Burning Man - 2003
This years commentary will not be as organized as last years... assuming you thought that was organized. Once again I took a small diary with me to the playa to write down things I wanted to remember... but it disappeared halfway through the week, so everything has to be retrieved from the fog of memory - some parts definitely foggier than others. This will essentially be a series of vignettes - not necessarily in the order they happened.
IMPORTANT: If you have not read my 2002 commentary, do so before you read this one, otherwise things in here may not make much sense.
A NOTE ABOUT LINK-ROT: Link-rot happens when you reference a link, and that link disappears. I have included pictures in this commentary that I did not take. I will try to credit these appropriately by listing a link to the original site AND a link to a copy of the same photo that I maintain. This will prevent link-rot from making these unavailable at some future date, and will appropriately credit the original photographer. I will also try to credit the pictures on the pictures themselves.
I cannot maintain copies of whole websites, however. So these will not be backed up and if the link rots.. it rots. Ashes to ashes and bits to bits
Once again, this year I thought I had left in plenty of time to arrive at the Playa while it was still light. (A distance of 325 miles - here is the route) And if I hadn't missed my exit to Gerlach I might have had a chance. But missing that exit I drove approx. another 30 miles before it dawned on me that there is an awful lot of NOTHING in Nevada, and I was seeing allot of it. So.. turn around, find the exit and start heading north to Gerlach. On the way I passed an accident.. a bad one from the looks of it... a flat bed truck, obviously going to Burning Man and loaded down with stuff, had drifted off the right side of the road. The right front tire caught on the edge of the road and the driver over compensated trying to get back on the road. When it did come back on, the truck served left and flipped over off the other side of the road. There was stuff strew everywhere and the truck was upside down. It was certainly a reminder to drive safe on this tiny 2 lane road in the middle of nowhere. (Another interesting thing about the 75 mile road to Gerlach is that it is on open range. This means that cattle have the right of way on the road, and there is nothing to stop them from wandering onto it. It also means that if you hit one.. demolish your car.. injure yourself and your passengers... destroy all the stuff you are carrying... on top of all that, you will owe the rancher the cost of the cow. A word of safety on this road... SLOW DOWN. As tempting as it is to go fast on this open area it would be a bummer to run into Bossy over that blind hill.)
One thing interesting about my drive this year as opposed to last year: This year I could tell who of my fellow travelers were going to burning man. Last year I had no clue what Burning Man was about, and so did not know what to expect. This year, when I saw the car covered in pink fur, or the camping equipment strapped all over the top of a station wagon I knew just where they were going. It's like a migration.
In any case I managed to get to the Burning Man entrance... get my ticket checked.. car inspected.. and even get my camera registered just in time to drive in the dark (once again) to my camp site. At least this year there seemed to be better street signs. I went to the general vicinity of my camp, stopped the car and started wandering in search of recognizable camp-mates. And, like last year I didn't have to go far. My friend Darlene was right there when I wandered in out of the dark... I got my van situated within our area, and immediately started working on the most important thing you have to do when you arrive on the Playa. I walked out to the Man.
Because our camp this year was just off the Esplanade - the street that runs around the inside of the "C" that makes up Black Rock City - I could see the Man from where I parked my van. Having seen the design for the Man this year at the Burning Man offices in San Francisco (more on that later) I was anxious to see how it turned out in real life. I wasn't disappointed. The Man himself doesn't change, the the structure on which he stands does. This year's theme was "BEYOND BELIEF" with religious overtones, and the Man was to stand on a replica of an Incan Pyramid, complete with steep steps and ornamentation pointing in the 4 compass directions. The temple was done in red tones.. the stairs were white.. and the led to a small room at the top directly under the man. Around the base of the Pyramid there were small triangular openings just large enough for a small shrine - sometimes a live person. On the east and west side of the large pyramid there were 2 large triangular openings into which you could walk and visit a large "alter" dedicated to no particularly recognizable religion, but an alter none the less. Behind these alters was a large space filled with bales of hay (the better to burn!!!). The structure was, over all, much larger than the 2002 "light house" structure. It was not complete, but the outer covering was going on - a translucent material that was light from within so that the red pyramid with the blue man on top could be seen from anywhere on the Playa.
Okay, this is going to sound flaky, but walking out to the man I felt like I was "home". Like I was were I'm supposed to be. Life had been stressful in the time leading up to Burning Man, and I had back muscle spasms that were just killing me. I also had a pain in my shoulder that would just not go away from a previous camping trip. Shortly after my arrival at Burning Man, both disappeared, not to return until I was well back in civilization. However, now that I know for sure that they are simply stress related, I can deal with them better.
I went back to my camp, via center camp and some other sight seeing, and spent the rest of the evening setting up my residence for the week. This year I took a bigger tent - not my single person hiking tent - and had an air mattress that I blew up. Damn that tent was comfortable. I had quite the living quarters for the week.
This year I wanted to be more of a participant than the previous (first) year when I was pretty much just an aghast observer. So when the Burning Man organization had a "town meeting" in San Francisco I went. All the various "organizations" that operate at Burning Man had tables set up and were looking for volunteers. PlayaInfo is the group of people who run the "Information Booth" at Burning Man - the place where people at Burning Man come to ask any question that pops into their heads. This sounded like a pretty good place to learn things about Burning Man so I cast my lot in with them and attended the planning meetings they had before the actual event.
PlayaInfo actually has several parts.. Oracles, Directory, Volunteers, Messages, Lost and Found, and the boards. Oracles are people who sit at a desk and answer any question that comes up to the best of their ability. Volunteers take the names of people who want to volunteer to do something at Burning Man and direct them where they are needed. Directory is a file of people, camps, and events happening at Burning Man. Messages is another file where people can leave and pick up messages for each other. Lost and Found is obvious, with a few exceptions - for example, bikes are never considered lost until the last day - the advice to anyone who lost or found a bike is to go to/take it back to where they last/first saw it, and hope it meets up with it's owner. The boards are just that ... big boards to which people pin messages of all sorts.
Not being qualified to be an Oracle, and liking the background in any case, I volunteered for Directory and the related Data Entry. Basically, there are these index cards which people fill in and then self file in a card catalog. It's sort of a census of Burning Man people, but only those who walk up and fill in a card. If you want to find someone at Burning Man, you can come up to the Directory and look for their card in the file. This file is available 24 hours a day on the tables at PlayaInfo - even when no one else is there. Which means, of course, that by the morning they are a shambles and need to be "attended to" - resorted and riffled for unentered new cards. Every card that someone fills out is entered into a computer data base (Data Entry), and there are terminals available at PlayaInfo so that people can search for other people by computer rather than in the card catalog. When I worked Directory I would help people look up information on the computer - help them fill out cards - make sure the cards they filled out got entered - resort the files - check the files for new cards that were not data entered. When I worked Data Entry I got to sit in an air conditioned trailer and type in what people wrote on cards.
The whole system worked pretty well. We were generally able to keep up with the data entry from the night before and there was not much of a lag between when people filled out cards and when they were typed into the system. (Though I have list of suggested improvements here.)
The most amazing thing was that the PC's they used actually worked in the Playa environment. I had a PC out front with me, and I recall thinking it was amazing that the mouse would actually still work in the quarter inch of dust on the table. The fan on the back of the PC had to be sucking dust into the innards of that machine like mad, yet they all kept working.. the entire week. Amazing.
There are a few things you need to know about the way things are run at PlayaInfo. (a) The Lost and Found is not just a "bin" that you can dig through for treasure. It's kept in the back and you need to provide a good description of your lost item for someone to retrieve it. (b) And BIKES are never considered lost until the very last day. If you have lost a bike, you will be told to go back where you last saw it and look again. If you found a bike (or accidently rode off with the wrong bike) you will be told to return it to where you got it. In this way we don't end up a pile of bikes waiting for owners who may never show up. And, (c) the information given is the best we have - not everyone knows everything - and not everyone likes the answers they get - Hence the sign out front. "NO WHINING" (example: This girl walks up and asks if there is a trash can to throw out what she had in her hand. She was obviously unclear on the concept of being responsible for one's own trash. We told her, yeah, at home, probably in her kitchen.)
Since I worked Directory I spent my time entering data, or helping people search for data. There was also a Message center - where you could leave a message or pick up a message (sorted by the first name of the message leaver). It was fun. Certain bits of information became "popular" - i.e. several people asked about the same thing so I memorized them. Also, it was fun helping people find other people they were looking for - it felt good to help them make a connection they otherwise would not have in as chaotic a place as Burning Man. (Course, giving someone an address for the person they are looking for does not mean they will actually find them there... but it's a start.)
