, and joy for our builders on and off the playa. Not only are they taking care of us, they are also raising some money to pay for great crew care. Look for this team’s Car Wash coming up August 12 just off Gilman and San Pablo in Berkeley. This team of talented cooks, caregivers, and artists really are committed to the wellness and safety of the Flux team!

Flux Foundation
At the Flux Foundation Shop

And where would we be without the Fundraising Team? Through kickstarter, an art murmur after party, a pig roast, an ongoing-donor campaign, and a BBQ fest extraordinaire we are well on our way to achieving our fundraising goal. We still have around $15,000 more to go and by gosh golly, we are going to get there.

Finally, our FLUX creation would simply not be possible without the “Man Behind the Curtain,” “The Ghost in the Machine,” also know as, the BOMB team – Bombshells/Badasses of Management and Business. These administrative powerhouses have kept it all rolling along, and they make it seem so effortless, which is their superpower. They are an agile crew juggling the needs of both the project and the ongoing function of the non-profit. They make such complicated and tireless work look so easy.

And you know what…. we still know…. It’s gonna be great!

The FLUX Artists

Keep up with all things Flux:
, FaceBook and Twitter

And the 3D concept renderings:
http://youtu.be/waZzQv6Ot1g and http://youtu.be/uPpsILWfqJU

We are just grinding away until we’re done. See you in BRC in a month!


About the author: Jess Hobbs

Jess Hobbs

People have often described Jessica Hobbs as someone trying to lead a compulsively artistic life, which is more or less true. She started off her adventure in a small Sierra Foothill town and eventually meandered her way to the San Francisco Bay Area. Along the way Jess has worn many hats; running and creating community art programs, counseling teenagers, curating, exhibiting, designing, photographing and creating monumental interactive art experiences. She is an MFA graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute and has been wandering and creating in the dust fest for well over a decade. Collaboration is her magic ingredient for success in work, community, art and life. This can be seen through her founding and directing work with the Flux Foundation and All Power Labs.

10 Comments on “A Month in the Life of a Big Art Project

  • Paige Saez says:

    Wonderful post- thank you so much!

    Report comment

  • ubta says:

    I always find it totally and utterly amazing when women actually build stuff to take to the playa. It shows that some women can do anything men can do.

    Report comment

  • Jess Hobbs says:

    I wish it weren’t all that “amazing” to see women building art – it should just be the way the world is and not an “amazing” sight to behold. Reality is women have been able to do anything men can do for along time. I and a lot of other women have been building large-scale art for well over a decade on playa – so in other words – women building art on playa is definitely not a new thing.

    Report comment

  • Denise says:

    +1 Jess Hobbs. it’s “totally and utterly amazing” when capable people collaborate on great things. compliments filtered through paltry gender stereotypes are adorably old-fashioned.

    Report comment

  • Skippy says:

    +1 Jess & +1 Denise. When women “actually” do it? As opposed to all those other times we start big art projects and then give up to go home & cry? Sheesh. Thanks for the backhanded compliment, Ubta.

    Moving on … I started volunteering for this project this month, and it has already been one of the most fulfilling & fun projects I’ve ever worked on. All the team leads that I’ve met have great heads on their shoulders, are tireless workers, take good care of their crew, and have positive attitudes. I’m not even going to the burn this year, but I’m totally excited to help make this happen. If you can show up to help, that’s great, if you can’t, consider donating!

    Report comment

  • kruddy says:

    “i always find it totally and utterly amazing when women….”. Are you serious?!! This community is primarily woman managed, organized, and sustained. Flux, American Steel, FLG, and many other non-org groups are women controlled and directed. What is truly amazing is that this fact eludes you. (sigh)

    Report comment

  • Morrel says:

    Great post on a great project!!! Can’t wait to see it!!!!!

    Report comment

  • ubta says:


    touchy touchy

    Report comment

  • Big Chewy says:

    I think ubta is a troll…. no one is that dumb

    Report comment

  • billy says:

    ubta stated her gratuitous opinion about the passage, and u self rightous tofu labia lickers see the word woman and o shit lets find offense in it! just hangs your insecurities and ignorance of social acceptance and intellect further out on ya sleeve than it is. you people preach acceptance yet practice the opposite-shame on you and thank you BM for the insightful article!

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.