by Fritz Liebhardt
I need it. Around me the world spins out of my control. I need it bad. He is sick, he is gone, the troubles of the family weigh upon me. I need to find it. To my right they are cutting down trees and flattening the hillside. To my left the big cement trucks are paving over the dirt track my kids used to ride bikes on. I gotta find it quick.
I look all around the house but it is not there. Maybe it’s in the studio. Not under the bed, not in the closet, not filed away with all the sketches, drawings, and abandoned projects. it’s on the drafting table. The big flat expanse of green linoleum splattered with paint and scored by countless knife cuts. The sturdy workbench used for more than 50 years. First it was my father’s, now its mine. it’s on the table; it’s in the table. If only I can find a way to get it out.
I turn on the lamps and tear a long strip of brown paper from the industrial sized dispenser. I cover the tabletop. A clean slate. I sit at the old bamboo barstool and stare at my new clean slate. Draw it stupid. Make it happen dummy. Get to work.
The first few lines are simple, just the essence of the Burning Man. Set at the top and to the side of the big brown sheet. There to keep me tuned in to the task at hand. I have to find it and he will, in some way, lead me. I stare. I wiggle. I play with my hair.
I look around the room as another earthmover rumbles past outside. On the wall hangs a scrap of plywood. A piece cut from an early sculpture that looks like a figure. I have used it in the past to stencil around a large box I shipped to Hawaii. The figure is somehow primitive and tribal, appealing to me. It reminds me of African carvings and Hawaiian petroglyphs. I see men dancing and spirits floating and sense a passage of time and space. I see skeletons doing a jig in a graveyard. Skeletons doing all sorts of things. Flyers flying, painters painting, singers singing. Great men and small men all giving something to the cumulative human experience. I see movement and color, a connection between the earth and the vaporous air. I see Skellavanes.
So I found it. My escape and gift and expression and salvation all in one. In The Skellavane: a project for Burning Man 2001. Simple enough to cut figures from plywood and cover them with holographic Mylar and light reflective colored tape. Bones and illustrations of lives past but still remembered. Simple enough to add rods and roller bearings and make them turn in the wind like wind vanes, flashing colors and ideas and spirits across the Playa. Simple Playa tech.
The hard part is coming up with the spirits, the men and women to illustrate, to honor, to remember. There are so many yet so few. The list is culled to those who are important to me. My dog, my favorite childhood movie monster. My literary muse, my artistic muse and others who lead me to be who I think I am.
Over the months it takes countless hours to design and fabricate. There are emails to LadyBee and Maid Marian and schedules to make and provisions to stock. It feels good. I’m in the show and proud of myself for both my effort and ingenuity. I found it and used it and maybe, just maybe others will see it and get it and enjoy it.
Nervous now, on the Playa on my way to meet David at the Mausoleum and the Temple of Tears. David is the maker of the Temple and I fear an arrogant egotistical artist but find instead a kind and thoughtful dedicated artisan. Although busy with his masterpiece he finds time to talk to me and explain the meaning and import of the Temple of Tears. I feel his energy and get the message. The Skellavanes are perfect guards for the portal, perfect guides for the spirits within. Is this serendipity or clever planning by LadyBee, Larry and Crimson Rose?
The dust blows and the horizon disappears. Lost on the Playa at noon with no landmarks, no direction. Follow the tracks that lead to someplace. To the table set for dinner. To the abandoned bong. Past the Indian standing arms outstretched, feathers floating in the hot swirling dust. Young kids in costume driving battery operated cars whirr by, mom and dad leading the way. From the dust cloud looms the Temple. Surrounded by Skellavanes. The wind stops. With silence, blue sky and heat fill the void. it’s noon and there is no one else around. Aside from the Spirits, the Playa is empty.
We all bring something to Burning Man. We all take something away. Whether we hold it close or from afar, we hold it nonetheless. We add to it, we feed from it. We use it but can never discard it.
I bring it home with me and sleep with it, dreaming. I pull it out in times of need and give away much as I can. It comforts me and inspires me. My Burning Man.