Oh.. and reviewing the pictures I recall that PlayaInfo had a rather nice chill space behind the Oracles. This is where the "RED" party was held later in the week. This is the party thrown by PlayaInfo - with the theme being "RED". As you can see from all the pictures, red is pretty much the color of PlayaInfo.
Burning Man is held in a desert. But it's not a sand desert. It's a dry lake bed. (Go back one page if you want to see what the surface looks like.. the page background is what the playa looks like). When you walk, ride, or drive on it, it becomes a fine dust that the smallest wind will pick up. It's in the air around you constantly. And when a strong wind comes along.. a lot of it gets picked up.
I had gone out to see the Temple of Gravity, and from there went to the Temple of Honor. While at the Temple of Honor a dust storm came up. These usually last 5 or 10 minutes and then the wind dies down.
Not this time. This time the white out came. The sun was blotted out. Visibility went down to 15 feet or so.
And then it got worse.
The dust storms I have experienced before have all been white. The dust is a light color, and the sunlight filtering through it causes white out. But this time, there was so much dirt in the air that at times the scene turned brown. It got dark. Visibility went down to 4 or 5 feet. And I was glad to have my mask and goggles (goggles learned from last year). There are no pictures of what this looks like because I put the camera way once it got so bad that simply breathing became something you had to consciously think about.
At one point, a young woman walked past me in a dress and scarf... she was trying to use the scarf to breath through.. and as it blew in the wind it looked like she was some graceful creature from another world.. perhaps undersea. I stopped her and asked if I could take her picture.
Now, the worst part of this storm did not last more than 10 minutes (the brown out part). But the dust storm went on for over an hour, and while it was going on, I was stuck at the Temple because there was no way to figure out which direction BRC lay in. As a result, I was there when David Best the man who has built the various Temples for the last 3 years (at least) gave a talk to the crows about what the Temple of Honor means to him. [Unfortunately, having lost my diary I don't have any notes about it.. sigh... I do recall one of the things he said - as he went around gathering materials for the construction of the temple he looked to many like a homeless man.. and was treated that way in some instances. That the concept of honor in this country has been bound up in war and patriotism, and that this is twisted. That honor should be how we treat "the least of us" as the Bible would say.. not about how fierce our warriors are.] He built the temple to commemorate his ideas of honor and decency.
After his talk he asked for volunteers to move wood into the Temple for that nights burn. Approx 150 people all began grabbing wood from a nearby pile and heaping it into the middle of the building. Some of these "pieces" were roof rafters and needed 10 people to carry. The pile grew very fast, and became pretty rickety. At times and chunk of wood would come sailing over the pile from the other side, having been pitched enthusiastically.
And the whole time, people kept trying to get into the temple to write their missives on the walls. It was getting dangerous. Now, granted, you take responsibility for your own safety at Burning Man, and if a pile of wood falls on you because you are too dense to see what is going on around you then, well, boo hoo for you. But the other aspect is that you have to create community and watch out for your fellow man too. So, myself and two others became the safety/traffic coordinators. It's amazing what will happen if you simply put your arms out to the side around a construction project.. people see you as a limit, and many of them won't go past. It's like the magic power of velvet rope or caution tape. There is no real barrier, but psychologically there is.
If someone did cross the "magic" line we'd simply tell them to look out flying wood... and inevitably a 2 by 4 would come flying over to emphasize the point, and they got the picture. A few people, who were obviously so into getting their thoughts into the temple that they were oblivious to what was happening would suddenly become aware with a simple touch on the shoulder and a pointing finger (at the pile behind them). "Don't get hit in the head." - they'd finish up and move out of harms way.
As the pile grew the loaders attacked it from different sides and we would move to another place and act as the barrier. No one got hurt, but for splinters.
It was surreal, watching all this wood appear out of nowhere. The people doing this acted like ants... no idea where the pile of "food" was, but follow the ant in front of you and you will find it.. then follow another ant to get back to the drop off point. You could not necessarily see one point from the other.. but follow the ants and you'll be fine.
About the time the last of the wood was being piled against the sides of the heap, the dust finally cleared and I was able to make my way to camp to grab a bite to eat and get ready for the burn that night.
Human Carcass Wash
The Human Carcass Wash is one of the nice ways to get clean at Burning Man. Stroke Greg (who tends to be the master of ceremonies there) is constantly saying that the purpose of the Human Carcass Wash is to learn about how to ask people what their limits are, and to practice respecting those limits. Getting clean is a secondary benefit. It works like this.... There are 3 (sometimes 4, I'll explain) "washing stations". People form 2 lines facing each other. The first group of 4 (2 on each side) are given spray bottles with a mild soap solution. Between them is a large basin. A person steps into the basin to be soaped. THE FIRST THING THAT GROUP IS SUPPOSED TO DO IS ASK THE PERSON WHAT THEIR LIMITS ARE. Example: No soap in the face. Once this is clear they spray the person down respecting their limits. Once soapy, that person steps to the next station. This is scrubbing. Again, the 4 people manning (womanizing?) this station are supposed to ask for the person's limits. Example: I'll wash my own (fill-in the blank) or don't touch my breasts... Then, 4 sets of hands are supposed to scrub that person, again respecting the limits. After sufficient scrubbing, that person steps to the next station. This is rinse and squeegee. 4 people with spray bottles of clear water ask for limits again, and then rinse the person off. They can use their hands to "squeegee" the person down, again respecting limits. Depending on the size of the crowd the RINSE and SQUEEGEE might be split into 2 stations so that more people get to participate.
Now the trick is... You cannot walk up and get washed. You start at the back of the line and work your way through all the stations until you are at the head of the line, THEN you get to go through. How does it work in actual practice? Pretty darn good
Since I live at PolyParadise, I'm one of the people who "works the lines", introducing people to the end of the line, telling people what their job is, promoting people up the line (e.g. Taking their rinse bottle away and telling them they are now a scrubber), making sure the bottles stay full, and constantly constantly telling people to ask for, state, and respect each person's limits. The problem was, that the first two days, there were too few volunteers to manage the lines. I ran my ass off from the start of the event until the end (3:00 to 4:30). It was exhausting trying to keep track of everything going on, and keep the bottles full. By the third day I was pretty well burned out on work this event, but by then, thanks to some prodding, we had more volunteers. It was still allot of work, but with other people taking care of making sure the bottles got filled, I could concentrate on what people were doing in line and making sure that all that ran smoothly.
Why wouldn't it run smoothly you might ask. Well, you get the people who only want to scrub. It's nice to be able to touch all those bodies going by, but you can't let someone jam up the line because they like one aspect of the process. It's my job to promote them. Then there are the people who show up not know where to go. You have to direct them about where to start. Then there is the constant reminders to ask for limits - Hey, the people in line now weren't in line 20 minutes ago during the introduction, so you have to do it again, and again, and again. You've got to monitor the water supply.
Then there are the "special cases". A special case is someone who has gone and painted themselves one color or the other (green seems to be very popular) and who then comes to the carcass wash to get it off. This stuff never comes off with the normal washing, so there are some particular things we do when a special case shows up (e.g.. they don't get to scrub, otherwise they'd make everyone else green, orange, blue, or what ever color they happen to be) A special case will use more soap and water than a normal case, and have to go through twice to get even close to looking normal. A word to the wise: If you get yourself painted at Burning Man, odds are you will go back to the "normal" world some tint of the color you chose, and stay that tint for a while. Choose Wisely.
There is also the setup and tear down daily. Set up is easy. Make sure the bottles are full and in place, and that the basins that everyone stands in are in place. It's a good idea to put a towel in the basins to prevent slipping. The basins catch the water running off the people as they are washed. Tear down means carrying the basins to our gray water processing area, and general cleanup of the area. Easy work, but necessary.
By the end of the week I was completely burnt on working the HCW and skipped out after telling Greg I couldn't do it anymore. I think by that time there were enough replacement volunteers to run the thing well.
One other thing about the HCW - it's a "NO CAMERA" zone, so you won't find pictures of it on my page, or anywhere else on the Internet. (Yeah.. I looked)
This webpage has NOTHING to do with the HCW but I found on a search "carcass" & "wash".. go figure.
Temple of Gravity
This is one art installation that I had seen before I ever got to Burning Man. During one of the meetings at Burning Man Headquarters in San Francisco I saw a model of an art installation. I turned to someone and said, "Is someone really going to build this?" They said, "Apparently." The model make it apparent that some very heavy slabs of material were to be suspended over the desert from what looked like an inadequate frame. (Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure the people who designed this took the engineering into account.... since this was eventually to end up in some public place other than Burning Man). I made a mental note to find it when I got there.
I stopped at the Artery (the place where all art comes to be placed) and checked the map on where the Temple of Gravity was to be located. It was out beyond the Temple of Honor to the west. I jumped on my bike, and off I went. Even from a distance you could tell this was quite an attraction.
