Meet the Builders of French CORE: Stairway to Heaven

A digital rendering of the view from inside the art project (image used with permission)
A digital rendering of the inside view
(image used with permission)

All across France, team members are enthusiastically committing to support, fund and build the French Circle of Regional Effigies (CORE) project Stairway to Heaven (“Un escalier vers le ciel” in French), one of 24 wooden sculptures created by Burning Man regional groups from across the world. Two leads, an architect, and a tight circle of talented people are investing their time and creativity in the production of an art project for Burning Man 2013.

Near Dijon, there’s Dubail “dub” Sylvain, an athletic trainer and member of the 2011 Temple Crew who organizes events around Europe while he prepares for CORE. In Toulouse, construction project manager Stephanie Pecoste prepares to work with a team of builders on site in the U.S. to realize this project. And in Paris, “Ludale” (he prefers to just use his Burner name) who made the leap from designing buildings to creating large scale art projects (such as Stairway’s spiraling tower), is arranging financing and support for the project.

Dubail “dub” Sylvain at his home in France
Dubail “dub” Sylvain at his home in France

I met Dub at his home, in the little village of Ouges, five minutes from Dijon. He explained that there are a lot of excited volunteers. More than were initially expected. Now there are too many to have meetings on Skype, and the mailing list is expanding weekly. But meeting all of these people has been a lot of fun, Dub says.

His efforts are focused on connecting the ever-growing team with Stairway to Heaven’s needs. Because the project is structured such that there is no “boss”, Dub is a node of communication for all project needs and team members. But this isn’t his list of needs; they’re proposed by the project participants and determined by consensus. “Key,” he says, “is to keep Burning Man spirit.” He does not want to delegate, instead allowing all of the crew to self-select how they help based on their skills, interests and understanding of the group’s needs. Although not easy to do, Dub feels that this is very important for the long run of this project.

But Dub’s main concerns are the same as everyone else’s: funding.

Funding is a challenge for the whole team. Stephanie later told me in Marseille, “Fundraising is not … in my culture. I guess it is more in the Anglo-Saxon culture; not just America actually. I see how it functions in the UK also for art.”

In France, culture is mostly sponsored by the government. The arts are generally free to the public or heavily subsidized. The idea of contributing funds as a form of sponsorship for a project, especially one that won’t be visible in France, is a challenge to the system. It will be a challenge for the French CORE team to do American activities like fundraising parties and crowdfunding online.

Béatrice Duhame and "Ludale" in Paris
Béatrice Duhame and “Ludale” in Paris

In Paris, I met Ludale to talk about the design of the project, but not before meeting Béatrice Duhamel, Cécile Ravaux, and several other people who were there to discuss the financial needs of the project.

A one-time recipient of a Black Rock Arts Foundation grant in 2011, Ludale continues to meld construction with public interaction. Stairway to Heaven is more than a 6-meter tall spiral tower. People will be encouraged to draw on the project and tell their stories … these contributions will eventually cover the piece.

Featuring both an exterior space to be climbed upon and an interior refuge, this structure and the elements planned for it are a fitting evolution from Ludale’s first experience at Burning Man. “I did not know what to expect” he says. “I didn’t watch anything on TV [beforehand], so it was a complete surprise. I really appreciate the way that you discover there. My friend told me there are no spectators. Everyone is invited to express himself.” So he continues this by designing surprises for participants and enabling them to express themselves.

A few days later, I met Stephanie at a co-op restaurant in a working neighborhood of Marseille called La Kuizin. Food is prepared by people learning kitchen skills and the location is a community space, so prices for lunch come at three levels: “our cost”, “fair cost”, or “supporting level cost” — a perfect environment for a meeting about a Burning Man project created by a regional community.

Steff has years of project management experience on train station refurbishment in France, most recently at the main station in Toulouse. She likes the elegant design of this project and sees the spiral as a model of naturally occurring shapes. But her passion is converting this design into a realized object. She has to create a materials and labor plan, in addition to helping with the fundraising and communication that must be done in these early stages.

Stephanie Pecoste at La Kuizin in Marseille
Stephanie Pecoste at La Kuizin in Marseille

While the team will be bringing some key construction elements with them from France, including the hoped for Arduino-controlled motion-sensing lighting being designed by Michel Grazda, most of the materials will need to be bought on site in Reno. “I guess we’ll be buying lots of things,” Steff said. “The wood for this structure, we will buy there. Or see if we can get donations. Because we hope to bring a wine barrel I am in touch with a friend I have…she said I could find a second hand one.”

In just two short months, the French Burners will be transforming some electronics and lumber into an organic spiral that reaches upward, sharing stories between visitors through drawing and pictorial art — not to mention sharing a glass of wine. Tribal pictograms and soaring architecture given a soul by the particular French way of life will hopefully inspire many conversations between Burners from other regions and these Burners from France.

If you want more updates about this project or want to find out how you can provide them with financial support, materials or assistance in Reno, visit their project web page here: http://www.frenchcore-burningman.com/.

About the author: portaplaya

Todd Gardiner, aka "portaplaya", is a professional photographer in Seattle and a long time documentor of Burning Man. After years of working with CameraGirl, he moved on to documenting the event for various other teams, such as the ARTery. Back in Seattle he was part of the regional arts group, Ignition Northwest, acting as a member of the art funding council. A perennial volunteer, he is a five-time Black Rock City Ranger, a past theme camp laborer, has done his time with DPW, and is currently a supervisor for Exodus Flagging; in addition to being a photographer every single year. Some say he is just an obsessive collector of official-looking laminates to wear to high school reunions. Either way he spent time working for others ever since his first year at Burning Man in 2001.

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