By Dan Baker
“Imagination rules the world.” — N. Bonaparte
The Black Rock Desert is a special place. A place of silence, nothingness, empty space and flat, chalk-white earth where there is no sound, no powerful minds emanating. Nothing. The silence, and a special ethereal feeling of vast empty space teases the imagination out of minds long numbed by normalcy.
The Burning Man founders wanted to draw themselves out of their default lives by engaging in creative work, ordeal, costuming, performance, experimentation, mirth, expression and other crazy stuffs. And they hit a nerve.
As it turned out, much of the human race needed that chance too. What followed was the magic planet: Burning Man. Thirty years of successful creative planet-making and what Larry Harvey calls “portable monumentality”.
An often heard prattle is “Burning Man isn’t what it used to be”. True enough. It isn’t. It’s far bigger, better and an almost unimaginable constellation of the creative. The tsunami of creative effort that washes onto the playa every year, mostly before the event opens, is largely unseen by many Burners, producing this misconception.
Birth of an Idea
Tom LaPorte, a much beloved and dearly departed Burner and media guy from Chicago, saw the art makers’ need to document their often heroic installation of art on the playa.
In 2011, Tom, Megs Rutigliano and Michael Fasman developed the idea of engaging media professionals to produce videos for this highly dedicated and immensely capable subspecies, the Burning Man Artus Makerus.
“The idea was to give Burning Man artists the benefit of what Media Team members do well, and give the artists new tools to promote their work, their teams and their dreams,” Megs says.
Terry Pratt took up the challenge and assembled a core group. Terry is the nicest Director of Photography you’ll ever meet and a born storyteller. Emmy-nominated for his work on National Geographic’s “Life Below Zero”, Terry is noted for inventive camera angles and matching photographic look to topic.
Movers and Shakers
Megs worked as Executive Producer, Noelle Charles as Producer and Greg “Clear” Sklar helped produce with Justin Gunn and Ben Page. Shri Wimalasekera, Ariel Benarroch and many others also took up the challenge and punishment of shooting on the playa for the team, and delivered excellent footage.
They turned in hundreds of hours of shooting on the playa, traveled to the hometowns of artists to cover early conception and design work, assembled footage databases, and then organized the tortuous work of editing and mixing.
JK Realms stepped up and volunteered for this daunting task of cutting and mixing — the kind that make good videos effortless to absorb. The body of work now totals over 40 productions, mostly 20-minute mini documentaries.
“What we do is worth more and more as the years go by,” JK Realms says.
Importantly, these productions come from the Burning Man core DNA of selfless gifting. And they are produced without narration, and with a minimum of video toy-box hype, and they are accompanied by gentle, congruent sound tracks.
“We are a dedicated group of filmmakers gifting back to fellow artists on the playa,” Terry says.
Sharing Unseen Stories
It’s a wonderful body of work that helped Burning Man tell a largely unseen story, and helped the artists express their thinking and share their challenging experiences. But perhaps the people it has helped the most are those who wonder what it is like to build an art project at Burning Man.
The degree of excellence in concept, execution, erection and presentation of these large works is a real pleasure to see. Many of the works are wildly complex and all but impossible to build. Peter Hudson’s Charon is one example: a bizarre 20-foot-tall wheel of skeletons paddling through strobe lights powered by rope-pulling Burners.
Largely obscure to most Burners, the Profiles in Dust collection is a must see for anyone planning a playa art project, or anyone interested in how this much-loved, magic planet comes together.
The group’s early production, Everyone Is An Artist, is a good place to start and features the building of the Charon piece, which will return in 2017. Their latest production covers the incredible Mayan Warrior sound car. Built by a group of sound artists from Mexico City, it is technology as art.
And imagination does rule the world.
Top photo: Interviewing one of the Rangers who runs the Sanctuary operation, Terry shooting, Michael “Dustin” Fasman seated (Photo by Dan Baker)