Well, like allot of things at Burning Man you're not really going to get it because you can't see/experience it for yourself. 4 huge slabs of granite are suspended by 2 chains each. These chains are connected to steel plates that are each connected to 2 bolts. So 4 bolts hold these slabs in the air. People were climbing all over this... swinging the slabs. People were climbing the posts to the top. VERY VERY few people walked underneath. I had to, but could only stand the (mental) pressure for a few seconds before my guts took over and said "ARE YOU CRAZY? MOVE !!!" (As it says on the back of the Burning Man ticket... you can DIE at this event, and no one is liable.) It just does something to your insides to stand under a weight like that knowing how small the suspension is. From the center of the arches a chain hung that suspended a fire pit.
Note: In this picture you can see how far the Temple of Gravity was from Black Rock City... glad I had a bike for this.
The total weight of the Temple, including the blocks on the base was 70 TONS (140,000 lbs). Each of the suspended granite slabs weighed in at 13 TONS. The temple has it's own web space here
I got to see the design for the Man this year before I got to Black Rock City. During PlayaInfo organizational meetings at the main Burning Man offices in San Francisco. There is plenty of art and ideas sitting around this place. This year the man was going to be standing atop something like and Incan/Mayan pyramid. (Better picture http://www.artinterviews.com/BurningMan/ManreadytoBurn.jpg and here.)This pyramid would be lit from inside at night and glow red in the dark. During the day it looked like an amazingly painted building. This pyramid had one staircase (steep like the originals) that lead up the side to a balcony and room directly under the Man (which is where the human sacrifice would take place I assume). Around the base of the pyramid would be 2 large triangular openings that would lead to internal alters. These were actually pretty nice places to get out of the sun. Behind these alters was a large area showing the internal structure and stacked with HAY BALES - the better to burn!!! It was in this area that I found the memorial plaque for Burning Man organizers who were no more. In addition to these 2 openings with their large alters there were smaller triangular openings in which you might or might not find someone sitting to represent some aspect beyond belief... not necessarily religious.
At night the building glowed red and was a show in itself - http://home.comcast.net/~burningman/b3man.htm and here.
Good picture of the pyramid at http://www.byz.org/~immort/bm2003/m/BM2003-177-200308271740-TheMan.jpg and here
Good picture of the labyrinthhttp://www.byz.org/~immort/bm2003/m/BM2003-190-200308271804-ViewFromMan-TowardsCenterCamp.jpg and here.
Temple of Honor
This years temple looked nothing like the last years. Apparently the last 2 temples were very intricate structures of wood. This year the temple seemed to be make of cardboard. The kind of huge cardboard tubes used to cast cement supports for bridges. The whole structure was covered in this black and white art reminiscent of the kind of thing you would see on a mosque where pictures of people are not allowed, but intricate designs are. The exception being black and white pictures of groups of monks. There was a further nod to Islamic architecture in the use of "onion ball" tops in several places. The whole thing had a kind of middle-eastern feel - at least for me.
The other thing about it was... well.. hard to describe. I could not wrap my head around the shape of the building. I don't think the footprint of this building was square. There seemed to be some odd angles to it. And the upper section did not have the same shape as the lower section.. making the effect even stranger. From the roof in the middle hung a large.. pointed... well.. Sword of Damocles, I guess you could call it. This would sway in the wind a bit.
Even though the concept of this building was very different from that of the previous year it was still extremely impressive to look at from a distance and close up. And it provided an excellent platform for the hanging of various memorials... posters, pictures, items of clothing. I even saw a guitar hanging from fairly high up. People could climb it if they wanted to get their message up high.
I think next year I have some things I'd like to burn in the temple. Old memories that it's time to let go... I can't think of a better place to do it.
Dance, Dance, Dance...
There is something I get to do at Burning Man that I don't get to do enough during the rest of my life. DANCE!!!!! I pretty much do a little dancing every night - with one or two nights completely devoted to it.
The opportunities to dance at Burning Man are myriad. And the kinds of music to dance to is almost as varied. I am partial to very very loud techo-trance myself... but can really dance to anything with a beat. And the beauty of dancing at Burning Man is that you have ROOM... Room to really move and get into the kind of head space you want. No crowded dance floors here (well, there is that if you want - Xara being an example), no, here you have the whole desert if you wish.
My best night of dancing was at the Space Virgins party. Described in another section, the Space Virgins space was just great. And the mix they were throwing up was fantastic. With the open bar, this was the place to dance that night. Now, the Space Virgins camp had people dancing between the columns of the facade - to keep track of things I guess. And this one guy kept looking at me, and after a while started signaling by pointing to his ears. Basically he was trying to tell me that I was going to deaf because I'd spent an hour within 2 feet of a giant speaker that was so loud I know you could hear it a mile away. Frankly, I didn't much care at the time.. I was having just too much fun. For various parts of the music I just stuck my head right into the speakers... you know.. during one of those lulls in a DJ mix where they are just light on the beat but you know it's going to crescendo and blow you away if you are ready for it. (big grin) I did take short 10 minute breaks every 30 to 40 minutes or so to hit the open bar and catch a breath. And I got to talking to this guy.. he was not with the Space Virgins.. just someone else who found a good place to watch the crowd. He was going to get up at dawn and take some photos of the sunrise. I wished him luck as it was already 3:00 am by the time he told me this.
I started dancing at Space Virgins about 11:00. Danced there for about 30 minutes, and then decided I had better walk my friend back to her camp, seeing as how, for one reason and another, she was not going to be able to find it on her own. I got back to dancing around midnight, and did not stop until 3:30 am when the party shut down (Space Virgins is not a RAVE camp... the RAVES run all night). I was nicely inebriated during this time, though not incapacitated. (The guy I was talking to commented on how much I was drinking, and I told him to watch while I danced... I never spilled a drop.. which could mean that I had not yet had nearly enough [grin]). This night I was totally getting off on the sound... both hearing it and feeling it. I will neither confirm, nor deny any other kind of chemical enhancement supplied in addition to alcohol.
At about 4:00 am I went off to sleep until the sun baked me out of my tent. It was a good night. I'll be looking for Space Virgins in the future.. I want to hit that party up again!!!
Time Lapse Photography
I was pretty pleased with the pictures I took the year before so I decided to try my hand at some more of them this year. One night I took a tripod and camera out and would set it up where something dynamic was going on, and open the shutter. I timed my exposures very precisely, by counting. Sometimes I'd lose count. Sometimes I'd get distracted and stop counting. As you can tell, I was very careful to get just the right exposure.
Okay.. I was clueless about how much time to give these shots. I couldn't even recall from the year before what the aperture settings should be. I set up the camera and winged it.
How did it turn out? Judge for yourself. Here is a picture of Center Camp. I think it looks amazing. The beams of light that were coming from the top of the tent and the colors in and around it look like they look when you are actually there. They don't turn out like that in "normal" pictures. This one includes some of the "traffic" that passed in front of the camera while the exposure was going on... Looks great.
In this picture, a fire dancer becomes nothing but a ball of flame as the path of the fire exposed the film. A shorter exposure reveals the person inside the flames.
Here is a picture of the Kaleidosphere .. which I describe elsewhere. You can't see the different colored patches because the sphere rotates while the exposure happens. An art car passed in front of the camera just as I clicked the shutter closed. Looks great. Oh, and the thing to the left that looks like fire works going off is actually colored "noodles" (the swimming pool toy) on top of an art car shaped like a human head. I believe this shows up in other pictures as well.
This is my favorite picture of the lot (other than the Center Camp pictures)... It looks like one of those scientific charts that explains the expansion of the universe after the big bang. Burning Man is it's own sort of Big Bang, and this picture just reminds me of that..
My Art Project
This year I wanted to really contribute something to Burning Man. I believe in the philosophy that giving something to others gives back to you. So I pondered on what I could do... and came up with the idea of making some kind of item that I could give out. I thought about refrigerator magnets so people could have a bit of burning man up all the time.
Now, I'm not talking something huge here... and I don't have the equipment, time or money to work metal. But I've always had an interest in learning how to cast plastic (I have allot of interests in allot of things. If I had my life to live over I think I'd be doing art.) Anyway. I sat down with pen and paper and started sketching ideas out. The theme being Beyond Belief - I drew a picture of the man with angel wings on a background flame. A couple of versions of that and my mind was made up. That's what I wanted to do.
Now off to buy FIMO® clay. This is a polymer clay that you can work forever, and will only get hard when you bake it. I started making my design, and ran into a problem. The detail in the wings would not come out no matter how hard I tried to get it. The size was too small for the details to work out right. I tried several solutions including impressing metal wings, and pre-made insect wing molds - all to no avail. So, I decided to lose the wings. Oh well, it was looking kind of cool as it was.
