Just Like That, This Is a Work Site Again

Altheus gave us the view from on high once again.

To coin a phrase, boy does time fly when you’re having a good time.

While the rest of the city was out enjoying themselves on the last night that the Man would be standing, crews began getting him ready for the big burn.

You might think that setting the Man afire is nothing more complex than simply setting a torch to the guy, but you’d be wrong. There are a lot of preparations, and they began Friday night in a blowing windstorm that just wouldn’t quit. First the Otic Oasis crew got to work taking down the Pistil , the climbable sculpture in the center of the Man base. We had talked to Gregg Fleishman earlier in the day, and we discovered that he began making sculptures like the Pistil and the Otic Oasis as play structures for the grammar school that his parents founded in Culver City. “It’s not really much different,” he was saying of the Oasis. In case you were curious, it might comfort you to know that the Pistil had been load-tested to withstand 25,000 pounds, so figuring an average weight of  about 160 pounds per person, the crew knew that as many as 150 people could be on it at one time without exceeding load. And really, there was no way that 150 people could FIT on it at one time, so things were exceedingly safe.

There was also a  special reinforcing plate at the base of the panels at the top of the work that made them both flexible and strong – “It’s the flexibility that’s important,” Gregg said, “because that relieves stress.”

Even as the Otic crew was taking apart the Pistil, other crews were taking down the truly wonderful lighting from the inside of the base. One member of the Man crew told us that it was the first time that Crimson Rose said that she didn’t want to see the base burn. “This should be installed somewhere in Reno,” Brian said Crimson told him. “She’s never said anything like that before.”

Still, the work to get the Man ready to burn went on. After the lighting was taken out, other crews would be installing explosives and accelerants, the better for a big show. Joe the Builder always want to make sure that the Man burns in good time, and we think it’s one of his special pleasures to make sure the fires rage.

The Otic Oasis crew went to work disassembling the Pistil.

Altheus took us up 120 feet in a lift  while the work was going on, the better to get a good view of the Man and the scene in general. As we said, the wind was really blowing, and as we looked down,  the sand blowing across the desert floor below us looked like water. It became easy to imagine this whole Black Rock Desert under 500 feet of water, as it was a couple of hundred thousand years ago.

It struck us again too, as we watched all the people working on the Man, how short a time it is that everything made here stays pretty. It seems like the Man and the base were finished only days ago, and yet here it was, closed to visitors,  never to be seen again in the same way.

This beautiful city is temporal, and the time of its shining is infinitesimally brief.Here are some more pictures from the evening:

Gregg Fleishman (on the right) was supervising the takedown.
The Man base crew went back to work.


Joe the Builder and Big Rig Mig discussed strategy.


Pillow Talk was there to monitor the progress.
… and of course her perch was perfectly safe.


The beehives were taken away from the perimeter.


The crew gathered to get some directions.


Toward the end you could get a view of the Man as the Pistil was taken down.



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 “Just Like That, This Is a Work Site Again

  • dimitre says:

    Great Photos and Story! Thanks Curley.


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  • John Curley says:

    thanks dimitre!

    You are missed out here …

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  • girl Mark says:

    Decommissioning Man Base was a 9 PM-3 AM sort of affair for the crews, and towards the end, some of us were getting into each others’ way and had a lot of standing around to do, mostly in a howling dust storm where you couldn’t breathe, surrounded by our sawing, hammering, and heavy equipment’s engines from all directions. Somehow, even though we were ‘closed’ and not a destination, there were still art cars driving by the perimeter blasting annoying music to a rave of no one.

    Sometime around 2 AM, I heard a beat that wasn’t electronic music over the howl of the wind and engines and power tools, looked over to the perimeter, and saw headlamps bobbing around erratically.

    It was the remnants of the marching band march-off from Center Camp, who had walked through the storm to our jobsite! I ran out to thank them for making the effort on foot, even though no one could really hear they were there. It turned out to be a huge contingent of the drummers from the bands- the only people who didn’t need to breathe, who proceeded to dance around and play their heart out in the dust.

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  • jason says:

    Hi there, such a pleasure to enjoy both. Pieces on the playa this year and to meet greg several times- what a masterpiece to enjoy such fine climbable joinery beautifully expressing mathematics this way! I also made friends with a super cool team member Paula who worked with Red and I at the Black Rock Boutique as well and would like to keep contact with her. Please email me!

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