Building Art in Black Rock City isn’t easy. Schedules mean something very different on the playa. You have to do all your pre-fabrication off playa and may never see the whole thing built before you get out here. You have to tow all your stuff out there, set up camp on a desert floor, stirring up fine alkaline particulate that seeps into every tool, utensil and tent you have, and you have to include “dust days” in your set up time. Sometimes the weather just won’t let up and cranes and other heavy equipment can’t be used until it calms down. We saw a lot of dust days this year during set up. And there’s heat, and swarms of stinging ants and frogs raining. Actually, I haven’t seen the ants and frogs, but it really is hot out there. Regardless, despite the challenges, every year artists bring out their installations to grace Black Rock City for the short week of Burning Man.
I saw the Pier 2 wood arrive with Burn Wall Street’s load from Reno’s Salvagery, complete with their 60’ mast. They told me they’d used Reno, Truckee, Tahoe centric, aged, uneven and rough timber. Their crew arrived at the ARTery on Tuesday afternoon a week before the event. Matt Schultz aka “Janky” and Paul checked in and told us they’d need big lights because they planned on working at night and in the morning, taking the heat of the day off.
They hit the ground running and once their temporary on playa camp was set up, their team began unloading and building the Pier proper. The Pier was such a hit last year that they were asked to return this year, and they decided to add more to it. They wrote:
The Pier resonated with people because it was a launchpad for imagination, it was a destination that was easily accessible, simple, a place where anyone could go and share in an imagined sense of nostalgia.
How can we capture this sense of wonder and play and build on it?
Like a ship out of the fog it came to us. “Let’s ram a massive full scale Spanish galleon into the end of The Pier.”
…and capture it they did. The day the Pier folks started work they erected the entire Pier structure by 11:55pm that night, working through one of the four complete white outs that hit the playa. Their fearless leader Janky rewarded their efforts with a keg of beer.
From what I saw them do out there, constructing the Pier was the easy part. The ship, La Llorona (the Weeping Woman) took a substantial effort to construct. This group of artists are the kind who ask the question, “Why stop with last year’s awesome art project when you can triple the effort for this year?”
I visited them often before the event started and within days the infrastructure of the ship was rising from the lakebed floor. If you were at Burning Man this year you no doubt saw the Pier and that Spanish Galleon. Fish from Vancouver showed me the props they’d secured for the ship innards. One afternoon I was there as they explained the structural integrity of their project while a Mr. Builder probed them for structural weaknesses that could result in unnecessary death or dismemberment of Participants and tried to see if there were any issues with their cohesiveness as a group, but there were none. They’d thought everything through and answered his questions rapid fire then got back to work.
And man, what a lot of work it was. I saw this thing grow and grow, through dust storms and at night under those big lights, until it sunk in just how ingenious this group was, how focused they were and what expert and craftsmen and craftswomen they were. Pier 2 this year was an extremely efficient building machine. I met some of them, Ira and Paul, Matt, Orland and BLoose who, along with the rest of the crew were building the frame, adding the ribs and siding, the doing all the decking and skinning. I met Kevin from Portland who added the sound of the Pier and Joshua from Vancouver who did the lighting. Lindsay from Reno worked on tall ships and we watched her showing others how to put together all the rigging. Fish worked on those intricate inner rooms. Others on the crew included Clarrisa, Deb, Lightbulb, Jessica, Chelsea, Josh, Ben, Randy, Chat, Mars and Nina.
They never stopped working and Friday before the event I visited them and saw all the inside glory, from the mess to the Captain’s quarters, the stowage and above deck with fireballs bursting from the masts. They christened her on Saturday, champagne bottles in the hands of Lindsay and Bex, and when the event opened, the Pier with its wrecked Spanish Galleon and the harbor they created became the site of many an art car meeting, especially cars of the “Ship” variety It became a place of relaxation, smiling and adventure and I saw children and adults once again fishing off the Pier but this year also touring around the innards of La Llorona, exploring scientific instruments and journals and generally floating in myth, taking in the entire beauty of the piece. There was a rumor it had been sold. It wasn’t, but it IS for sale if you’re interested. If I had that kind of cash and acreage, I’d spring into action to grab it and fly it outta there before they even took it down, but taken it down they already have. Actually, they have a Facebook page where you can meet this most esteemed crew. There was a rumor they were going to burn it on Tuesday after Burning Man was over. I hear the BLM took a group photo on the ship. There were many, many pirate sightings matey.
The Pier and La Llorona was spectacular and in my opinion, will forever hold a place with some of the great Burning Man art like the Contessa (who, it was also rumored they’d used wood from to construct the ship – not true) or 2006′s Message out of the Future, aka the Belgian Waffle by Uchronia.
A week of parties and memories took place in that imagination space and then just as quickly as it began, Burning Man was over and the crew began taking it all apart. I last saw them was on Wednesday, working through the dust, almost done tearing down through all the storms (and the rain) out there on the playa. I hope they got a keg of beer when they finished and finally got out of there.