The HARDEST thing to do was to put the YEAR into it. I just didn't have the ability to make numbers that small. I solved this problem by hitting the stationary store and buying a date stamp. I cut the rubber bands with the numbers on them. Cut out the numbers I needed, and pressed these into the FIMO so that they made an impression that would mold. This serves multiple purposes... 1) something with the year on it is way cooler than something without and 2) I'm now forced to be creative again for the next burn. Can't be using the same design again.. grin.
Next I baked it - over baked it actually - which turned out to be a good thing. If you over-bake FIMO® it will "melt" some. This makes the somewhat non-flat back turn completely flat against the baking tray. Which was great when it came to making the mold. Another problem solved by accident.
After baking.. came more carving. The flame lines didn't seem deep enough to really show. Now, I still have yet to mold a single bit of plastic, and I really didn't know the "duplicating" capabilities of my medium. But they just didn't look good enough. A couple of hours with an Exacto knife, and it looked ready to go.
Now to make molds. I had made a latex mold once before so decided to use this again. Latex comes in a liquid form. You simply brush it on in thin layers, letting each layer dry, and over time you will build up a rubber mold of the object. It doesn't take allot of time to coat the object each time, but you have to do it plenty of times and wait for it to dry, so each mold took allot of work. All in all I made about 8 latex molds, and then started looking for something better.
SILICON !!!! It's about this time I discovered a store called TAP PLASTICS. They have a bunch of outlets in California, and sell a silicon mold making kit. Hum... never tried it before. Let's give it a whirl.
Now, the instructions make a big deal about getting the mixture ratio's just right between the two chemicals. 10 to 1 if by volume, 9 to 1 if by weight. I didn't need to mix much and didn't have a scale so I tried to be real careful about getting the volumes right. Next, the secret to a good silicon mold is getting the air bubbles out - which you can do with a vacuum chamber. WHO THE HELL HAS A VACUUM CHAMBER !!!! The other way is to let the silicon stream into the mold from a height of 36 inches - basically, put the liquid in a cup with a hole in the bottom side - let it pour out of the hole, and put the model on the floor 36 inches below. The skinny stream will burst any bubbles in the silicon before they get to the model. Okay. Will do.
My first mold turned out FANTASTIC. The original popped out so easily, and the mold itself was accurate and flexible. And, because it was poured into a small container containing the original, had a flat back that the latex molds did not have - making the pouring of plastic so much easier later.
Eventually I got so used to working with the silicon that I no longer even needed to measure the 2 components anymore... just mix till it looked like the right color and pour. I made about 12 silicon molds. (The part that scared my wife was that, as I got so into it, I started looking around at other things to make molds of. She told me to back off when I started eyeing the cat. - I was exiled to the garage for the duration.).
Now, I had already started mixing and pouring Plastic Resin in the latex molds. You can by this stuff at hobby stores, but it was tons cheaper at TAP plastics. This stuff is vicious. The fumes are like magnified model glue (anyone remember that?) and it will stick to skin real well. I walked around for weeks with plastic stuck to my finger tips (and on my mouse, keyboard, etc. at work). But you get used to working with it as well.
The problem I had was that everything I made came out "tacky"... had a sticky surface that took forever to "cure". I laid them out to "dry" but no matter how long I laid them out, they would stick to one another when put in a box. I sought advice on this, and was told to change the ratio of plastic to catalyst, but no matter what, the tackiness continued. Eventually I spread these things out and coated them with a layer of sealer, but never really found a solution to the problem.
So, how did they turn out. GREAT!!! I was really please with the way these things looked. The plastic is clear, but I immediately started adding dyes, and sparkle, and tints to the mix to achieve different effects with the results. I found iridescent fabric dyes that created a very cool effect when added to the plastic. Even the solid opaque colors looked great. Here are the pictures. Here. Here.. and Here.
It took about 3 weeks for these things to become "untacky" enough to be usable... so I had to stop molding them long before heading to the playa. I had made about a thousand of them and I realized that I didn't want to spend the amount of money I'd have to spend on magnets for these to go up on refrigerators. Then it dawned on me that I could drill a hole in them and wear them as jewelry. It took me a couple of hours with a dremel to drill holes in them to thread ribbon and leather string through them to make them into pendants.
Once I got to the Playa I started handing these out.. not all at once, but throughout the week. And in different ways. Sometimes I would just walk up to someone and gift them. Sometimes I gave them to people who I thought really gave something to Burning Man (I dropped a bag of them off at Space Virgins). Sometimes I left them in places to be "found" objects that someone could take home never knowing where it came from. One camp (at 3:00 just off the Esplanade) had set up a "gift exchange" box - a lot of small compartments where you could leave something and take something - all on the honor system. I hit that every night after I found it and left 4 or 5 there.
There are a couple of stories this giving engendered... Here is my favorite:
One night when I was heading out to the man I rode up to a group of 3 people walking to the man in the dark. They had no light on them, and it was apparent they were new to the experience by the way they were dressed. I stopped, offered them some light sticks for safety, and then opened my bag of goodies and told them each to take 2 - 1 to keep and one to gift further. This group of 3 people had traveled.. 2 from Australia and 1 from England to come to Burning Man. It was their first night there, having just arrived a few hours before. In return for my gift they offered me a set of Buddha beads which one of them tried to fit over my hand - unfortunately the string broke and the beads went flying.
Now, this might sound stupid to anyone who doesn't get it.. but the instant these beads when flying all 3 of these BRAND NEW BURNERS said, "Oh NO. MOOP!!!" This touched me more than anything as these folks from halfway around the planet came to this event and really took to heart what it was all about.. Having fun and leaving no trace. We all scrambled to pick up the beads by flashlight, and they gave me another bracelet that I attached to my backpack. These were really nice people, and I hope they enjoyed their experience and come back..
Another time I was taking time lapse photo's at Center Camp when this cluster of "young ladies" stumbled in front of the camera, noticed it, and started to apologize. I told them it's not a problem as moving objects won't get captured in the picture unless they stand there for a while. I then handed them a couple of my things. At which point one of them throws her arms around me, kisses me on the cheek and says "I LOVE YOU." I thought to myself.. "Tell me that again in 4 years when you are legal and SOBER.", the smell of alcohol being quite strong and her age being quite young. They happily went on their way with their new prizes.
Another time I was out by the Man. I don't remember how it happened, but I struck up a conversation with a Ranger. Ranger Beauty was her name and she had quite a swag collection. (Swag being slang for the kind of stuff you can accumulate at Burning Man.. i.e. what I was handing out was "swag"). In fact she was known for her swag collection. I gave her one of my things and she was quite please to add it to her collection.
Then, in one of those Burning Man coincidences, Ranger Beauty showed up later that same day at Poly Paradise (where I camp) to perform wedding ceremony. This is Ranger Beauty performing the ceremony.
I had fun doing this. I learned allot about how to make a new kind of art object. And I'm looking forward to doing it again. If I can make 3,000 then I can give them out to 10% of the people who come to Burning Man... that would be fun.
Giant Skee Ball
Actually, this was officially called the "First Church of Skee Ball" where you could play giant skee ball for the salvation of your soul. This art installation just off the Esplanade consisted of a tower, a skee ball ramp, and a landing zone with 3 targets. You climbed the tower. Hoisted up a bowling ball via pulley and bucket. Put the bowling ball at the top of the skee chute. Let it roll and took aim on your target. The chute had handles and could be moved while the ball rolled to aim. A pretty darn amusing interpretation of an old popular game. (So why exactly is it that things get funnier when they are either under or over sized... what is automatically funny about that? And why does this rule not apply to breasts? Hummm... )
The Swimming Hole
The description of this bit of art was as follows: "No Diving by Linda Graveline: Underneath an open pyramid structure a swimming pool beckons. Participants can relax in deck chairs and watch the swimmers frolic."
So you are walking around in the dark.. and you come to this little open framed white pyramid. And people are standing around it looking down at the ground underneath. There is a little platform under the pyramid and a hole in the platform. And when you look into the hole, you are looking down into a swimming pool that seems to exist just underground of the playa. And there are people constantly swimming back and forth under the water. None of them ever break the surface, so the illusion of the surface being right there is never lost. They just appear from the side.. and disappear at another side. Some stop.. change directions. Some stop and seem to look back out at you standing there in the desert. It's like an oasis in the dark and so inviting it's surprising someone didn't actually try to dive in.
There is a website by the artist with some of the images and video used to create this at: http://www.bank-art.com/graveline/nodiving/index.html
I think I watched for half an hour.. and it didn't appear to me to be looping.. just different swimmers going by and the surface of the water looking so inviting. I enjoyed this one plenty.
Lasers and Jabberwocky Puppets
One night while dancing at one of the rave camps these puppeteers walked up with some really great puppets.
