Interview with Rox Scapini – 2009 Honorarium Artist

As an artist who has been creating work to display at the dust fest for well over a decade, I am fascinated by the process of playa art making.  You might not know this but it is truly a unique process which you will not find replicated in the Artworld (captial A artworld).  My Black Rock City artmaking process has been something like this: initial inspiration happens; next, the evolution of the conceptual framework; followed by the process of translating that idea into a proposal (well, most of us do this; Michael Christian doodles on a napkin, but he’s charming and produces provocative work, so he is a special case); then comes the obsessive build, build, build time, and finally struggling with the complications of the desert to install your work.  All of this is done within a six month time frame.

I have been curious how other BRC artists approach their work; what they are inspired by and how they face the challenges of building art on our desert platform.  So to fulfill my own curiosity and to give you some insight, I am randomly interviewing a few of this year’s Honorarium artists for your reading pleasure.

grape_eyesName: Rox Scapini
Project: Bio*Tanical Garden
Project website:
Project Location: Berkeley, CA

Jess Hobbs: Tell me a little bit about yourself.  What might be pertinent to know about the creator of “Bio*tanical Garden”?

Rox Scapini: I’m an artist and I have been making sculptures for 16 years. Sculpture is my favorite form of art because it gives me the possibility of bringing my imaginary world into reality. Sculpture for me is not about materials but physical presence in space. My style is figurative but not realistic, and my sculptures represent something that “might” exist in this world. I have a strong fascination of cyberpunk literature (HR Giger is the artist that most influenced me, indeed) and a cynical view of our world.

JH: Have you produced work for Burning Man before?  If not, what work has affected you the most?


Solarstice 2009 June 21 in Reno



Black Rock Solar, the City of Reno, and the West Street Market present Solarstice 2009. Sunday, June 21, 2009, 7PM-10PM, at the West Street Market! This is a great opportunity to connect with friends and the Burning Man community, listen to some great music, drink a beverage of your choice, and generally chill out from the Big Bounce and Dada Motel, all the while supporting Black Rock Solar and the Pershing County School District- on the longest day of the year.

This event will feature performances by Kate Cotter, Tyler Stafford, Leroy Virgil, and Controlled Burn; a raffle with many fabulous prizes including TWO BURNING MAN TICKETS, beer supplied by Great Basin Brewing, and food and refreshment from the fabulous vendors in the West Street Market.

Black Rock Solar is a non-profit 501(c)(3) in the business of gifting solar power to schools and non-profits to marginalized and rural communities. As you drive to the Black Rock Desert, you drive past something in excess of 100 kW of solar generation facility installed by Black Rock Solar. To date, we have installed in excess of 300kW of solar generation capacity in Northern Nevada, saving schools and non-profits well over one million dollars.

The Pershing County School District has been hit very hard by budget cuts. Of approximately 40 teachers, 6 have been laid off in the past year. Black Rock Solar has raised about 90% of the resources needed to build a 50kW solar array, which will save the PCSD approximately $11,000.00 per year (at today’s rates!), and all at no cost to them. But we’re still about $15,000 short of what we need to make this project happen!

Let’s show our broader community in Northern Nevada that we know how to affect creative and positive change, and have a great time while doing it!


West Street Market is at 148 West, in Reno, NV.

The Evolution of Man

I first met the MAN when he was still on the hay bales. Oh how he loved those hay bales.

Back in those days he was almost standing on the playa with the rest of us. There were no arching staircases, no MAN BASES, no contraptions to turn him, no snarky clowns in porticos, no pavilions or groves or observatories, no nothing but HIM atop a pyramid of highly flammable hay bale possibility.

Sure, I’d heard the MAN’s story, repeated incessantly by my friend who was an acolyte who’d known him for several years prior. My friend told me how the MAN was just a BOY on Baker Beach, born from the fertile loins of Larry and Jerry and how, at that tender age HE was raised and how HE drew the lucky few to him who happened to be there on that fortuitous day: punks, drunk ascetics and hippies, lackeys and MAN CURIOUS revelers. It was evidently the Solstice way back when there was the first MAN RISE.

I’d heard about his rebellious youth, how word of his Burning Sensation spread around San Francisco like an out of control fire in 1906, and how those big bonfires on the beach started to draw intellectuals and village idiots, artists, dangerous free rangers, musicians and assorted crazies to him for that toast and roast kind of inspiration celebration fruition rebellion. When that first little MAN stood there surveying all those around him, he realized that his ruckus dared to free some of those minds from self imposed prisons. HE saw the delight in their faces and it was good.

