“Is the 747 Art?” Is a Great Question, but It Might Not Be the Right One

The best thing about the 747, in my opinion, is the way it has caused large groups of people to spontaneously ask one another “but is it Art?”

“But is it Art?” is a conversation that is HORRIBLE to have when someone is making you have it – especially at a party or (I would guess) when you’re trying to dig the wheels of a giant plane out of soft ground.  But when it’s a conversation that people are having because they want to have it, when they actually care about the answer … well, to me, that suggests we are doing something very right.

It’s an awesome conversation when you mean it.

So I’m actually really happy about it, but I’d like to suggest, as my contribution to this conversation, that “is it Art” is the wrong question for us to ask.

Back to Basics

For a lot of people “is it Art?” is a question they’re asking because they want to establish:  “is all the hassle and trouble the 747 has caused (to Gerlach, to Burning Man’s press clippings, to everyone behind it on the highway) really worth it?  Is it actually enough of a Burning Man activity that we have to stand behind this nonsense?”

But of course, the Principle that they debate this under – “Radical Self-Expression” – never actually mentions “art” at all.  It isn’t “Radical Art,” it’s “self-expression.”

And there is no question to my mind, none, that the 747 is an act of self-expression.  They’re doing it because they want to see it in the world, for no reason other than for its own sake.  We can discuss and debate what they’re expressing, and whether we like it, and what it achieves – but it’s definitely an act of group self-expression.

We tend to get “art” confused with “self-expression” because we think – rightly – that art is often the most potent, most interesting, most developed, most useful, and most engaging form of self-expression.  Art does amazing things, it is self-expression taken to a whole new level. So of course, the better we get at all this, the more the straw of our self-expression will be spun, Rumpelstiltskin style, into art.

But all “self-expression” isn’t “art,” and all self-expression that is valuable isn’t art.  The ability to simply reach out to other human beings, to tell difficult truths, to confess, to tell your story, to say what you want in this world even if it makes no sense to anybody else … these are all profoundly powerful moments whenever and however they happen, and they are all acts of Radical Self-Expression.  They count.

In fact, the one time the 10 Principles do mention “art” – the one time the word is used – is not in “Radical Self-Expression” at all, but “Communal Effort.”  Where it reads:

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

And – once again – it seems pretty clear to me that the 747 is a product of massive Communal Effort;  that whatever else it is, it is a whole lot of people banding together and cooperating to do something weird and maybe impossible.

“Is it Art?”  Well, maybe, maybe not – but it is definitely Radical Self-Expression, and it is definitely Communal Effort.  So I’m rooting for it.

Okay, but really:  is it Art?

Here’s the thing:  ever since the Enlightenment, Western culture has used “Art” and aesthetics as a kind of substitute for “God” and meaning.  Art is supposed to provide access to eternal truth, be therapeutic, provide comfort, initiate revolutions, satirize the powerful, question assumptions, preserve the past, give us visions of the future, make us more compassionate, make us angry, and exist totally for its own sake with no other utility.

How is that supposed to work?  Is art really up to the challenge?

I’m going to leave that as an open discussion question, but I think that what it suggests is that the question “is it Art?” is actually the wrong question most of the time, because even if we can answer that question, the answer doesn’t say anything useful.

I mean, if “Art” as a category includes Raphael’s “Transfiguration,” the Pyramids of Giza, Duchamp’s “Fountain,” modern dance, Spalding Gray monologues, and street graffiti … then even if you can agree that something is “art,” what the hell can you usefully say about it?

Which doesn’t mean we should abandon our inquiry, just that we might need better questions.

“What kind of art is it?” for example.  That question allows us to actually describe what we’re talking about in a possibly useful way.  “Art” is hard to wrap your brain around. “Painting” is a lot simpler; “religious painting” is even easier.  Asking “what kind of art is it?” also lets you put it in a relevant tradition, and usefully compare it to other examples.