Okay.. set the scene. This rave camp had a large stage with some huge (I mean HUGE) speakers on each side of it. The mix was pretty good and the large crowd had allot of energy (though there was a pretty big gawker layer on the outside... It's the crowd of people you have to break through in order to get to where the dancing is taking place. A lot of it is made up of guys watching the "chicks". I find these people a nuisance ... participate or get out of the way, dog.). On one side of this stage, at least, they had a laser set up that was doing various things to the music. Lasers look great at Burning Man thanks to the huge amount of dust in the air. You don't have to throw up fake smoke to see the beams.. they are plenty visible. These green lasers are putting on quite a show and people a loving dancing under them. They shot out into the desert, and you could see them all the way across the playa.
So these two guys walk up ... puppeteers, as I said. And their puppets are 16 feet tall... these giant evil looking Jabberwocky like monsters with skull like heads and kind of gauzy cloth making up the body. The puppets are supported on long poles. The poles for the arms end in these skeletal hands that appear to reaching and grasping... at the other end the poles are attached to the guys shoes, so that by moving their feet up and down (like dancing) the hands move around. The head and body are on another long pole held in their hands so that they can make it swoop down and appear to reach for the crowd.
These really magical, fierce looking creatures come walking up out of the darkness into the laser light, which is strobing, and dance with the crowd, swooping and grasping, looking like death incarnate come to snatch the life away from some poor reveler. With a little imagination it could have been a scene from Dante's Inferno with a devil tormenting the souls writhing around it. (I don't need drugs to come up with this stuff either. Mostly I just squint my eyes let the brain wander where it will go!!!) Hope these guys come back.. it's fun to dance with the devil.
Walking around Black Rock City early in the week I came to a large black tent structure on the arm of the "C" east of the man. It was in the area reserved for "rave" camps, but didn't look like your typical rave camp. A big pseudo-stone arch out front declared it to be Xara... and I walked in.
The inside was great!!! There were black lights all over, and someone had gone to the trouble of making hundreds of cool flowers and plants out of paper that glowed vibrant colors under these lamps. Wandering around there were lots of nooks and crannies for people to chill in, and in the middle was a nicely sized dance floor and a nice mix of music going. It definitely looked like a place to come back and check out again when things got jumping.
Being tired I decided to sit and relax a while on one of the benches/stages that were all over. Sitting down, the carpet on top felt damp. When I reached down to feel it I got a shock. It was grass. Living, fresh grass. The whole place was covered in grass. I had thought it was just carpet of some sort until I sat on it. This was amazing.
I found out later that it cost $10,000 to get that grass out to the Playa.. talk about a contribution. When I went back to Xara at night, the place was so jumping that you couldn't even get in... so I did my dancing elsewhere. But it was cool relaxing in the grass early in the week before everyone discovered the place. And it made a nice refuge from a dust storm for Darlene and I when we were out playa wandering. By the end of the week.. that grass was pretty well flat and dead.... sigh..
Here is a link to the Xara Project if you want to see more of the whole thing... http://www.xaraproject.org/
The Man and the Temple of Honor are burned on two different nights. They are two very different events.
The Man Burns
The burn of the man is a loud, rowdy, affair. A celebration. This year they did not to the parade of flame vehicles, but they seemed to have even more fire dancers this year than last. And they went on forever. (I heard people expressing the opinion that perhaps it was going on too long... in less kind terms.)
An addition, this year was a beating neon heart inside the man. This heart was, apparently, connected to some drummers who were beating out the tempo of the man's heart rate. You could hear the drums and see the heart, and know they were working together, one way or the other. And then the man raised his arms. Or tried too. The arms raised.. The crowd yelled. Then the left arm fell. It stayed lit. It started to rise again. Then it collapsed again and the lights went out (to the loud collective groan of the crowd.)
The burn started with a huge gas explosion! Several of them in fact, all at once around the man. You've seen these in movies. An explosion followed by a huge ball of flame that climbs up into the air. This was spectacular. A blast of heat hit the entire crowd of some 28,000 all at once (I'm guessing at the crowd size.. but knowing there were 30,000 people at Burning Man, and that this is the big event there, I'm probably close to right.). The real screaming began.
Then came the fireworks. And I learned a lesson. My first year I was up-wind of the man, and the whole thing was great. This year, on purpose, I did not go completely up-wind, but more to the side. Next year - Get up wind, because smoke will quickly obscure what is going on. I guess this is the reason I liked the fireworks from the first year better... (though those gas explosions .. wow).
The large base the man stood on was filled with hay and caught fire quickly. This fire was HUGE compared to last years, the building being so much larger. Given the size of the fire it was amazing how long the man stood before finally collapsing. You can see in this picture that the entire outside of the building is gone, and that the structural elements are being consumed, but the man still stands.
I did not get a picture of the man falling.. I think I just stopped shooting for a while, wanting to enjoy the size of this fire. It was so big that even as far back as we were the heat was starting to get intense. When the man collapsed there was not the usual rush to get close to the flames. They were still too large. Much of the building was still standing, and we all hung back and watched as parts of it collapsed. The crowd did not move in until it was essentially flat.
The Temple Burns
The burn of the Temple of Honor was a solemn occasion. As the crowd gathered anyone who was started shouting was shushed by the people around them. Vehicles that pulled up with loud music were (fairly) quickly shut down. Everyone had too much emotional investment in the Temple to treat this as something to celebrate.
Last year and this, the Temple served as Burning Man's memorial space. People create items to remember loved ones, and place them on or in the temple to be burned when the temple goes up. In nearly every picture of the temple you can see people writing on the walls.. their own private messages from the heart. Some of these are silly.. some of them are touching. All of them mean something to someone.
Given this, the Burn of the Temple means that most of the people in the crowd are thinking thoughts of loved ones.. past and present.. and the rowdiness just seems to disappear. (Also, the Temple is burned the night after the man, and the non-diehard Burning Man people have already started packing up and leaving thinking that with the burn of the man it's all over.)
There are no fireworks.. just small procession that goes in and lights the pile of debris in the middle. Then, in silence, the crowd watches the building burn.
I've never seen fire look like this before. There are places in the temple where there were solid "roof" surfaces. I'd seen pictures of flames on a ceiling, but never in real life. The movie BACKDRAFT showed this as I recall. It's amazing to see in real life.. you can understand how fire can be a thing of beauty.
I've also never seen fire like I saw around the columns of the temple. Streaks of fire around the columns looked like lightning that was cracking around and up and down the columns. The sheets of flame so thin and bright that lightning is the only word I can use to describe it.. only it continued on and on.. and wasn't gone in an instant. It was as if someone had bottled electricity.. this is what it would look like behind the glass.
I don't recall anything else about the burn.. How long it took.. what the crowd did when it collapsed. I was lost in my own thoughts as were many people. It's an experience that borders on the religious. I think everyone should experience it. Then again.. maybe everyone does at some point or another.
This was a very emotional experience for me this time. I found that afterwards it is easy to be alone in a desert at night... even with people all around.
Biking vs. Walking
This year I brought a bike to Burning Man. My first year I did not have a bike and had to walk everywhere. I learned that the experience changes when you have a bike as opposed to when you are walking.
As with a car, when you are on a bike you are more of a spectator. You can ride along the Esplanade, and only the largest things will catch your eye. Because you only spend a few seconds in one place you miss things that might only happen intermittently. At least, this was my perception - your mileage may vary. I felt like a spectator on my bike. I MUCH preferred walking when I was moving around in the city (unless I had to be someplace in a hurry, like, my shift at PlayaInfo was starting and I had just woke up. Then the bike was a necessity.
Now, when it came to visiting the PLAYA. A bike is almost a necessity. I was able to decide to visit a place on the playa, and know it was not going to take me a half hour to get there. When I walked last year I never made it out to the "duck" bar, because it was just too far to go beyond the Temple. This year, if I could see something, I could go there, and know I wasn't investing the whole day in the process. I could get out to the playa, have a good time, and still be back in time for the HCW. As far as the playa is concerned, you need a bike.
As far as the burns go... The best thing to do is to walk to them anyway. I walked to the burn of the Man, and rode to the burn of the Temple. After the temple burn I had a hell of a time finding my bike again... let's see, I could swear it was over here, but maybe it was over there.. or wait.. was it the third lamp post of the forth... damn. I think next year I'll walk to both burns.
I had a headlight on my bike.. that quite working the first night. So I ended up holding this flat flash light in one hand... which actually worked pretty well since I could change the direction (elevation) of the light when I needed to (like when I thought I was going to run into some unlit bit of art on the playa). Still, it was easier to walk at night, and I'll probably stick to walking next year when I head out to dance.