Stewart Harvey full burn on Baker Beach 1989
Stewart Harvey full burn on Baker Beach 1989

Each year the YOUNG MAN became more and more popular in spite of himself and around him developed a scene, a happening, a gathering, a CATHARSIS if you will. He was a fire burning, burning bright, growing each year in stature and reputation.

I’d also heard the legend of that fateful year when he outgrew his humble beginnings because he was becoming too dangerous, too much of a rebel and a renegade. Yes, HE was kicked off the beach for being a BAD BOY. The authorities needed to get that MAN out of their jurisdiction and banish him from the fair City of St. Francis, before his flame grew too big for them to contain.

Fortunately though, by the time the powers that be decided to try to extinguish him, the MAN had drawn around him an intimate circle of ideological ruffians who appreciated the MAN’s braggadocio because they too were young, dumb and full of … ideas. They were swarthy pirates searching for the new Temporary Autonomous Zone, they were masters and mistresses of Cacophony, the Saints of Stupid, the clever Evans, all Lawless researchers of Survival, Eaters of Souls, the Shiva who believed that the metaphor of life swirled around creation and destruction and they wanted that MAN to join them in a Zone out on the fringes of society where there could be a true few days of autonomy and madness.

How delightfully Post Apocalyptic it was.


DIY Spirituality

My bio on this fine site says I’m going to blog on my “mainstay obsessions — culture, ritual, and spirituality,” and it is time to roll up my sleeves and get started. But first, I want to say a little more about how I come at all this.

I’m a big nerd, of the genus “academic minor” to be specific. My training is in the fields of religious studies and anthropology — neither of which are necessarily what you think they are anymore. (My two favorite online reads on these topics are the blog and the zine, but I digress). What this means is that from the minute I first stepped onto the playa back in 1996, I started taking mental notes for my ethnographic magnum opus on Burning Man. That work will finally be out in about a year’s time (academic publishing can be sluggish, especially when you have a toddler and a move to LA to deal with — more on that another time).

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I call “DIY (do-it-yourself) Spirituality” and how it connects to something called “Convergence Culture.” I think Burning Man exemplifies this par excellence. Now, I suspect some of you are probably grousing — “I ain’t no navel gazing, crystal waving, woowoo chanting hippy. That’s not what Burning Man means to me!” But maybe you do go there to express your truest sense of self and to feel connected something larger than that self. And a lot of you create, perform, ritualize, and play with this sense — freely pillaging from a global treasure trove of cultural and religious symbols as you do. I’ve got a long, carefully nuanced argument about this that I’ll spare you all for now, but basically that’s what I mean by “DIY Spirituality.”

As to “Convergence Culture” — that’s a nifty concept coined by another nerd (of the genus “aca-fan major”), Henry Jenkins. His argument is also long and nuanced, but he neatly sums it up as being about: “media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence.” It is “where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways.” (See Convergence Culture.)

There are some handy ideas here. For one, that bit about “participatory culture” might sound kinda familiar, no? (To my knowledge, Jenkins has never been to Burning Man, but — to paraphrase the Cacophony Society — I think he may already be a member.)

Convergence of another sort can be seen across the history of religions through what has been called “syncretism” or “hybridity.” Traditionalists have seen such processes rather less generously (or hopefully) than I do, but it is indisputable that diverse religions and cultures inevitably tend to borrow from and occasionally merge into one another whenever they come into contact. While not even I would consider Burning Man to be a “religious tradition,” its hyper-symbolic mash-ups playfully appropriate religious motifs from a vast global well of symbolic resources. Crosses, devils, labyrinths, buddhas, goddesses, gods, and ‘hello kitties’ — the list is potentially endless.

Finally, social media tools have recently made it ever more possible to see how individuals are locating both traditionally religious and DIY spiritualities in new communities and participatory cultures online. I’ve got several illustrations of what I’m talking about — both from Burning Man and elsewhere — up my sleeve. But these will have to wait for another day, lest I take up more than my fair share of pixels on my first post.

For now, I’ll stop to ask — what do you think? Is Burning Man a space for DIY Spiritualities? What does Burning Man mean to you?