The art piece that people love, and love to hate, is peeking over the fence at the north end of the playa, set to make one last appearance in Black Rock City.
The 747 is back, in all its gargantuan splendor.
The jetliner/art piece/party space spent the offseason parked a few miles north of Black Rock City, on privately owned land adjacent to the Black Rock Desert. It got the ok to begin its voyage back only a couple of days ago, after crews spent many hours meticulously mooping its home away from home.
We’re told that this will be the 747’s final appearance at Burning Man, at least under the auspices of Big Imagination, the organization that rescued it from the aircraft graveyard in the Mojave and repurposed it for Burning Man.
As we wandered around the 747, a person appeared from beneath the fuselage to see what we were doing. “Nice evening for photographs,” she said, and indeed it was.
Melanie McClanahan has been standing watch over the 747 for the past two months, keeping the looky-loos at bay, and giving impromptu informational talks when warranted. McClanahan, a Gerlach resident and a relative latecomer to the 747 project, says she was most definitely a skeptic, until she met Big Imagination’s CEO, Ken Feldman.
She was working at Bruno’s and Feldman would come in and start talking about the plane, “And I was just rolling my eyes. … And he said, ‘Have you ever been out to see the plane?’ And he said, ‘Why don’t you come out?’
“And I’d been going through this huge transformation, where I’d say yes more to things, so I went out. I was seven miles out on Soldier Meadows Road, and I got a flat tire. And (Feldman) said, ‘Well ok, I’ll come help you out.’” Then they went off to see the jet, and, as fate would have it, there were people visiting the site.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you just give them a tour,’ and he got all excited and did, and just to hear the way he talked about it, and whole way it came to be,” well, that got her hooked.
“It’s not a quick buck thing for him,” she says. “He’s not a trust-afarian, he’s a good person.
“Afterwards, he’s looking at me, and he says, ‘What?’ And I said, I have something to confess to you, I’m like your biggest heckler online. I’ve talked so much shit about this plane. And he goes, ‘You want a job?’” … And so she got the care-taking gig.
“I just love to be out here. I like the absence of sound, I like the absence of people. … I’m good one-on-one or in small groups, but when it gets large its too much.”
There have been more than a few people randomly coming by to take a look. “People were coming out, and they’re not understanding. … Most of them were coming out because they camped in the High Rock area, and they’ve been coming out for years, and all of a sudden there’s a plane. They don’t see it’s half a plane, they don’t see it’s an art car, all they see is a plane. They come out and they’re like, whoooaaaa, what is this??
“The argument isn’t is it art or not. If you’re angry about it, it causes emotion … it’s art.
“But it’s more than that. There’s a whole graveyard full of these planes. … Everyone gets these junk cars, and they try to make them into art cars … [Feldman] got a plane that was abandoned, and turned it into an art car. I mean, come on, it’s pretty cool.”
Still, the strong feelings about the jetliner have touched her life, as well.
“I’ve lost friends over this,” she says. “They say, ‘Your moral compass is askew,’ and I say, this isn’t what you think it is … and this is how we all need to come together. If you can’t come together with art, then …” and her voice trails off.
The 747 will make its entrance into the city in a week or so, and McClanahan will be out there till then. After that? She’ll be bartending at the DPW’s Ghetto bar.
But that’ll be a big change. “I miss it already,” she says. “I feel like I’m escorting her back for her last hurrah. She makes a lot of people happy.”