Meet the Builders of Portland CORE: Ludum et Refugium

People have lots of ideas about what Portland is like. Portland is weird and eclectic, some think, and the cable comedy Portlandia is partially a documentary (it’s not). I have met a lot of great people from Portland. Yes, some of them are weird. If you are familiar with the kilt-wearing, bag-pipe-playing, Darth-Vader-mask-wearing unicycle rider from the famous meme, I can assure you he has a real name and is a great guy to talk with.

But as far as Burners go we all like to think we are weird. And the team for the Portland region’s CORE project certainly self-identifies as such. They are bringing art that presents Portland’s soul to add to the circle at Burning Man.

Top row: James Dishongh, Pope Tart Second row:  deadletter, Magn0lia, Jackie, Mayem, Pi, Marklar, Catherine Third row: Lory Osterhuber, Jason Brulotte, Browse, Brend
Top row: James Dishongh, Pope Tart
Second row: deadletter, Magn0lia, Jackie, Mayem, Pi, Marklar, Catherine
Third row: Lory Osterhuber, Jason Brulotte, Browse, Brenda

(Please note, most of the team have elected to go solely by their playa name or first name in the article.)

This project and its builders are part of Portland’s booming Burner community. As deadletter (sic) says, “The CORE Projects, the SOAK Temple, D’Corps and other group projects have helped to finally give people many different ways to interface with their local community, and so we’ve seen a huge influx of Burners from ‘the area’ who are helping out with these builds, even if they hadn’t been involved ever before.” He notes that the community is a mixed collection of introverts and extroverts, leaders and supporters. When a person offers an idea through their community networks or weekly drink gatherings at Burn Night, the community gives honest feedback and support.

Their recent fundraising efforts, centered around a successful Kickstarter, brought in sufficient funds to bring their idea to life. What remains is to take their “play structure”, a large tree-house nestled into a set of “trees”, break it down into pieces that can be transported by trailers and trucks, and then reassemble it on playa. Pi calls this a “very, very big chore.” The project only displayed one tree as a test run at SOAK, the local regional Burn held last July, because it is far too large to transport more than once.

This is Portland’s third CORE project. Many on the Ludum Et Refugium team are returning members from previous CORE projects. They built Thunderbridge in 2011, fusing the mythological Thunderbird with a bridge structure that offers visitors a bird’s eye view of the playa. In 2012 they built Grow Forth, which featured a central tree towering over spinning art.

Many new volunteers are joining returning veterans. Deadletter, as the design lead, told me exactly how impressed and proud he is of their team and explained that the time they invested in preparation–the same time, which they would normally spend with school, jobs, children and more–will lead to “one of the largest, nicest, and quickest built projects in the desert.”

deadletter's booth at Critical Northwest 2013
deadletter’s booth at Critical Northwest 2013

Deadletter has been involved in concept art, like delivering lost messages to Burners, for years. These “dead letters” are left in booths at Burning Man regional events or Burning Man and then delivered to recipients days or even months later. There have been a series of burnable projects too in his past, such as the effigy at the Portland regional event SOAK, Burnasaurus Rex.

Renewing the role he had with Thunderbridge in 2011, Pope Tart returns this year as project lead. A salty Burner with a long history working on art projects for Burning Man, he has been so busy with CORE that no one at home remembers what he looks like!

This very well organized team also features long-time Burners: Transportation lead, Marklar; Leave-No-Trace lead, Lory; and Communications and Development lead, Celine. Collaborating with Lighting lead Jesse, who made some great swag for their Kickstarter, Celine drove the difficult process of getting money for all of this insanity. Focusing on how Portland itself would be represented on playa by this project, she turned this CORE project into a source of regional pride.

A cool illuminated pendant used to entice Kickstarter supporters
A cool illuminated pendant used to entice Kickstarter supporters

Recycling is central to Portland’s identity; therefore, recycling is a central element of their CORE project. Builders have incorporated used dunnage, donated windows and reused doors throughout their structure.

The CORE project itself consists of a massive 5-foot-across snag, a broken tree destined to become a seed tree for newer trees when it eventually falls. Their tree is hollow, hiding the ladder going up. It functions as the main support for the treehouse built at the ten-foot level. The treehouse spans three-quarters of the footprint for the project, giving lots of room for people to hang out. Other supports consist of smaller trees, about 3-foot-across, which also support and shade several hammocks. The entire area is a refuge, a quiet environment to reflect on the soft sounds of a a this Portland playground.

Secondary goals of the team in this project include using every single inch of volume allowed for the CORE projects (20’ x 20’) and filling this with loose wood. As deadletter says “so that when it burns, it will burn [with] a lot of fire!” At night it will be brightly illuminated calling out to wanderers in the playa. Participants are also invited to climb, swing, and play in the space, day or night. It’s a treehouse, after all.

Portland is dotted with parks every few miles and trees well watered by regular rain. Of the ten design ideas the team voted on, a huge treehouse, a fun structure from childhood, was the perfect embodiment of the region of Portland.

Ludum Et Refugium will be a testament to a long-running CORE team’s strength to transform a massive amount of wood into an inviting gathering place on the playa…and, of course, “a lot of fire!

Ludum et Refugium
A massive treehouse filling the allotted space

About the author: portaplaya

Todd Gardiner, aka "portaplaya", is a professional photographer in Seattle and a long time documentor of Burning Man. After years of working with CameraGirl, he moved on to documenting the event for various other teams, such as the ARTery. Back in Seattle he was part of the regional arts group, Ignition Northwest, acting as a member of the art funding council. A perennial volunteer, he is a five-time Black Rock City Ranger, a past theme camp laborer, has done his time with DPW, and is currently a supervisor for Exodus Flagging; in addition to being a photographer every single year. Some say he is just an obsessive collector of official-looking laminates to wear to high school reunions. Either way he spent time working for others ever since his first year at Burning Man in 2001.

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