Conclusion: I've rambled on enough. I think a bike is great when you want to get somewhere fast, but I think that walking lets you interact more with everything you see, and lets you see more when you are within the Black Rock City limits.
Space Virgins was one hell of an impressive camp. Someone recreated the facade of the Parthenon in Athens on the playa. Here - Compare them... The REAL Parthenon - The Playa Parthenon. Pretty damn good job eh... Having visited the real Parthenon I found this doubly impressive. 8 Columns in the same style - to scale in spacing and size (note: not one to one scale.. this one was smaller). And the playa Parthenon had a full roof, unlike the real Parthenon. Also like the real Parthenon, the Elgin Marbles (which I have also seen in the British Museum) were missing from the frieze - but happily, they were replaced with a dance space where people could climb stairs to the top of the facade and dance for the crowd below. Some nice shows went on there. (Perhaps this is what the Greeks should do since the Brits will probably never return the Elgin Marbles to them... grin)
When you entered the center of the Parthenon, you went down a tent tunnel to an awesome chill space. A center fountain surrounded by pillow, cushions and interesting art on the walls. This space was quite large (tall) and able to accommodate 30 or so people easily. When I first came in, two young ladies were having sex off on one side.. several people were sleeping, and others were just sitting around talking or making out. I took a nap here for while since it was cool and relatively quiet.
On the night of the party there was a bar set up to one side of the tunnel with a very efficient and friendly bar staff and plenty of booze.
I must say, that the Space Virgins people seemed really nice. A great group of people and the winners of my vote this year for the best place to dance and hang.
Good layout photo here and their own webpage is here.
Monument to All Religions
One of the most beautiful and moving art pieces on the playa was also one of the most delicate. During the day there was almost nothing to it. You could walk right past it and not notice that it was there. During the day it appeared to be a circle of round tables, each with a symbol for one of the world's religions painted on it in black. Above each one was a circle with a symbol on it in a disk that was suspended from a series of wires that ran from a central pole. The wires were white and hard to see. In the harsh sunlight these disks cast well focused shadows on the ground - so that the shadows formed another circle of religious symbols that moved during the day with the sunlight. The round tables were low, suitable for sitting on. The whole thing looked like a tent with no cover. Every religion was represented - with two tables set aside, one saying "All religions that have been forgotten" and one saying "For all the religions yet to be created." - So I'd say it covered them all.
And that was it.. during the day. I am so glad that I discovered this at night, since, if I had seen it during the day I might not have gone back to it at night.
At night it was glorious. All the guy wires that made up the structure were light with E.L. wire. And each of the symbols suspended in the air was outlined in EL wire. In the dark these looked great, and the benches gave you a nice place to sit and look up at the symbols floating 20 feet off the ground. As I said, for me it was beautiful and moving. It was a fantastic place to sit at night... watch the Unfortunately, I had no camera the night I discovered this, and have no pictures to share. If I find some I will share them in the future.
Ever had the experience of seeing something and not knowing what it was.. so you look and you look.. and suddenly is snaps in to place and you suddenly recognize it. That happened to me with the chandelier. I saw an art installation a ways out there past the Temple of Honor and so started riding toward it. As I got closer I could see that it was big, but not what it was. I kept getting closer, and kept looking at it and it just seemed to be some kind of meaningless sculpture. Then SNAP. Oh My GOD, it's a giant chandelier that has fallen from the ceiling. The whole thing stood maybe 25 feet high. there were broken bulbs and bits of "glass" as if it had hit the desert floor at speed. There was even the ceiling fixture, still attached by a chain to the chandelier and some of the plaster backing from the ceiling that had broken away when it fell. It was like suddenly being a mouse looking at a giant human artifact (that would get the scale about right too).
Apparently this was light up at night, though I never made it out that far in the dark. Here is a picture gleaned from another web page (here and here) of the chandelier lit up in the dark. If you want to learn more about this art project you can read about it, and the people who made it here.
An excellent picture of the chandelier, including the ceiling fixture can be found at http://davepics.com/Album/San_Francisco/2003-08-25.Burning_Man/tn/dsc01410.jpg.htmland here
This was a great piece of art - one of the best on the playa in terms of execution and how it fit the theme - It really was Beyond Belief.
The House of Cards
The official description of the House of Cards is as follows: "Temple of Chance A House of Cards by Lewis Zaumeyer Out on the playa a structure recognizable yet unbelievable exists in a Colossal scale - a house of cards designed to encourage serendipitous interaction by those who approach and enter the temple of chance. Visit the four exquisitely appointed playing rooms on the ground level and explore the metaphysical meaning of each suit of cards. Sit in on an impromptu card game or grab one of the commemorative decks and start your own game. Visit the central Hall of Royals and go to the second level where you can give or receive a tarot reading in one of the four rooms of the Jokers. Step out on the second level observation deck or climb the stair tower to the third level deck and view the surreal sites of the playa and city. You've really nothing to lose; perhaps the odds will be in your favor. Contact: archideaz (at) aol (dot) com"
The house of cards was a large building - as big as many houses - that was dedicated to Chance. The outside was made up of panels, each painted to look like a playing card. You entered the house by slipping between the cards. Inside there were a number of rooms with table set out for the playing of games - mostly card games. There were also cards painted on the inside of the house as well. A central stair case led to the second floor with more rooms dedicated to gift exchanges, games and enjoying the view of the playa. Outside the "house of cards" were large balls covered in playing cards. (This particular photo shows the balls prior to being covered in cards.) Whoever built this must have bought hundreds of decks of cards to supply the house and for pasting to the balls.
It was a great shady place on the playa to get away from the heat and take a break. And, from other comments I've read, was hard to burn, but once lit, burned well...
Here is a great photo by Avi Smith (avicio (at) yahoo.com) and here
The Flag Sea
Just east of the House of Cards, someone had set up a sea of orange and green flags. Nothing very special about this from a distance, but if you went inside the circle of flags you realized what they were trying to achieve. Within the circle the wind whipping at all those flags made a sound like .. water flowing or a water fall tumbling. It was very soothing. (Maybe someday I'll take a tape recorder to Burning Man, because sometimes the sounds are as important as the sights.)
While riding through this I came upon two young ladies who had sat themselves in the shadow of a couple of flags and were painting. They told me that they were friends who loved to paint together, but never got time to do it in the "normal" world. Burning Man was their big opportunity to share their creative pass time with each other... I kinda liked that. Naturally I shared mine with them as well.
The Wholly Burger
I had seen an advertisement for the Wholly Burger, and it sure made me hungry. Then one day, Darlene and I found it. There it was. Plump, Juicy, One Hundred Percent Beef WHOLLY BURGER. Darlene could not resist taking a big bite. Inside the Burger was a shrine to the Gods of Fast Food and Convenience. A peaceful place where one could read and contemplate the Wholly Burger Prayer. It goes like this:
To our Wholly Burger
We gather here to give thanks
for your selfless guidance.
Many lost souls
have turned to you and found there Way
via the drive-thru.
Your divine Wisdom
has shoWn us that We don't have to Wait
for that Which We desire
We can have it, and more,
You have taught us that
the present is What matters,
and more importantly,
that the future is for others to Worry about.
We can rest assured,
that over-indulgence is OK.
and that if others don't appreciate us for Who We are,
it is their loss.
We no longer struggle With individuality
and travel through life With confidence,
knoWing that everything Will be the same
at the next exit.
Thanks to you,
our Wholly Burger,
for giving us a World
Where everything is faster, cheaper, and exactly the same.
Please help us to remain string,
When there is a glitch in the system,
or When that Which We need is temporarily
Please be there for us
and help us to adapt When We face challenges such as
depleted soil, mad coW disease, dried up oil fields, empty fisheries
and acid rain.
Last but not least,
Please look doWn upon those
Who have not yet see the light,
and shoW them hoW
can change their lives
24 hours a day.... W
A good picture of this can be found at http://davepics.com/Album/San_Francisco/2003-08-25.Burning_Man/tn/dsc01401.jpg.html and here
I went by this several times while it was being constructed. I didn't know what these people were up to, except that they sure needed a lot of flat space.
Then one night walking by they finally finished it, and I had to laugh. They had built a roller rink and had hundreds of pairs of skates that people could "rent" with which to go skating. They were also pumping out some loud music to skate too. I wonder where they came up with this crazy idea.. where they got the skates, and how hard it was to haul all that out there. Another Beyond Belief if you ask me.
Okay. Bollywood was the coolest space on the Esplanade in terms of total overall theme.