Likewise “what effect does it have?” and “what experience do people have of it?” seem like good questions.  They lead you to an important discussion about the way people are engaging with the art piece, which is something we probably care more about than the way it gets classified.

“What is it trying to accomplish?” and “in what ways does it succeed or not?” can also be helpful when judiciously applied.  Often what we mean when we say something “isn’t art” is that it has failed in achieving its goals, or that its goals aren’t really artistic at all (as in the case of advertising and propaganda).

For what little it’s worth, that’s where the 747 ends up for me.  It’s definitely Radical Self-Expression, and Communal Effort, and I think it’s a kind of art.  But I want it to be a different kind of art.  Once it’s on the playa, I want it to be doing something different than they did with it, and for people to have a different kind of experience of it.

Which is totally fine and maybe even worthy of a discussion.  But of course this is Burning Man, so I can quite reasonably be asked:  “would you like to help? This is a do-ocracy, so, if you want input, why don’t you volunteer?”

Or even “well, why don’t you go get your own 747, and bring it to the playa, and then do it the way you think it should be done?”

I mean, how hard can that be, right?


Cover image by Dustin Mosher

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

65 Comments on ““Is the 747 Art?” Is a Great Question, but It Might Not Be the Right One

  • Nickipedia says:

    Communal Effort is a good one, but what about a stock “747” is decommodified? Or mutated, for that matter?

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  • Dale D’Alessandro, aka Buckhorn says:

    Caveat Magister,
    Thanks for your analysis of the “747 is it art” question. You helped clarify my thoughts and confusion regarding this question and you layed out a clearer meaning of some of the 10 principals.

    In answer to your question about helping to solve the problem of removing the 747 from the Playa, my answer is yes. I’d be glad to help.

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  • Bilisso says:

    Communal effort.
    When a communal effort is made almost only for the group who made it happen its fucked up.
    Been 3 times. 3 times refused the access “not ready” “private party” “members only”.
    And shabbat seriously ? Coming all that way to close an installation because its shabbat ?
    Next time Park it in your garden and stay home. Thank you !

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    • Todd R. Caspell says:

      They let me walk under it !

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    • Alex Burger says:

      Funny, I guess making the way out to it was so much effort you couldn’t have an honest conversation with the people that ran it. BM org only let the public board it Tues and Thurs, I was lucky enough to get on Thurs and tried to take the rest of my camp Friday. But a 10 second conversation with one of the builders revealed the reason. Be informed with your opinion instead of fire hosing misinformation

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    • Swingy says:

      747 doesn’t roll on Shabbas

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  • The Hustler says:

    One of my favorite aspects of the art/not art debate is the absolute futility and the inversely proportionate level of enthusiasm it can espouse. It’s up there with internet forum users arguing over inane details about certain models of a certain German brand of camera (it’s really fascinating).

    You can equate the art/not art debate to the thing that suggests the only “real music” is music with words, which leaves out classical, jazz … and includes truly terrible music like Journey or Kiss. I wonder if Charles Mingus would have had a different opinion.

    Art/not art is, or can be, something with as many answers as there are Burning Man experiences or notions about what Burning Man actually is: many answers that are equally correct and wrong. But it’s not a solvable equation. I believe Bob Ross wasn’t popular because of the paintings he did, but rather the way he did them (and the giant hair).

    Art/not art is itself a basic canon of art: making the viewer/receiver/consumer/participant the function of the thing; to question the nature of the thing. I believe if we were to approach it that way, then the 747 is art. Maybe part of the reason they brought it to the playa is to fuck with people and force us to debate a little about the nature of creativity, community and the role of abstract thought in society.

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  • Casey says:

    An explanation well done.

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  • The Captain says:

    Great piece of writing, thanks Caveat. I hope this story is shared around to the wider community.

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  • Eddie says:

    The 747 was performance. When I boarded the 747 with the sounds of live piano in the background; I was asked by an attendant to check my “baggage”… and it was assuured it would be promptly lost for me. That was art.

