A 747 landed in the desert yesterday (well, it actually rolled in), but not without a bit of turbulence.
The actual arrival couldn’t have been smoother. The Big Imagination group, which has been trying to bring a 747 to the desert for two years, left Mojave on Monday and pulled into Gerlach early Wednesday morning. A late route change meant that the crew had to spend the night in Nixon, where townsfolk came out to ogle the jet.
“They couldn’t have been nicer,” Kari, the editor of the documentary team, said of the reception by the tribal townspeople in Nixon. Bianca, one of the camera operators, agreed: “They kept asking us if we had what we needed, did we want anything,” she said. “It was great.”
When the crew got back on the road this morning, they moved fast: We thought we’d be stuck watching the jet crawl along at 10 or 15 miles an hour. But as the police convoy came out Route 34 from Gerlach and passed us on the way to the playa, the rig carrying the jet must have been doing 40 mph. The driver, Gaylord, said later his top speed during the journey was 56 mph, and he averaged about 50. Impressive.
Still, Gaylord was not at all impressed with the scope of the task. Was this the biggest thing he’d ever hauled? “Oh hell no,” he said. “We did an old house one time, and we had an inch and half on either side for the (power) poles.” But he did say that this was a lot of fun, and that people seemed to line up when they came rolling by.
Carlos Danger, the playa safety manager, and Ira, the head of Gate, Perimeter and Exodus, were there at the 8 Mile entrance to make sure everything went smoothly. The convoy made its way slowly along the rocky entrance road, then kicked up dust as it moved along the shoreline. Soon enough, it was passing through Point 1, where a good-sized crowed had gathered to watch the entrance.
“I won’t really feel good until we get it where it’s going, off the truck and all secured,” Ken Feldman, the project lead, said. “That and 24 hours of sleep.”
So the convoy made its way to 9:30 and Esplanade, where the straps came off and the landing was complete. No matter what it looked like back in the hanger, its massiveness was diminished by the surroundings of the desert. Even if the entire jet had made it to Black Rock City, no doubt it would still seem small. There’s no eclipsing the natural vastness here.
Kari, the video editor, scrambled onto the back of one of the support trucks and started unpacking gear. She got hooked on the project last year. I donated money … but then it didn’t happen. … But I was hanging out on LA Burners (on Facebook), and they posted, hey, does anyone want to come out and work on the plane, because we need help.” So she did, and here it is.
If you go to the group’s website at bigimagination.org, you’d get the impression that an entire jet was going to be here. So that might have tempered the general playa reaction. “Where’s the rest of it?” was asked more than once. But if all goes well, and this year’s portion can be stored somewhere nearby, and fundraising continues, and other good things happen, the dream is still to have an entire 747 on the playa.
But the presence of the jet has been the subject of a lot of conversation, and it would seem to be just getting started. The project is big, but is it art? Lots of people don’t think so.
“Having someone drag an annoying POS from the real world into the playa is so very tone-deaf and arrogant,” Constance Sebastian commented on a Facebook photo of the arrival.
“Maybe they should just keep driving,” said another. “I hear Louisiana is in need of temporary shelters,” said another.
And the beat went on: “So, I know it will be cool to see out there, and I know it took a lot of effort to get it to the desert,” said Beth Kittle. “But honestly, I’m annoyed that this has gotten so much press as opposed to other super impressive art projects, things that were built by artists instead of just moved from one place to another place where it’s less expected. In fact you might then call it matter out of place. Hmmm ;) I kid, I kid.”
But these were by no means the only sentiments on the interwebs:
“Holy crap they actually did it, neat!” another poster said. Chimed in another: “This is happening. Dream big, people.”
It’s clear that Feldman has been wrestling with his dream for quite some time. Last year he tried to get the 747 here, but had to abandon the effort when fundraising efforts came up short.
But the group had a camp anyway, even without the jet, and hosted some of the activities that would have taken place on the jet: “Travelers were welcomed up to our Front Desk where they were prepped for their pre-flight experience, then ushered through the Insecurity Checkpoint, where they were scanned by our friendly and efficient TSA (Total Self Acceptance) agents to make sure they divested themselves of all those pesky sharp objects and negative vibes.
“Once entering the lounge area, they were invited to take a moment and reflect on what Emotional Baggage they chose to check and leave behind (later transported by camp Flight Crew to the Temple to be burned). Finally, they were asked to ponder what their chosen destinations would be — what vistas, be they destinations, life goals, or inner states, were they deciding to commit their experience to?”
As for the current effort, we encourage art theorists to weigh in. We know when we are out of our depth. But we think of Andy Warhol’s soup cans, and we’re reminded of the giant Facebook “like” sculpture last year. There is no doubt that this form and scope is iconic. Has it been “transformed” enough to call it art? You tell us.
Great thoughts aside, there is no doubt that it still looks like a great DJ booth, and it’s hard not to think of the dance parties that will happen here. But that’s the thing about Burning Man: It’s no one thing. It’s a dance party and an art venue. It is, quite literally, what you make it.
So we’ll just have to see where this one goes. Because, as ever, intent is one thing, reality another. And these are Burners you are dealing with: “I don’t imagine anyone has considered a highjacking during week,” another poster said. … “I’d suggest they wait until the interior is finished out and the blinky things, the bar and sound system are installed.”