Look What Time It Is

David Best talked at the desert arts preview about what the Temple does for the community

Hi  all, and hey, isn’t the desert time getting pretty close again?

All the signs are here – everyone is having a fundraiser (and don’t you want to buy some stock in Kickstarter?), Will Chase is filling up our inboxes with vital info via the JackRabbit Speaks (and you really want to subscribe to that if you don’t already), and the Man is built. What’s that, you say? The Man is built? Yes indeed, grasshopper. The Man Crew was up on the work ranch a couple of weeks ago, building this year’s big wooden stiff. If you’re on the Instagram, which you can find on the internets, you’ll want to do a search for Sfslim and check out his great pictures of the crew that puts the Man together.

The point is, everything is moving forward. The Man burns in … what, a couple of weeks? It seems that way. But who’s counting?

Well, we’re all counting. Frankly, it’s been a long cold winter, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Keyboards have been worn smooth with the amount of … communicating … that’s gone on this offseason about … well, you know what about.

But we’re going to make a radical suggestion: Let’s put that stuff aside for the time being. It’s time to build some stuff, then burn some stuff, and get hot and dusty and sweaty and exultant in the process.

There are lots of places to vent and share and commiserate. The amazing Halcyon has written and videotaped some wonderful pieces right here on this Burning Blog about how to cope with … no, how to transcend, the ticket stuff. Whether you have tickets or you don’t have tickets, there’s a lot to think about, a lot to come to terms with. The ticketing process (and the process of dealing with it) will continue to evolve. That’s the way it works. We don’t want to dismiss or make light of the situation, but we’d like, we’d really like, to just step aside of it for a couple of minutes. We’d like to play matador – when the ticket bull rushes us, we’ll wave the cape, step smartly aside, and wave to the crowd.

So, to that end, we wandered to the gritty heart of San Francisco the other night, to get a taste of what all the fuss is about, to remind ourselves of why we go through all this – the sleep deprivation, the cracked fingers, the stuffed noses, the empty stomachs, the parched mouths, the blinding sandstorms, the wreckage of all the stuff, the dubstep …

The one and only Mr. Ra$pa was master of ceremonies

We subject ourselves to all of this for all kinds of reasons, of course, but one of the main ones is the art. Yes, there will be a giant dance party going somewhere on the playa at any time of night or day. Yes you will meet some people that you absolutely were meant to meet. And yes you will find out a little bit more about yourself when all your societal comforts and credibility are taken away. It’s just going to be the essential you out there, after all. But you’ll also be able to wander pretty much in any direction and see some amazing things. A journey to a piece of art in the far playa will give you direction and meaning for a couple of hours, just when you find yourself needing it most.

So to that end, we went into deepest darkest San Francisco the other night to get an early look at the salvation you’ll find all around you in the desert.

The resplendent Mr. Ra$pa was there, acting as emcee, and artist wrangler Bettie June was reminding us all of the Fertility 2.0 theme, and the importance of … pollination, among other things. She showed pictures of what the Man Base will be like (and it’ll be big, big enough to get lost in), and she gave each of the artists a bit of time to share their visions with the crowd.

There was Kathleen O’Hare of the Neverwas Haul, maybe the iconic structure of the Steampunk movement. It’s a self-propelled three-story Victorian house made out of “obtanium,” which is another way of saying that it’s mostly made out of old stuff. “We’re not a party barge,” she was saying. “We want it to be a conveyance from the Esplanade to the art; we want to let more people see it, and let more people get a ride.”

You may have heard that just about everyone out in the desert these days gets around on an art car. This is not even close to being true. The vast majority of people get around the old fashioned way – under their own power, either walking or on bike. This is a good thing. But if you DO want to hitch a ride to the outerlands, this would be the rig to look for.

Maybe you saw or have seen pictures of the Trojan Horse from last year. OK, say you were on the crew that built that amazing creature; what would you do now? Dan Fox, the principal builder of the Horse, said he and a pal were ruminating on just that very question shortly after the Horse went up in flames last year. “We looked at each other and said,  ‘Let’s do that again!’” And so the Anubis was born.

