The Pistil and the Man

Face to face with the Man (with special thanks to Altheus, Aristotle and Chaos for letting this happen).

There was a major clash of cultures when the DPW met the Otic Oasis artists crew out at the Man base on Thursday, and a little bit of history was made, too.

It was the first time an art group had been  invited to collaborate on building the Man base, and with much of the work on this year’s base finished, it was time for the Otic folks to begin installing the Pistil, which will sit in the middle of the cathedral-like base and provide another place for people to gather and find refuge at the Man.

The clash of styles couldn’t have been more dramatic. The rough and tumble DPW, shouting and hammering, and the gentle, serene (most of the time!) personalities found at Otic.

While the Man base crew was putting up the 20 flower-like LED lighting pods that Mr. Blue had designed  in each of the arches, The Otic crew gathered near the perimeter of the work zone and had a little group meeting. Gregg Fleishman, the designer and soft-spoken heart of the art project, had said earlier out at Beeometry, their art support camp, that he wanted the Pistil build to be quiet and contemplative – a slow, peaceful, build. He wanted the people to take their time,  to soak in the moments. As Syn said later, “Why would we want to rush it?”

Then the group walked in a procession into the Man base, carrying a 1/6 scale model of the Pistil.  Some of the DPW workers put down their tools and watched curiously, and others just kept on pounding. “What language are they speaking?” one observer  muttered as some the rallying speech was overheard.

Eva, Hannes, Brian and Lou affixing the light structures before the Pistil team arrived.

Once inside, the Pistil crew formed a circle in the center of the Man and joined hands in unity and intention. Syn said again how honored they were to be in what may be the last Man base to be designed by Rod Garrett, and that the work of both the Man base crew and the Otic crew would honor his memory.

By this time some of the carpenters and builders from the DPW were gathering around the scale model, looking at the intricate design. The Pistil, like the Otic Oasis itself, is a geometric series of pods that are made of interlocking wood pieces. Not a single nail is used in construction, nor any glue or fasteners. Yet this graceful presence will easily support the weight of the people who will no doubt find refuge and companionship  in the pods.

This is the second go-round for the Otic Oasis, although some additions have been made to the main structure, plus seven new satellite pods in the far reaches of walk-in camping, where the beauty of the desert can be experienced without the loud music and blinking lights of Black Rock City.  Larry Harvey his own self had seen the Otic Oasis last year and asked  Fleishman and Lighting and Syn if they would be interested in collaborating on the Man project this year. And yes, of course they would.

Ludi and Chaos

So now the two distinctly different crews were warming up to each other and  mingling in the Man base. Then Fleishmann and some crew members started raking the area around the golden spike, cleaning the desert floor of moop. Then a couple of the DPW builders helped string guide  lines across the axis of the golden spike, so the Pistil would get a precise orientation point. Before long, most of the two crews were telling each other stories, and the women were hugging, and a fair amount of swag was handed out by both sides.

As the wind picked up and the dust started to blow a little harder, it seemed that things had gotten off to a pretty good start.

A note about the conditions:

A few words about the weather: It has cooled off a bit. The high temps are in the low 90s, and after weeks of 100-degree-plus in Gerlach and as high as 117 on the playa, this feels like a great relief.

The dust has been … moderate. Worse than last year? Yes. Howling hours-long whiteouts? No. At least not yet, and of course we’ve got our fingers crossed that it’ll stay this way. The wind picked up the past couple of days, with sustained winds of 20 mph or so, with occasional gusts stronger than that. The dust has come in squalls.  When you’re in one, it’s not fun, but it doesn’t last for long.

But then there is the smoke. When you first pick up the scent of fire,  you think, oh yeah, of course stuff is burning, it’s Burning Man. But then you remember that there hasn’t been much burning yet around here, and you realize that what you are smelling are the wildfires in relatively close Plumas County. The path of the smoke from those fires is right over Black Rock City. The sunrises and sunsets have featured really red skies, and at night the moon looks like it has entered eclipse, it is so pink. The conditions should make for some fabulous photography, if some labored breathing.

The Pistil team carried a scale model into the Man base.


The crew formed a circle once inside.
Gregg mooped up the Man base.


The golden spike served as a reference point.


The Man base crew checked out the scale model of the Pistil.


The two crews shared some shade and got to know each other.


Eva and Syn shared a hug.


A fish-eye view of the interior of the Man base before the installation of the Pistil.


Smoke from wildfires have made for some dramatic sunsets.


This is one of the columns that are placed around the perimeter of the Man. That’s a beehive on top. Get your mind out of the gutter.

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.

4 Comments on “The Pistil and the Man

  • affinity says:

    Getting ready for Burning Man this year has, for me, been about enjoying the journey of preparation rather than the stress of it, perhaps because I retired a few months ago. I find myself slipping into panic and having to get the next thing done and then remember, it is the journey. That made me more appreciative of the Otic Oasis point of view about “getting it done”, besides the fact that I adore Syn anyway.

    So this post about the melding of the cultures makes me very happy, and thanks as always John for telling me the story that we are all making and living.

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  • Dienekes says:

    “It seemed that things had gotten off to a pretty good start…”

    …and then what? Rumble, orgy, food fight?

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  • JMP says:

    Mr. Curley,
    As always, these posts are fantastic. I’m getting ready to go and to read this just makes it all worth while. I got a feeling you’ve got one more post in you…
    Coming Home?
    See you in the dust.

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  • Paula Z says:

    Thanks for the fabulous posts and pics. For those of us not fortunate to make the journey you bring the awesomeness of the experience home. Someday!!

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