If you don't know what Bollywood is in the "real" world... well, where have you been? Bollywood is the term used to describe the Indian movie industry. This particular industry is almost as large as Hollywood and cranks out tons of pictures each year for the Indian audience. India, being one of the most populous countries on earth can support LOTS of movies every year. I don't know the exact percentage, but a lot of these are musicals. And if you've never seen a Bollywood Musical production.. you don't know what your are missing. Forget that you can't understand the words... It's irrelevant. The spectacle is like the old Busby Berkley musicals in America, but much more frenetic and colorful. (If you want to see an example of a Bollywood Musical number in a movie made for the American audience - see the movie "THE GURU" - a comedy about an Indian dance instructor who comes to America to make his fortune as a star and ends up "accidently" working in a porn movie. Don't worry. It's G-rated. Academy Award Winner, Marisa Tomei (best supporting actor in MY COUSIN VINNY) gives a great performance, and actress Heather Graham is extremely cute as a porn star trying to live a double life, and passing on her "wisdom" to the poor Indian visitor. This is a very funny movie... go rent it.)
Okay.. now you know what Bollywood is (GO WATCH THAT MOVIE)...
The Bollywood camp was pretty darn large. Above it all was a large sign that said "BOLLYWOOD" as if it were the Hollywood hills signs of universal fame. There was.. from left to right..
An Indian decorated chill space in a tent. (Called "The Casting Couch") Comfortable chairs and lots of pillows in a dimly lit area nice for lazing or making out.
A set of "prayer wheels"... These artful contraptions looked like normal prayer wheels, except that they had many vertical slits in them. If you spun the wheel and looked through the slits as they passed by your eye, you would see and animation/cartoon playing on the inside of the prayer wheel. (And if you don't know what a regular prayer wheel is... you need to get out more.) This was particularly amusing because it jived so nicely with the two themes of the camp... MOVIES and RELIGION (or BEYOND BELIEF). Someone put allot of thought into this.
A dance space backed by a large movie . On this screen (also here) was constantly playing dance sequences for various Bollywood films. These film sequences seemed to go really well with the music that was being played... sometimes the music was straight from the film.. and sometimes it was trance as offered at many other Burning Man locations. It was a large space with a stage for those who wanted to dance right in front of the screen. Watching the show was fun. Dancing was fun. The whole effect was fun.
Another tent with a smaller chill space.
They had a party there one night called "Shiva Las Vegas" (see this picture) that I apparently missed.. darn it.
If you want to see all the Bollywood pictures from the group that made them, click here. Note: This is the same group of people that managed to turn porto-potties into Easter Island Heads last year... hehehe
Barbie Death Camp
Barbie Death Camp is just an oddly themed group of pretty friendly people. I was invited to have some wine, but declined. Wine is just not my drink, even medicinally.. sigh. The Barbies at Barbie Death Camp are crucified, made to perform sex acts, and sent to the ovens en-masse. The whole thing is a tasteless parody of the Nazi Death Camps.. right down to the slogan "Arbeit Macht Plastique Frei" - which is a play on the sign that hung over the entrance to Auschwitz - "Arbeit Macht Frei" (trans: Work will make you free.)
Then again... tastelessness is no barrier to anything at Burning Man.
Past the Temple... Past the Giant Urinal on its Side (Okay.. that's what it looked like in the day, and it was called Johnny on the Spot.). There was this giant harp - like an angels hand held harp. I was lit up using that rope light you can buy at Home Depot, and looked pretty insubstantial.
In front of it was a flat panel with step on controls for making music with the harp. Like those dance games you've seen in the arcades (and if you have not seen them, you need to get out and see what young people are doing today - lol - and if this commentary lasts, then you need to get out and visit the arcade museum to see what young people once did). Anyway, there was an instruction sheet on how to step on the "controls" to create notes and chords with the harp. As the notes played, the strings you "plucked" with your feet would light up. Pretty much, regardless of how you stepped on this it would create a pleasing sound. Almost Heavenly (hehe).
Alice in Wonder Lounge
If you read last years commentary (which you should, because that's were I really make an attempt to explain what Burning Man is all about) I mention a place where I had a very good time with a nice bunch of people. Alice in Wonder Lounge. I had forgotten to look up their location before going to the playa this year, so was clueless where or even IF they would be there again this year.
Well, this one night I had gone dancing.. and was fully inebriated already and walking a back street (sort of walking anyway) to get back to my camp to collapse, when I see a familiar set of lights laid out on the ground. The circle of chasing lights - a miniature of the lights around the man. Wait.. fuzzy thinking.. Wonder Lounge had those out last year.. I wonder. I stumble into this camp and up to an obvious bar and ask.. "HEY.. DO YOU KNOW WHERE WONDER LOUNGE IS?" (I was probably loud.. ). Yes, they exclaimed.. This is it.
Again.. a very friendly group of people a nice space (more open this year), and very free flowing booze. The guy tending bar helped me finish off my flask of Jack D. and then we started in on their supply of alcohol. This guy in particular was VERY friendly.. oh well.. take it as a compliment and say no thanks. () The whole thing was a very good time. (though no drums this year).
Now, to tell the truth.. I was falling down drunk when I came IN to Wonder Lounge. By the time I left.. I was completely clueless. I had no idea you could even GET that blitzed. The walk home was a challenge (though, since I tend to be a very happy kind of drunk, the challenge is fun). And when I got to my tent it was all I could do to just fall in...
I did some more drinking later in the week.. but that night swore me off getting too far gone.
AZ Burners Camp Space
One night I heard there was going to be a party at the Arizona Burner's tent, and that I should go check it out. I was told I couldn't miss it because there was a 25 foot replica of the man standing in the center of the tent.
Now... away from the Esplanade, Black Rock City can be pretty damn dark. There's lot's of light in various tented spaces.. but there's not allot of light in the back streets for things like street signs and such. You have to navigate by knowing the layout of the city and counting streets as you pass them to know where you are. I had a Dickens of a time finding this place, but, sure enough, when I got close it was easy to find.. well lit, and a large man inside. A really remarkable re-creation.
The music was good and the booze was free and friendly. This looked like a nice group of people, though pretty much all I did was enjoy the space and dance a bit.
Lessons Learned - What to take
Okay, everyone has lists of what you should and should not take to the playa. Water - Take it.. lots of it. Feather Boa - DON'T take it; the feathers will blow off and be all over the desert. And sometimes by just enduring something you think, "Gosh, I sure wish I had ______ now!". This happened to me.
As I described earlier, I was at the Temple of Honor when a HUGE dust storm blew up. Now, I was done what I wanted to do there, and really wanted to leave.... but I had no clue which direction to start heading. I could not see further than 15 feet - sometimes less than 10. I knew that if I just went south I'd run into Black Rock City eventually and could then find my way home. But I didn't know which way SOUTH was. So I was stuck at the Temple of Honor for nearly 3 hours until I could make out the "street lamps" leading to the city.
So... lesson learned; In your back pack carry WATER, TOILET PAPER (single ply), LIGHT STICKS, SNACKS & A COMPASS.
Oh... Another lesson learned. In terms of light sticks - the 8 inch flexible light sticks are more useful in general than the 6 inch stiff light sticks. The 8 inchers can be wrapped around and attached to different objects where a stiff one cannot. Put a bunch of these on your bike and you will be seen, and have less trouble finding it in the dark. Plus... dollar for dollar, they are cheaper than the larger ones.
Now, the small 1 inch ones were good to tape BEHIND the pendants that I made for my art project. This made them glow in the dark, which was kind of nice. Depending on the theme I might try to incorporate these into my next design somehow so that I can just insert them and skip the tape.
Death at Burning Man
The back of your ticket warns you that you are responsible for your own safety and that death is a possibility. Tragically, someone did die this year at Burning Man. A young woman, at her first ever burn, was attempting to leave and art car while it was in motion. Slowly moving, but still in motion. She lost her footing and fell to the playa. From what I heard the fall killed her when she struck her head on the ground. (People don't realize that this is not a desert with sand... the ground here is as hard as cement.) After she fell she was run over by a trailer carrying equipment that was towed behind the art car. Apparently there was nothing anyone could do.
There was an investigation by the police. The driver of the art car took an alcohol test and was negative. No behavior could be found that contributed to the death of this girl. It was just a tragic accident.
My friend Darlene and I passed this group of people, including this young woman, earlier in the evening. There was a whole camp (The I'm Okay, You're Okay Corral)... about 60 people.. all dressed in wedding gowns (yes, the guys too), and all piling onto one of the double decker art buses (though not this one) to drive out and "marry the man". This girl was part of this group. The group went and had their ceremony at the Man, then came back to change into more appropriate desert night clothes. They went out again to visit camps and art installations. About 2 a.m. as they were passing the Temple of Honor, this young lady decided to get off to visit the temple. The vehicle was still in motion, and she lost her footing.
Her name was Katherine Lampman. She was a student at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. She was 21.