The Anubis is a 50-foot tall sitting jackal. “The horse was iconic,” Fox said, “and we wanted to build on that.” Fox told a story about how he first came to be enamored of the Burning Man ethos. He said the things he saw in the desert reminded him of a Lily Tomlin play, “The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe.” He recalled the passage where aliens had landed on earth, and they were shown a can of soup. Then they were shown Andy Warhol’s painting of a can of soup. “This is soup,” they were told, “and this is art.” Perfectly clear, no? Fox is a dog lover, and that most logically led to the 50-foot jackal.

Anubis builder Dan Fox talked about his 50-foot jackal.

You may also have seen or seen pictures of the giant word installations from previous Burning Mans. There was “MOM,” and there was “OINK” and there was “LOVE.” And this year there will be “EGO.” (Oh stop with the jokes! We all know that there has always been a lot of ego out there!) The funny and ironic thing about Laura Kimpton, though, the person who creates the giant words, is that she is dyslexic. Once the big words are set up for everybody to see,  “I just get to sit and spew about the art,” she says. No writing necessary. And just as it’s pretty funny that a dyslexic makes art out of words, the same irony is at work with EGO. “If there’s one theme,” Kimpton says, “it’s that we are not the main character on the planet. We are not No. 1.”

Each and every inch of the letters that will make up the enormous EGO will be covered with religious iconography, animals, and trophies. And after the EGO burns (and doesn’t that sound nice?), the crew expects that there will be souvenirs to take home, because not everything will be destroyed by the flames. So maybe you’ll get to take home a trophy from Burning Man this year.

Laura Kimpton reminded listeners that humans “are not No. 1.”

Zoa, as you know, is the plural form of the word zoon, which, as you also know, is the word that describes an animal that is developed from a fertilized egg. And the Zoa that will be on the Fertility 2.0 playa this year is a project of the Flux Foundation, the builders of big art and the backers of community-centered creativity. Jessica Hobbs, Rebecca Anders, Peter Kimelman and Catie Magee would never call themselves masterminds, because they don’t have much use for words like that, but they are at the heart of the project. This is the same core group that built the Temple of Flux in 2010.  Zoa will have a three-part life cycle in the desert, with a first burn occurring midweek, which will reveal the structure underneath the initial installation. The embers will carry far and wide, of course, spreading seedpods and making the ground fertile for metamorphosis. A crew of more than 300 people has been working for months on construction. “We love how we do things,” Hobbs said.

Jess Hobbs talked about the metamorphosis that she hopes “Zoa” will facilitate.

Otto Von Danger is a formidable man, and his Burn Wall Street is a formidable project. Otto is picking up where last year’s vast Metropolis project left off. This time his project  is defiantly in-your-face political, but in a humanistic way. Somehow, Otto claims, he has gotten support from both the Tea Party and the Occupy movements.  Oh, and he’s printed his own currency, too (which was designed by David Silverman, whom you may have heard of if you’ve ever watched “The Simpsons”).  Joe Oliver, the project’s executive producer, has been overseeing pre-production in the Salvagery, a new big-art building space in Reno created specifically for Burn Wall Street, but “we hope it’ll be a year-round thing,” Oliver says.  Otto was the focal point this night, though. Like some Viking preacher, he righteously spit truth in the face of power, exhorting the crowd to stand up and join him. Timid and not quite sure what to make of it all at the outset, the crowd was clapping and cheering madly by the end.

Otto Von Danger will take the art of protest to the playa this year.

And then came David Best, the once and future Temple builder. The contrast with Von Danger could not have been starker. Where Otto was bombastic, Best was contemplative. You could hardly hear him, but people leaned in to pick up what he was saying. Best seemed almost embarrassed by the attention. “It’s a lot of work to build the stupid temple,” he began disarmingly, almost apologetically. You couldn’t really tell if he was sandbagging you, though. At least not yet. “The Temple will be considerably smaller than last year,” he said, “about three feet shorter than the Man. As usual.” There was a little murmur as people recalled the hugeness of last year’s Temple of Transition. This year, visitors won’t be able to clamber all over every part of the Temple.  “If I can’t get someone in a wheelchair up there, then no one goes up there,” Best explained matter-of-factly.

