Hailing from New Orleans, Brennan Steele’s entire life revolves around making. A former architect, Brennan has turned his love for design into a specialized career crafting gigantic props for Mardi Gras floats out of styrofoam. It’s the kind of job makers of all types dream about. Spending your days crafting larger than life Conestoga wagons, cows and columns with a crazy robot that carves blocks of foam into intricate sculpture. A prolific artist, Brennan’s work transcends his day job. He’s a four-time Burning Man honorarium recipient and the king of the Space Vikings, a local Mardi Gras troupe. Brennan’s current badass maker status is the end result of a long journey that began in a place many of us call home, Burning Man.
After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in Architecture and Digital Arts Brennan landed a job at an architecture firm and spent all day everyday making models. In 2008, Brennan attended his first Burning Man, which inspired him to become an installation artist. “The Burn opened my eyes to what opportunities were in store for me out there,” Brennan says. Burning Man sparked a desire for something different — something adventurous. Two years later, he rebelled against the nine-to-five life, quit his job and set out on an epic road trip from Vancouver B.C., to San Diego, to the great American South, ending up in the Big Easy, with a pit stop along the way in dusty Black Rock City. After this great life shift, Brennan decided to stay in New Orleans where he found a job as a pizza delivery driver. It didn’t take long before he was sucked into the maker life of the NOLA Burning Man community.
Brennan worked on the 2011 New Orleans core project, Mama Nola, a 20-foot-tall voodoo doll. Then in 2012 he became project lead for the Babe Brulee NOLA core project, a huge king cake featuring a 15-foot-tall baby. From there, the maker frenzy completely took over. Brennan began creating his own projects for T-Bois Blues Festival, Burning Man, Mardi Gras and beyond. He received four consecutive Burning Man honoraria including Big Al (2014), Lil Al (2015), The DaVinci Virus (2016) and this year’s mobile, human-powered installation: The Dung Bug.
This latest project is a deviation from Brennan’s usual medium, wood. Although the burning of all his previous projects was “beautiful and ephemeral,” he wanted to shift to more permanent pieces. The Dung Bug is an interactive, mobile installation inspired by the radical ritual of the dung ball rolling beetle. Participants will be able to enter the 10-foot-tall steel dung ball where they will work together to walk the beetle and the ball around the playa. An experienced bug pilot will guide the installation “across the dust and towards its goal of spawning new friendships and shared experiences through group participation.” The real dung beetle uses the sun, moon, and Milky Way to navigate its way to a sandy nook to bury their prize. Nighttime pixel-mapped LED lighting and starcaster lights will provide a homage to the dung beetle’s celestial guides. Brennan’s goal is to create a moment where strangers bond, support each other and have a beautiful shared memory, all within a gorgeous steel dung ball.
The Dung Bug is a perfect illustration of Brennan’s style of making. He’s able to tap into the heart of a place (like NOLA) or a theme (like Radical Ritual) and create an installation that’s both true and a little twisted. This ability and his incessant need to build new and offbeat things has steered his life much like the dung beetle and the Milky Way. It’s the kind of vibe and artist trajectory that makes you excited to see what will happen next. Remember, if you’d like to have your own wacky dung bug experience, search the open playa for the beetle. You just might have the privilege of enjoying an incredible mash-up of “native dung beetle habitat sounds, industrial machine noises, educational narratives, and classic workout music typically heard on jazzercise videos” while pushing around a 17-foot sculpture with a few of your newest friends.