A Work in Progress

Welcome to Building Man, where participants get to see exactly how mind-bogglingly difficult it is to build big art in the middle of a desert.

Many of the big art pieces were yet to open by Monday night, including the Man himself, who alas as of this writing was still upside down and headless, attached to a drive shaft that wasn’t spinning. He was the centerpiece of a city square of artisan workshops, which have welcomed participants when access was possible.

The Vitruvian Man had been raised on Saturday, in a stress-filled, complicated two-crane lift. He was nestled into place successfully, but later in the day, when builders attempted to rotate the circle in which he is mounted, bolts were sheared and all movement came to a halt.

Since then, we’ve watched and hoped that the Man would be revived, but word came Tuesday that the goal now was to get the Man upright, put on his head, declare victory and move forward.

Meanwhile, work was also continuing as of Monday night at the Catacomb of Veils, the Lighthouse and the Temple, but it looked like gates would soon be open at the latter two.

It all made you wish that Burning Man’s run could be extended for at least an extra few days, so that the ambitions of the artists could be realized and their work properly appreciated.

But those are considerations for another day. For now, we’ll go on our way about the city, and pictures will tell the story of Just Another Day at Burning Man:

Morning at the Center Café

All manner of folks gather here, to see and be seen, and it seems like early in the day early in the week is the best time to find people easing into their burn, bringing their gifts. Click through into the gallery for the captions and the stories

The lines of people in Ring Road waiting for ice were long, but once inside Artica, go-go-dancers made the wait seem worthwhile.

Some women from the DPW roamed the streets with a tub of bacon, the largesse of Spectrum Catering. There can never be too much bacon in Black Rock City

Some DPW women walked the streets with a tub of bacon, the largesse of Spectrum catering.

Is there golf in Black Rock City? Why yes, there is.

Megan and Zac set forth to the links in style
Megan and Zac set forth to the links in style


A celebration was held to mark the unification of the Artery and the Everywhere Pavilion. It began on the Esplanade and processed out to the playa:



A lovely way to get around:

Doug from Seattle lounges in his bed car. An eight-time burner, he likes to keep things simple. There is no engine noise, and no music. Perfect for a low-key cruise of the playa
Doug from Seattle lounges in his bed car. An eight-time burner, he likes to keep things simple. There is no engine noise, and no music. Perfect for a low-key cruise of the playa
On Tuesday morning, the Artica crew gathered just after dawn to celebrate a wedding
A spectacular sunrise called for a spectacular place from which to watch it




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.

7 Comments on “A Work in Progress

  • Joe Olivier aka Exzact Lee says:

    Looks like to me this was the year where projects found “the line”, attempted to cross it, and discovered why the line is there in the first place. Burning Man is all about great ideas, poorly executed. The fact that a project doesn’t make it to 100% of the artist’s vision does not make it a failure. Ultimately it’s the impact of the piece on the participants that counts.
    And really, a spinning Man? Any veteran knows what happens to mechanical systems out there. Catacomb? Fabulous at half the scale and scope of work, without killing your Build Kreme and not finishing on time
    Moving forward the Build Krewes need to consider lost days due to weather, which always seems to be horrible during setup and fabulous during the event. Imagine what is going to happen when that reverses itself and the weather during the event is as bad as it has been during setup for the past few years?

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    • Brandon says:

      “Burning Man is all about great ideas, poorly executed. The fact that a project doesn’t make it to 100% of the artist’s vision does not make it a failure.”

      Why would anyone ever expect art to be 100% complete? There’s a reason that art becomes more valuable after the death of an artist. It’s because the act of dying is the consummation of the process of living.

      Burning man has been a reincarnation of itself each year just as humanity is every generation. The “poor execution” is merely the result of mortality. Literally or figuratively.

      Consummation from the Latin “con” – “summa”. “Altogether supreme”.

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  • Mr Tweaks says:

    I remember the year it was Man vs Machine. One night we were suppose to bring the machine tumbling down. Three hours later the Machine won.

    Looks like the Man won this year.

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  • Hey John! Thanks again for interviewing and photographing the Icy Hands crew in Center Camp! We got a kick out of spending time with you and were TOTALLY STOKED when you decided to give the Icy Hands experience a try for yourself.

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  • nikopeachZ says:

    I suppose the joke is…. How many Burners does it take to Screw in the Man Effigy? (aka… make the man spin)

    Answer: All of them. You just have to erect it. go to Burning Man, and spin the whole playa around it.

    Well done to all of you who’ve devoted EVERYTHING to creating that thing (DPW, Gate, ICE, deRangers, Cafe, Artery, Airport, Staff etc.., And each and every participant). Now go have fun.

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  • This year, Sextant finally brought giant sparks to Black Rock City with our 3 story Tesla Coil.

    But to say it was difficult would be an understatement. In total, it took over 3 years, ALL of the money, and the destruction of my marriage to make it happen. And so much more. Like a free airplane ride to Palo Alto in the middle of Burning Man to make custom circuit boards and hitchhike back more.

    We had countless opportunities to bow out, but we instead chose to persevere and see the project through to the only conclusion we would accept.

    In doing so, Sextant became an organization of passionate and brilliant souls committed to bringing their very best to the Playa. Sextant became a sacred family of deliciously imperfect souls, dedicated to seeking the light.

    To have gone through this fire is to have been vulcanized. I cannot look backwards and play the what-if game; it has changed me and there is no going back.

    I stand before you and say that Sextant will NEVER bring a sensible project to Black Rock City, because Black Rock City is not a sensible place. We will be swinging for the fences, EVERY time. We’re looking for the breaking sunlight on the horizon, chasing that dream.

    Black Rock City is the City of Dreams. This sacred space allows us to see our true nature, to understand what we are capable of. It is a portal into our future. One possible future.

    When I see a project nearing completion in the midst of thriving Black Rock City, I am in the presence of the artist’s furious vision as it is birthed onto the Playa. What an honor to be present in THAT space. And you know what? Cranes are really cool.

    Founder – Sextant

    Nice photo of the Tesla Coil in action:

    Nice video of the Tesla Coil build on Playa:

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    ― Theodore Roosevelt

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