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  • David says:

    Caveat Magister, I feel like you are trying to focus the problem on another one, so by agreeing with you on this point we are going to forget about the real problem (Are you trying a manipulation move here ?).
    When I read about the 747 in the forum and FB posts the real pain point that I see if this one : “nobody can enter the 747 except VIPs”.
    The problem is not about art, can you please explain to us in a similarly qualitative post how Big Imagination is practicing radical inclusion ?

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    • SM says:

      Perhaps it’s you reading troll threads that lead to this conclusion. There is no VIP at 747 and the only reason some ppl were denied access to the arts car was because it was full. Safety first.
      Also, pls don’t forget that neither Mayan Warrior nor Robot Heart let anyone aboard their art cars. This is a choice each art car can make, it’s not mandatory to provide music and let everyone on the art car.

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      • Colonel says:

        Robot Heart didnt let ANYONE on their bus?


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      • Ben K says:

        Roboheart and Mayan Warrior DID NOT have EXCLUSIVE sabbath ceremony on Friday middle of playa.

        While 747 is part MV/Camp but neither Roboheart/Mayan Warrior are not.

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      • Q says:

        Mayan Warrior absolutely lets people on board. It’s usually pretty crowded up there meaning there’s a line to get on, but if you wait in that line you will get up. I’ve never seen them operate it in an exclusive manner.

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      • Q says:

        Further, the 747 absolutely had exclusive camp-only events. The “CEO” of Big Imagination even confirmed this in one of his statements. People are calling them VIP because the high cost of camping with them or being a part of that project essentially keeps the non-wealthy out.

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      • Doug says:

        To get a license for a mutant vehicle, you MUST agree that you will let anyone board if you have room. This agreement is in writing, signed, and repeated at several points in the licensing process. The DMV seems very serious about this, and any mutant vehicle that has space and refuses to accept passengers should be reported to them. If there are enough complaints, the MV will be denied a license the following year (and get zero sympathy from other MV owners). There are some exceptions, but they are well-defined, very limited, and short-term (1 or 2 evenings max, as I recall).

        At least those were the requirements to which I’ve had to agree, and I’ve never heard any discussions in the MV community of blanket exemptions for anyone. I have owned and brought a MV for 10 years.

        Most MV owners will tell you that refusing passengers when space is available is considered by the DMV to be an infraction of the rules comparable to trying to sell BM Tee-shirts on-playa.

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  • Robert says:

    If it wasn’t still out there (I believe it still is) I doubt it would be the hot topic it has become.

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  • BobC says:

    Personally, I don’t consider carving up a plane as art and I really don’t care if others do or not; much like when an “artist” places an opened tin can on a pedestal in an art gallery as their “art”. As they say, art is in the eye of the beholder and it is intended to evoke an emotion…for me that emotion is “meh…” and holds no meaning for me or any desire to interact with it or the camp.

    However, where I do care is that I see this effort as nothing more than a self-indulgent and masturbatory exercise for the entitled which not only inconvenienced the locals to get it out there with road closures and scheduled power outages but potentially jeopardizes the community as a whole with its unknown long term effect on the playa surface and their inability to remove it in a timely manner, regardless of the excuses for not being able to do so like every other provider that brought their “art” to the playa.

    Efforts of this scale will always being a higher level of scrutiny by the powers that be and not taking that possibility into account was either willfully ignorant or simply negligent on the part of that camp. Burning Man already has enough unwanted attention from government authorities without doing things that are simply asking for more negative attention and people should take that into account. Burners are not above the law.

    The phrase “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” comes to mind.

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  • Chakra Khan says:

    My BIGGEST issue with the the 747 is that it’s being held to different standards than the rest of us because it’s an airplane. The rest of are told to transform what it is we are using to create our art or tell our story. Meaning if it’s a shipping container or a school bus it cannot look like it anymore. Can I bring a school bus to Burning Man install a gorgeous dancefloor, have djs play and receive placement, tickets and funding?

