Black Rock City Rendezvous in Nantes Pt I: The Grand Elephant

This is a post in a three-part series about the Black Rock City rendezvous in Nantes.

I just arrived today on the Isle of Nantes, France, home to Les Machines de l’île for the kick-off of what promises to be a fun-fueled weekend full of art, Burners, Makers, movers and shakers… and machines! The first ever Maker Faire in Nantes is taking place over the next three days in the Les Machines’ giant workshop right in the center of the city along the Loire River. The French Burners have set up a Burning Man booth to engage Maker Faire attendees in conversations about Burning Man and the Regional Network and I’m here to participate. This afternoon Burning Man Founding Board Member and C.E.O. Marian Goodell participated in a panel hosted by Maker Faire Program Director Sabrina Merlo. Her presence was part of Art of Faire, a pre-faire conference designed to deepen conversations about how artists, Makers, and Burners overlap.

The Serpent Twins in the Empire of Dirt. (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)
The Serpent Twins in the Empire of Dirt. (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)

“The ultimate goal of Burning Man is to encourage the culture of creativity,” said Marian Goodell during today’s talk. To help foster this intersection of Burner culture in France, Maker Faire, and Les Machines, Burning Man directed a portion of its annual Playa Art Honoraria fund to help artists Jon Sarriugarte and Kyrsten Mate transport The Serpent Twins from the Bay Area to Europe and to help visionary artist Android Jones bring Samskara, a 30-foot immersive dome experience to the Maker Faire. And the thousands of people coming through the faire will see a photographic exhibition of 40 images by artist Gilles Bonugli Kali from Marseilles hung the prominent entryway gallery.

 Caption: Gilles Bonugli Kali’s Burning Man photo exhibition. (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)

Caption: Gilles Bonugli Kali’s Burning Man photo exhibition. (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)

French Burning Man Regional Contact Laurent Garcia and partner Marie P’tit Lutine have an organization called Playa Provides and have been working behind the scenes to pull off this weekend’s many exciting components for nearly a year. “We first started dreaming of bringing Android Jones’ work to France when we experienced Samskara on the playa,” said Garcia. “Then, once we started brainstorming about bringing more Burning Man work to the Maker Faire, we spoke to Burning Man Project back in March and things grew from there. It’s really a dream come true.”

Supporting the transport of the Serpent Twins and Samskara to Nantes is part of a larger objective for Burning Man Project. We want to help move art from the playa out into the civic realm, where it can have an impact on society and give artists who have brought beautiful works to Black Rock City the opportunity to gain exposure in the greater world. This weekend’s activities and the presence of the art will show the public the magic that can happen when the boundless creativity and innovation experienced in temporary cities like Black Rock City are brought together in Nantes, a permanent city that invests in cultural endeavors and boasts Les Machines, one of the world’s most ambitious creative teams.

The French Burners beaming with excitement at break time. From the left: Laure, Marielle, Isabelle Marie, Laurent. (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)
The French Burners beaming with excitement at break time. From the left: Laure, Marielle, Isabelle Marie, Laurent. (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)

Nantes is also an appealing location for such an initiative. The city of Nantes has gone through a tremendous transformation over the past three decades. In 1987, Nantes’ shipyards closed, rendering the city post-industrial and economically challenged. The Isle of Nantes, specifically, has been one Europe’s largest urban renewal projects. “The story of Nantes’ transformation is an inspiring one and is consistent with our hopes for the role that Civic Art plays in the world,” explains Burning Man Arts and Civic Engagement Director Kim Cook. The decaying shipyards have been completely reimagined and have become artistic workshops, restaurants, and public spaces.

The Great Elephant on the Isle of Nantes. Artist Android Jones and partner Martha Gilbert are standing on the very top! (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)
The Great Elephant on the Isle of Nantes. Artist Android Jones and partner Martha Gilbert are standing on the very top! (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)

Additionally, the presence of Les Machines on the Isle of Nantes has brought tourists from across the globe here to experience the giant moving works of art, stimulating the local economy and landing Nantes on the world map of cultural destinations.

My first machine encounter today was with The Grand Elephant, a 45-ton moving mechanical elephant that just so happened to pass by my lunch table as I was dining with the French Burners.

Though I’ve poured over videos and photos of The Grand Elephant over the years, nothing could have prepared me for the sheer combination of wild fright, delight and awe I experienced as my noodle bite was interrupted as the elephant shot water out of its great trunk while close to fifty people riding on the great machine stared down at me and my fellow diners donning devilish grins. I’ve only experience that kind of magic at Burning Man when I first saw El Pulpo Mechanico on the open playa.

“We have people here [to experience this] from all over the world. There are people from Taiwan, from Saudi Arabia, and from Argentina. They are here because it’s Maker Faire, because it’s Les Machines, and definitely because there’s some Burning Man in it,” said Bertier Luyt, organizer of this weekend’s programming.

Photo by Megs Rutigliano
Photo by Megs Rutigliano

“Burning Man’s presence here is very important to us,” beamed Machines de L’Ile de Nantes co-Founder Pierre Orefice during today’s conference. Later, he took us on a special ride on their spectacular carousel.

From my perspective, being in Nantes and at the Maker Faire feels very important and meaningful for Burning Man. I’m excited that the public will see work by Burning Man artists and that the French Burners have really come together to create a fun presence here on the isle.  I will endeavor to keep you posted on the magic here in Nantes.


Read on for Part II of Megs’ rendevous in Nantes

Top image: The Great Elephant taking over the Isle of Nantes. (Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)

About the author: Megs Rutigliano

Meghan "Megs" Rutigliano is Burning Man's Associate Director of the Regional Network. She oversees Burning Man's annual Global Leadership Conference and European Leadership Summit. Meghan explores the art, events and culture of various regional Burning Man communities in her blog posts.

3 Comments on “Black Rock City Rendezvous in Nantes Pt I: The Grand Elephant