In 2006, a small group of Seattle-based artisans began a blacksmithing project for Burning Man: Luminferous. The project not only gave birth to Iron Monkeys Arts, but it forged an ever-evolving community that is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016.
The Iron Monkeys are returning this year with a project that will pay homage to their craft and forge further friendships by teaching others how to blacksmith.
They are building the Piazza di Ferro, a fully functional and participatory blacksmith shop. A public gathering space will encircle the shop, encouraging Burners to observe, discuss, and contribute to what is happening in the shop.
Their message? Anyone can blacksmith, anyone can create.
“Art and the act of creating is not an untouchable experience. It is an interactive, participatory, hands-on process,” says Iron Monkey Karla Shults.
“It is a core principle within the Iron Monkeys that any of us can do any work involved in the creation of our projects, when given the proper tools and taught the right skills. This extends to everyone: if you have the right tools in your hands and skills, you can do anything.”
According to Kay Morrison, one of the core members of Iron Monkey Arts, the motivation for the project extends beyond the desire to create participatory art.
“Blacksmithing brought the Iron Monkeys together, and we couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate 10 years than to blacksmith and share our craft with people,” says Kay.
“Iron Monkeys are constantly emerging. There are only three of us (Tabasco, Karla and I) who have been involved the whole time, but there are dozens of other people who have come through the shop in those years and each of them have helped steer the direction.”
“While certainly not for everyone, we constantly bring in new people, and these participants help determine where we go next,” she says.
“Through building art we have also built a community. In fact, our art pieces are increasingly about gathering people together. The end product of art is never art — in our case building art begets community. I hope that continues into the future.”
Iron Monkey Arts dedicates much of the year to planning, building or supporting art for Burning Man. Their forge is the hearth of their creativity.
Lead blacksmith Tabasco is a member of Burning Man’s Fire Conclave Council, which facilitates the 1400-person fire performance that occurs right before the burning of the Man. The Monkeys also act as stage managers for the Saturday night fire show.
Kay sits on the Burning Man Board of Directors and is one of four Seattle Burning Man Regional Contacts.
For Karla, Iron Monkey Arts is an integral part of her daily life.
“I personally did not imagine I would still be doing this 10 years later. I love art, tools and wanted to be a part of a group making amazing art, so I jumped at the chance. Iron Monkeys were a very new group. In 2006, they needed more people to help build Tree Spires, their 2007 Burning Man project,” Karla says.
“My choice was based more out of my own needs for a creative outlet than the idea of being part of an ongoing group. We stayed together. We kept working and creating. We evolved as a collective and became close friends.”
Piazza di Ferro will be located at 3:15, halfway between the Man and the Esplanade.
(Top photo by Kay Morrison)