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    • Joe Monstermaker says:

      That’s not true.
      You are not being told you have to transform what it is you’re using to create your art.
      If your art is a Mutant Vehicle, and is made from a regular street vehicle like a car, truck or bus, that part of it must be transformed. Airplanes, boats, couches etc. are not street vehicles and can look like what they are. If your method of making it drivable is to mount it to a regular vehicle, that part has to be fully transformed or “mutated”.

      The special rule-breaking treatment the 747 got was the non-mutated tug truck.
      That wouldn’t be allowed for anyone else but it was overlooked on the 747.

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  • XPTom says:

    If not at Burning Man, then where?

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    • Doug says:

      Last I read, it’s about 15 miles north of BRC, trying to get onto the private land where it’s going to be stored, but having trouble with the soft playa.

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  • MillionMileGuy says:

    On its first appearance on the playa, there was no line to get in when I approached.
    I sat in the one airline seat they had. I doubt anyone younger than 45 had any clue that this seat was the ONLY first class seat design for all airlines. “Beds” in 1st class were a decade away. My ass might have sat in that very seat in the million miles I traveled in it or similar. When I sat down, ALL that travel, my former life of travel was part of that seat, part of my posture, part of my being. As I relaxed and felt all this, I noticed that in the cockpit, there was a fully uniformed pilot (they used to dress pretty fancy, with epaulets, too) giving flying lessons to a burner in the co-pilots seat. All the instrumentation was illuminated and looked functional, and I believe there was a computer simulation going on that was controlled by the actual controls of the plane. I didn’t check if Big Imagination actually did that tech feat, but even if not, the interaction between the pilot and the burner with the controls in her hands was really cool and for sure, that “co-pilot” was having a full art experience.
    For me, at the moment, sitting in the first class seat, in a freakin’ 747 on the playa, seeing the burner at the controls, was one of the best “art” experiences I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot as when I flew those million miles, I was in that seat because of art: I was in the art business and lived and breathed art every day.

    Thank you Big Imagination people. You now got plenty drama in your face, but remember that Christo goes thru worse for every single environmental piece he’s ever done, and he just keeps doing it over and over. Imagine that LOL.

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    • Charles White says:

      I did not go to BM2018, but I was there in BM2017 and BM2016. In 2016 I was one of those fully dressed up pilots in the cockpit instructing burners in flight dynamics (I’m a small plane pilot as well). What I saw was adults ‘playing’. They played the ‘crashing game’ where they are trying to save the passengers by aggressively moving the controls and shouting. But there was one event that touched me…

      A Native American mother and father, and their young son came up to the cockpit. After waiting for some adult burners to finish their ‘shift’ in the seat, I asked the young boy to take the co-pilots seat. I told him “let’s do a take off” and I had him put his hands on the lower throttles, while my hands were on the upper throttles that are linked together. Together we throttled up and I narrated us moving down the runway.

      I told him we need to lift off and to pull back on the yoke together. I told him we have to turn away from the airport so we would turn using both the yoke and the rudder peddels together in a coordinated turn. Then we throttled down for cruise.

      He was smiling ear to ear. He was no longer at Burning Man but now 30,000 feet above a fantasy. He sat there playing some more and I got up to talk to his parents. Turns out, BM ORG gives a car pass and a ‘day ticket’ to the residents of Nixon Indian Reservation and they parked nearby to see the 747 that spent the night in Nixon (which is a story in itself). I never knew the Org did that but I thought that was cool.

      Then it happened, the young boy looked back at his father and said, “I want to learn more about science”. I melted. My heart melted. I could not believe what I just heard, not “I want to be a pilot” which is what I was expecting, but science.

      Right then and there, the plane was not just art, but something more… inspiration. A vision. A new horizon. It was 2016 when we just had the cockpit, but I still remember that young family, and that kid, made my burn. It was worth it. The family left the cockpit, and the next set of adult burner pilots took the wheel, and this time they brought with them… stuffed snakes.