The night Darlene and I went out walking together.. seeing the sights and enjoying each other's company we decided to right the Merry-Go-Round. No pictures, but someone had built a couple of wonderful, adult size, human powered, Merry-Go-Rounds. You waited in line to get on. To get on you chose a bench and climbed in... over the outer edge of the device. Your feet would dangle down and touch the ground. And when everyone was ready you all started pushing.. like Fred Flintstone's car. Once the thing got going, it didn't need much energy at all to keep moving and was a nice relaxing ride. A good walking break (and a little like Playa-Go-Round... hum.. what is it about going around in circles that people seem to love so much).
The Flame Tornado
Apparently there were 2 flame tornados on the playa. One was called the Pillar of Fire.. but I never saw it in operation. It was this device with 4 huge fans positioned at the cardinal directions but not pointed directly at the center, but off a bit to create a vortex in the middle. Apparently when this was turned on and a large flame thrower engaged it was supposed to re-create what the Egyptians experienced while chasing Moses and his minions across the desert (or at least the movie recreation thereof).
The other was a smaller version completely encased in a large plexiglass tube about 3 feet in diameter. This was pretty nice when it got going. It had a fan at the bottom with slats to create a vortex, and a flame thrower in the middle The operator had a simple valve to control the size of the flames and would sit at the side just enjoying the show and the heat and passing the control on to others.
It would be fun to build one of these in the back yard !!! (hellava lot more fun than those dumb colored columns outside LAX)
Phone Home !!!!
In 2002 I had no way to get in touch with home. Cell phones do not work on the playa, and the nearest pay phone is a good 9 miles (and 2 hours - wait for the shuttle.. get on the shuttle.. ride the shuttle.. wait for the phone.. use the phone.. wait for the shuttle.. get on the shuttle.. get through the gate again... ride to center camp) away. As a result I was unable to speak to anyone in the outside world for the entire duration of my trip. This had some very negative consequences when I finally got within cell phone range of civilization.
This year, a member of our camp, who I will dub "THE IDIOT" (a moniker he wore with some pride) decided to invest in the rental of a satellite phone, if he could get enough people to help with the deposit and costs. I PAYPAL'd him $100 so that I could use the phone during the week to avoid any crisis situations as occurred the prior year.
I made 2 calls during the week. Each for about 5 minutes, just to be sure things were good.
During the week LOTS of people came to camp asking to use the phone for one reason or another. There was a charge, but only for the cost of the time used. There was no profit motive going on here (though some people on the playa loudly criticized the notion that someone would SELL time on a SAT phone ... Some people don't like the coffee or ice sales either.. go figure). I had no problem with this fitting in with the Burning Man philosophy... We did not advertise. We did not profit. We provided a service to people, some of who had legitimate need (ex. forgotten medication, checking on kids, etc.). And other people were providing phone service via the WiFi network that was set up by the Burning Man organization.
Our camp Idiot will be looking into WiFi phone for next year as the liability for damage/loss of the Sat Phone was pretty darn huge. And he had to stand there while people used the phone to make sure it didn't wander off an cost us a TON of money.
I mentioned the Kaleidosphere earlier. This is the second year that this particular structure was at Burning Man. It consists of a tower that you can climb to the top of via a set of ladders. Upon reaching the top of the tower you arrive at a platform that is encased in a geodesic globe. The panels of the globe are covered in various colored cellophane sheets. The globe is rotating clock-wise. Just outside this geodesic globe is another, larger globe, again covered in various colored sheets of cellophane, but rotating counter clock wise. Got the mental picture? If so, you can see why they call it the kaleidosphere. Basically, as you stand at the top of the tower, the globes rotate around you, and the colors of everything constantly change as the panels over-lap in front of you.
Nice picture here http://www.tbullock.com/images/bm/bm2003-Kaleidosphere-outside-l.jpg and here.
And a good couple of night pictures where you can see people inside here http://www.tbullock.com/images/bm/bm2003-Kaleidosphere-night-l.jpg and here.
In the time-lapse photos that I took, you can see the whole structure here.
Total attendance - 30,586
Number of patient visits reported by the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority - 2,011 (up 48% from previous year).
Visits for dehydration, sunburn, cracked skin and blisters - 577 (Read the warnings people!!! Water, Sunscreen and take care of your FEET!!!)
Visits for cuts and scrapes - about 400
Visits for extremity causes involving bruising or muscle strain - 200
Visits for drug and alcohol related treatments - 50 (up from 32 reported last year)
BLM to use BURNING MAN as the standard for all other desert users !!!!
Las Vegas Sun, October 30, 2003
BLM sets desert use standards based on Burning Man
By SANDRA CHEREB ASSOCIATED PRESS
RENO, Nev. (AP) - If 30,000 people can converge on Nevada's Black Rock Desert, build a temporary city, whoop it up for a week and leave no evidence they were there, then others should be held to the same standard, a federal land manager said Thursday. "As we expected, they just did an outstanding job in our estimation," David Cooper of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said of the cleanup by organizers of the annual Burning Man festival. So much so, he said, that the agency plans to hold other groups that apply for permits to use the playa to the same "leave no trace" threshold that Burning Man imposed on itself. "That was not always the case," said Cooper, BLM manager of the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area designated by Congress in 2000. The playa's stark vastness attracts rocket launchers, land-sailers, speed-record seekers, off-roaders and other adventurers, as well as those seeking to experience the moonscape solitude. Cleanup expectations are stipulated in permits when they are issued, Cooper said. "The end results should be a much better environment." Burning Man founder Larry Harvey was pleased with the BLM's findings and praise. "We've been working cooperatively with the BLM for 10 years," he said. "Every year we build a temporary city and everyone is urged to participate," he said. "It shows you what civic activism can accomplish. "We hope that other organizations around the world will follow our example and make a commitment to educating their participants about environmental impact and responsibility." This was the 13th year that thousands of people from around the world have attended the Burning Man Festival on the dry desert lake bed, a remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan. The weeklong countercultural festival in which just about anything goes gets its name from a giant wooden statute of a man that is torched on the final night. Cooper said the BLM inspected the Burning Man site Oct. 10, six weeks after the annual festival that culminates over Labor Day weekend. The site about 120 miles north of Reno will be inspected again in May to check for any lingering effects of the gathering after harsh winter weather.
A cool article I read after Burning Man
I read this article after Burning Man... I thought it said something good, so I'm including it here. Here is the original link
The norm is the malady
Slightly Off Center
by Dennis Hinkamp
More than 2 billion people worldwide didn't go to Burning Man this year, making it a smashing failure. Millions went to great lengths to avoid reading about it or seeing it on television as well. I and the 30,000 others who did attend represent an insignificant subset of the world population. Should you even care? Yes and no.
Naked people? Yes.
High cost? Yes.
You bring everything? Yes.
Less freakish than the California gubernatorial election and less dangerous than West Nile virus, it is still U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's nightmare. Burning Man continues to defy definition. The organizers can't even decide whether it should be called an "event" or a "festival."
Though it is getting to be a little expensive, it is still cheaper than three therapy sessions and the ensuing prescriptions, which should prompt the question -- isn't the price of being normal getting a bit excessive when normal is having a Home Depot and a Lowe's two blocks from each other and having an election system in which getting the most votes only gets you runner-up?
Burning Man is a normal city about the size of Logan that is built and destroyed within the span of about two weeks. Embrace the impermanence of art. It is the dustiest dance club you have ever been to; the hottest, driest parade ever; an art museum without windows, walls or velvet ropes.
Somehow, we still associate any sort of counterculture with hippies, drugs, sex and nudity while fundamentalism, repression, banal advertising and SUVs that double as military vehicles are normal. Burning Man is a result of forced normality more than of moral decay. It is the definition of "you had to be there," it is that sneaking feeling that you have that somewhere, that somehow other people are having more fun than you. Not anything goes so much as everything goes. It is not a place where you can do whatever you want but where you can do just about anything without worrying about what the neighbors will think because the neighbors are freakier than you by a long shot.
It is all about the heretic aesthetic. It is the part of us that needs to decorate. Even the tribes that had no need for clothes had to do something to separate and express themselves whether that was putting plates in their lips, bones in their noses or cutting their hair into a mullet. Of course free expression is never really free, but Burning Man is still one of the best attempts to give adults a playground. Adults need to play and this is one of the best places to do that without fear of someone telling you that you are not normal.
Sometimes you really do need to run off and join the circus; sometimes you need the anonymity. There are a lot of people in huge RVs with too much disposable income mixing well with dreadlocked white kids who think owning a drum makes them a musician. You decide who's normal.
Dennis Hinkamp is a freelance humor columnist living in Logan. He is among a number of freelance writers whose columns appear in The Herald Journal as part of an effort to expose readers to a variety of community voices. He is not an employee of the newspaper. He can be contacted at email@example.com.