Then Best told a quiet story about this year’s build. He said a “lovely young blonde” and her fiancé had dropped by to volunteer for a day. Best said the couple had wanted to go to Burning Man last year, but they couldn’t. They had planned to get married at the Temple, in fact. But they couldn’t. It had not been a good year. There was too much pain in their lives.  The young woman confided that she had lost both her mother and her sister in the preceding year, and it was all just too much. “And I thought to myself,” Best said, “Here’s another customer!”

He said it in a joking way, of course, but his shoulders were slumped and his head was down. The essential sadness was pretty clear to see.  Then he went on:

“It’s not a coincidence,” he said. “I closed my eyes and I saw them at the Temple, with pictures of her mom and sister behind her. … But it’s not a downer. It would be a downer if we weren’t accessible to people who have those kinds of losses.”

Then Best told another story that might help you understand, or help you remember, what the Temple is about. People write all over the Temple – they scrawl names, dates, bits of poetry and song lyrics. They attach photos and flowers and ribbons – mementoes of the people who were once in their lives but are gone now. The Temple is a religious place, and you behave like you are in church. On Sunday, after the bacchanal of the Burning of the Man the night before, people gather all day long in small, silent groups. Soft sobs fill the air. People mourn for the dead, and for the living that they’ve left behind.

One year, Best said, a woman wrote a note on the Temple that was addressed to the child that she had aborted years before. “I miss you every day,” the note said.

Someone else had come along, he said, and written this: “I’m alright. Go on with your life.”

“I want the temple to be able to do that with the community,” Best said.

And that’s what it does. And that’s what it will do again this year.

I hope you are going. If not, I hope you’ll be there in spirit.

We’ll have more dispatches in the coming weeks as the city takes shape.



About the author: 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. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

8 Comments on “Look What Time It Is

  • beautiful writing John, thanks for lifting our spirits. :)

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  • HK says:

    Thanks for a very interesting article, John.
    Sorry we have to hunt for Man being built photos…I remember when images of this sort were proudly posted on the BM website.
    Oh well…a lot has changed in San Francisco…

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  • Michael Archangel says:

    Last year, middle of the week, a professional photographer arrived at our camp. First time Burner. Nice guy. Admittedly, there to observe, but honest about it and, after all, that is what he does. Friday I asked him if he had been to the Temple and he said, “Yes, I have spent several hours at the Temple. I’ve photographed Notre Dame, and Charte, Buddhist temples, and much more. The Temple is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been. He’s coming back this year. It will be interesting to see if he is a participant.

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  • John Curley says:

    thank you, Homies. Good to see you again.

    HK: no, I’m sorry to make you hunt! Slim is very generous and shares prodigiously.

    Michael: Fantastic story. Thank you.

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  • titta says:

    that picture of david best is not his fault. david, it’s not your fault. you need to understand that. it’s not your fault. it’s not your fault.

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  • Rat Lady says:

    Huge Kudos to David Best! For his statement that “If I can’t get someone in a wheelchair up there, then no one goes up there,” Best explained matter-of-factly.”

    We at BRC Mobility Camp will be quoting him incessantly!! This is the message we would love all artists and builders to take into their hearts so that our mobility impaired burners are not shut out, as they now are from the upper reaches of this year’s man, Last year’s temple and Man, most Art Cars and a lot of the Art.

    I don’t believe most artists or builders exclude them intentionally, they just have a tough time remembering that mobility impaired burners exist!

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  • If I’m not mistaken I think Mr. Best’s stating the Temple of Juno will be about three feet shorter than the Man is his artistic rejection to the Temple of Transition that was taller than the Man. I recall Mr. Best created his temples to be “always 2 feet shorter than the Man”. So perhaps three feet shorter is his way to swing-the-pendulum of Temple height back to its appropriate place?

    To titta – right on Babe!

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  • Have you ever considered publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other
    blogs? I have a blog based upon on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would enjoy your work.
    If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

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