      Is an art gallery art? Is a theater art? Maybe/maybe not, but what happens in these three structures was… inspiring.

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      • Nicoel says:

        THanks for sharing this

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      • Trotsky says:

        As MillionMileGuy, Charles White, Lauren M and even Doc North have attested it was a fine smaller installation on the ground in 2016 (when I also enjoyed a visit.) This year putting it up on wheels and having to safety test it apparently made the plane less welcoming and accessible. So a fair question is, what was gained by making it mobile and 40 feet up? Besides convenience for setup. Looking forward, would that family from Nixon be able to take their kid to the cockpit?

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  • John says:

    But the question now us…is that POS stuff on the Playa ?? #FuckThe747

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  • Dave Mathews says:

    – [ ] Thank you Caveat for your thoughtful story. The plane for our core team of builders and makers has been a communal effort involving 500 people, some who don’t even come to Burning Man because they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and achieve the impossible. This took place over five years off playa and three burns and is a passion project from working people who bought a decommissioned plane for the value of its aluminum, then spent 350 days a year cutting it apart, making those hard edges safe, then reassembling it for all of the Burner community to enjoy.

    Understandably, because a project of this scale hasn’t been done before, we were held to much higher safety standards and oversight. We had to install exit signs, a smoke detector system – and require a secondary vehicle for emergency egress. We have been working with the ORG and BLM on a 40-page safety plan for two years and after that got permission for only two days of moving it, during the day, with no guests on it, in 2018. Moving it alone takes a perimeter safety team of 1/3 our camp. But we did it. We moved it on playa and thousands of people found it and enjoyed it.

    Doing a project like this meant that we needed to prove ourselves to the ORG. They made us prove our capabilities and we saw the entire emergency staff of Burning Man come visit it for safety tours and inspections. We continued building to their safety standards and made modifications based upon that input from constant inspections. In fact most of our camp worked the entire burning man event, and our joke was “I hear there’s Burning Man going on nearby, we should check it out.”

    We do this because we want to see it there. I do it as a 12-year burner because I want to build a platform for art, a canvas if you will, for LED, projection and a gravitas of science and tech nerds to come spend the day, as they do, teaching about space, avionics, fuel technology and the like.

    I’m sorry that some of you felt like our carcas wasn’t able to accommodate you, or was inclusive. For the past two years we had it on the ground and you could have wandered about it. Now with it 40-feet above the ground, we proved our safety and hope to grow from a “build it again every year” camp to a “roll it in and out” camp.

    I curate and engineer the art and low voltage projects on the plane. Rather than bring yet another 747 over to Gerlach, why not use the Big Imagination vessel to share your art from the platform we started. Our team will continue to build but we are a community looking to grow from your input well. Which is why I enjoyed reading this article.

    My response is about the art, not the logistics. I acknowledge that we have made mistakes, and while headlines say the plane was abandoned, this was not the case as we remained in contact with both the ORG and BLM.

    When you push boundaries, doing the impossible with something that even the playa hasn’t seen before you brake things and grow. We wish many things never happened but when they do, our team sticks with it to solve the problems and move forward.

    Much love to the community, and thank you to the Burning Man organization and BLM for giving us a landscape to build art that we never imagined was possible.

    Dave “Curator” Mathews

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    • Larik Malish says:

      Thanks for your art, vision and commitment to making the 747 a reality. I’m a 5-year burner and this was a long time coming. I waited a reasonable line to get on and was impressed with the design, experience and music onboard. I’m hoping this years bumps don’t set the 747 off path for future playa appearances.

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    • roissy says:

      Because “bigger is always better” (it is Burning Man after all) We are working on bringing an Airbus 380 out. or maybe the Antonov An-225 Mriya…
      One can dream…

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  • Liquid Sunshine says:

    Debating whether it’s art or not isn’t what people are upset about, it’s the non inclusive behavior they showcased on the playa toward the community.

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  • Lauren M. says:

    It’s such an interesting debate, what is art? Thanks for such an insightful and thoughtful analysis. In response I’ll give my long-winded silly two cents.

    I sadly couldn’t make it to BM this year, but I was with the 747 team the two years before that and spent a significant portion of my free time for over a year working on the project because I was so moved by it as a human being the first time I walked through it, and found it to be the most surprisingly inspiring art piece I’d ever encountered.

    A little about my personal connection to the 747…I had just fled a short abusive marriage when I stumbled more than a little shell-shocked to BRC 2016 still reeling that something like that could happen to me. As part of my dues to the camp I had to work various shifts, but the one that changed me was dressing up as a flight attendant and standing in a gutted 747 in the middle of a disappearing city asking people their next destination in life.

    I played around with the script, riffed on it (Expect turbulence! Delays! We’ll lose your luggage! But, eventually, eventually, you’ll get there. So…where is it you most want to go?) I repeated the script over and over and tempted each passenger with enticing destinations—love, Paris, a successful business, etc. all while having zero clue where I wanted to go next in life, or what the point of it all was anymore.

    I watched so many people burst with joy once they figured out their next destination, or just laugh while they wrote about a need for daily Mac & Cheese in life, and others sob. Something about the humanity of it made me feel for the first time since I’d left…

    And then dusk came, and as people wandered off to other things in that golden hour, I was mostly alone in the plane. I realized that if these crazy people could haul a plane out to the desert in the middle of a disappearing city—and, more importantly that only a hundred years ago a couple of high school drop-outs could finally best gravity (the dream of mankind since its inception) that I could certainly make my life good after a bit of turbulence.

    Was that moment in the plane in the golden hour a moment of art epiphany? I don’t know. But I’ve always been healed by art.

    I figured that I might not be alone in needing something massive and re-contextualized to snap epiphany into me so I volunteered to lead the experience on the plane in 2017, and spent most of my free waking hours prepping. I’m also one whose favorite medium is usually words so I stalked my favorite writers and thinkers and talked them into donating lines on what flight meant to them that we could “publish” on the plane as a “Meditation on Flight at Burning Man” (747poem.com) in case anyone else wandered through looking for art to heal or inspire them the way I had been. I hoped that I could pass along what the 747 gave me.

    Other artists (musicians, lighting-artists, etc.) have also had similar experiences and contributed their favorite mediums as well.

    So was it art? I don’t know. I’m a humble English teacher and a lover of arts, but it changed me to the point I dropped everything else for over a year to try to give others a bit of what I felt. So there’s that to consider in this thoughtful discussion.

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  • A random burner says:

    I just feel like it’s a big bunch of wasted potential, at this point. I’m a rave-boat apologist. I love them out there. I feel like this is just another rave-boat in a sea of rave-boats, though, and that’s disappointing to me.

    Imagine if the inside was a jungle gym, and they moved it around the event once or twice. Or, if they staged weird performances there. Perhaps they could project weird stuff on the big tube, or have everyone sit inside for an in-flight movie, have lights off the top and sides you could play with, it could have been a huge lounge inside (it was just open and empty, I went in), it could have been so much.

    Nope… another rave-boat booking out of the same pool of 20 or 30 deep house DJs that reliably play good music. And, again – you can commonly find me at said rave-boats. I just wish that, for all the hubub, all the trouble, all of the drama and at this point, all of the conversation, I wish we were talking about more than another deep playa sunrise music experience boat.

    I do sincerely wish them luck with their current issue, though. That is an awful place to be. Nobody wants to be stuck on playa.

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  • David says:

    I am going to AGO to see some more “art”!

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  • Shahar says:

    Thanks for this writing! I’m part of the original crew of Big Imagination and the project and I can tell you that this discussion is something that we also have internally.
    I’ll be honest – if we knew when we started this that it will take us 4 years of work to get to where we are I’m not sure we would have decided to do it.
    But the original idea behind it wasn’t “art”. It was to show that a group of simple people can do anything in the world, as crazy as it seems, if they work together. Thus the name Big Imagination.
    That said, I think we can do so much more with the plane to transform it to something that more people will consider art (and I really understand the criticism some people have about it). And we want to do so. But it’s a work in progress. We worked non stop all year long just to get here and we will keep working all year long to keep transforming it. This is definitely not something we see as “done and that’s it”.
    But the best part is that this is not a private project. We had hundreds of people coming to volunteer and help us build it. We would love to get more feedback and even better – come help build and transform it to what you think it should be. This is not our thing – it’s everyone thing. The people who work on it as well as the thousands of people who came to visit it and helped shape its experience for everyone else around.

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  • Doc North says:

    And the security on this thing was atrocious. They talk about a 40-page safety plan. Well, I can tell you from my first-hand experience that a TSA agent reading the newspaper on the john while eating a donut would have been more effective.

    This is not conjecture. I tested their systems. I hijacked the 747.

    It couldn’t have been more obvious. I was flying standby with no checked bags and a silver briefcase. I used some fake credentials–I know so and so– to get through the boarding pass and ID check. At their TSA check-point, their x-ray machine was down. I knew then that these guys were complete amateurs.

    Not since my arrival on the playa in 1995 have I seen a more obvious target. I knew from the moment that I read about these so-called “artists” wanting to deconstruct the icon of modern avionics, load it on various trucks, over various years, and have a police escort to transport it to a drug-crazed hippy festival in the middle of the desert, that this was my target.

    As an aside, probably the most famous renegade Berlin art piece involved disassembling an airplane.

    At the TSA checkpoint, with their x-ray down, they insisted on looking inside my briefcase. I obliged, opening it so they could see my neatly folded tailor made shirt right on top. Good enough for them–fools–and I closed my case and boarded the plane. They call that security, I might as well have had 6 kilos of pressurized glitter strapped to my body.

    Inside the plane, I feign interest in the art gallery or the 200,000 LEDs spatially mapped using “computers.” All this is a big distraction from my end goal. Ascending to the top deck, now 40 feet in the air, I pay no attention to the DJ or dancefloor. I’m 10 yards from scoring my first touchdown of Burning Man and staying on the leaderboard.

    It’s funny, most people don’t seem to know about the Burning Man leaderboard. I guess you got to be in the game to know about it. Participation is not buying your ticket, waiting in line and then expecting to be entertained. I think that’s called Disney Land.

    I ain’t going out like that. I’m taking this plane.

    Moving through the top deck dancefloor I see a group congregating near the cockpit. Normally I would wait till the seatbelt sign is on and have a clear shot to front, but I’m in a rush. I push through the crowd and am rudely stopped by someone who fancies themselves with a big imagination.

    That’s it, I shove the briefcase into his arms, pop the lid, flip the shirt up revealing a false bottom and pull out 2 cocked and loaded Nerf guns. I launch 2 discs in the air and pop a suction cup dart onto the control panel and everyone knows I mean business.

    After that hi-jinxing, I own the plane. Everyone wants to see the briefcase and hear the tail.

    My art is performance, and I’ll tell you, that 747 was one damn good canvas.

    #getinthegame #participation #stopthehate #burnersunite

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  • CuriousJosh says:

    Years ago when I was reporting and photographing for SF Weekly/LA Weekly I came upon an absolutely wonderful dragon made of metal pieces that was welded and attached to a motorbike.

    It was clearly art, but had been denied permits because to much of the motorcycle could be seen underneath so it wasn’t considered sufficiently “mutated.”

    I always thought it was a shame that something that would emit wonder was denied a permit, even if it didn’t strictly fit into what we thought the rules would be.

    Great post. Wrong question indeed.

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  • Jim says:

    Ah yes let’s get into a nuanced discussion about what constitute “Art” and forget that this group imported a private “VIP” nightclub onto the playa. I could give two Sh*TS, easy enough to steer clear of it, but I’m just wondering when BMORG will actually show some spine around this crap

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    • Dave Mathews says:

      Jim, please read the comments that I made above. Never did safety and our BLM & ORG limitations of operation equate to VIP status. There are countless stories of people who made it into the structure and it was opened all week except for one private camp dinner.

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  • TGIFrydave says:

    Sounds like it offends plenty of people, so it’s art.

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  • David Normal says:

    ‘Art vs. not art’ debate is tedious. It’s always a moot point. Typically if a work of art (i.e.; something done with artistic intention) transgresses the status quo, and violates rules and expectations then people will start asking if it is really art or not. Sometimes the provocation is the work’s only artistic merit. The most interesting thing about the 747 is the extravagant way in which it broke the rules. I mean; they intentionally stranded it in the desert for the attention and the controversy, right? A publicity stunt?

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  • Ian Gall says:

    Instead of judging the 747 through the lens of artistic novelty, how about by measure of the project’s capacity to gift dozens of people the opportunity to join & influence the outcome of a large scale, technically complex engineering project management challenge? A project like this is not otherwise accessible to a non-professional outside of Burningman. This is a theme camp experiment that pushes the organizational-logistical brain capacity limits for those that dare to join and test their skills. The most complex project the average person gets to be involved in is their own wedding. This is your own real-life Discovery Channel mega-project. I plan the build for our camp’s big pyramid & the most rewarding part is inviting people to take as much ownership in planning & people coordination responsibility as they believe they can handle. What a great opportunity – join the team, test the limits of your abilities, and witness how you react.

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  • Chester Davis says:

    This country is divided more than ever with orange embicile in the White House.

    747 has divided Burning Man and its community.
    Big Imagination, their friends & volunteers worked hard to bring 747 to playa.

    So I ask…what’s the purpose?
    We we share sadness to lessen the pain and share joy to double the pleasure.

    747 had their on gathering 3 times and this is confirmed by Big Imagination hired CEO Ken Feldman. BM Org does encourage to celebrate their hard work and I am all for it but it also says (written) should make it one event…not THREE

    I get a away from the default world to be with inclusive community. Friday evening at sunset, there was a private event what some people suspect it’s VIP event…worse…it was a religious ceremony. Sabbath.
    I don’t differentiate one from another as I think ‘it’ is a poison to human mind that has divide the earth more than anything else and also shed more blood than anything.

    I am not equating god to religion.
    As people can worship their own god without religion.

    There will be no burning man if this will be the case where everyone brings their religious ceremony out to playa.

    Bring what you will but make it inclusive out in playa.
    Keep in within your camp if it’s going to be exclusive and selective. As it may seem that Big Imagination made it to be, faith is not being show off who can worship better. If that’s the kinda “trip” your Big Imaginationnis offering on board with 747? TBNT – thanks but no thanks.

    Before talk about art or not, reality check is need it if it’s in line with the 10 principles.

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    • Religion is Irrational says:

      Religion is irrational. If I wandered out there and saw/ heard them having some secret, exclusive “Shabbat” it would have freaked me out.

      Surprised the engineers (artists) that designed the project didn’t see how out of balance it was. No infer the front wheels nosedived into the Playa.

      Anyone have a video of the secret, exclusive religions service?!

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  • Lady Sass says:

    Well… after all this, I’m excited to see the plethora of actual mutated vehicles/ art cars made to look like planes and/or 747’s in the next and upcoming years. I’m certain there will be lots of Burners wanting to make “art” to commemorate the great 747 debacle from 2018.

    Maybe it was/ wasn’t art, maybe it was/ wasn’t inclusive, but it sure as hell will go down in Burning Man history.

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  • JV says:

    I don’t know if it’s art, but it was certainly MOOP for a few weeks.

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