2015 Art Tours

The New ARTery sign  photo Sydney Erthal
The New ARTery sign
photo Sydney Erthal

This year, as we have in the past,  the ARTery offers Audio Art Tours for many of the projects that are going up all around us in Black Rock City at this very moment and can be listened to as you wander about the playa. There are over 350 Art Installations for you to enjoy this year so having a description of the art you interact with is essential. Art is appearing everywhere. Be the person in your group who knows something about the art you find while wandering the playa. Get the tour now to have something wonderful to do in line while awaiting entry to Burning Man this year.

The downloadable Audio Art Tour, put together by Jim Tierney, Kit Kat, Evonne Heyning and Dazzle!, will prepare you for your awesome art-filled playa experience. Download the MP3s and listen to them on your way to BRC!

More about ART tours on playa can be found here.

Lovely Dusty People

camp_guysThe weekend before Gate opens is approaching and a certain feeling has set in. I’ve been out here early before and felt the change from being part of a small group of people building Black Rock City, then having the big art come in to start on the Temple and other huge projects, then watching as the big Theme Camps arrive and suddenly landmarks you’ve been using to navigate are replaced. The great unpacking begins with enthusiastic Theme Campers smiling as they create their fabulous spaces. Once the Gate opens, it becomes a free for all as you beautiful people flood in to stake your space in Black Rock City and build then share what you’re bringing.

Towards the end of pre-event, you realize that you’ve forged bonds with people out here that can only happen in a place as dry and desolate as this. There have been challenges met and there has been solemn sadness. There’s been triumph and a lot of hard work. It is tribal and essential, sometimes feeling as if we’ve stepped into another time where big personalities build things just because they can. My job is nothing compared to what the infrastructure groups like DPW, Tech, IT and their support do out here to build this place, and it takes a certain larger than life type of person to make Black Rock City happen. During the build, meals bring everyone together and it is there that you find old friends and make new ones. I sit there eating and face after dusty  face passes on their way to grab grub  and these are some of the most lovely dusty people I’ve ever had the honor to live amongst, if only for a short time each year.

camp_tentAs big Theme Camps begin their build, you no longer navigate in straight lines to your destinations. You’ll smell your first BBQ. You hear the hammers pounding all around and containers are opened with last year’s tarps and lights and everything that makes Theme Camps strewn about. You will see the groups of serious campers standing around, hands on hips, evaluating how many people they’re going to need to raise up that 60 foot wide shade structure. Work lights are running all night as massive tents are erected and decorated. People begin visiting you because they can tell you’ve been here for a while and maybe they can use your stove to make some coffee and share it with you, or borrow some zip ties.

Bring your own zip ties people.

camp_maxwellRiding my bike around I met Seth Maxwell Malice and I asked him how it was going. He said, “Don’t forget to bolt things together. Gravity doesn’t work like it should.” Passing all the camps that are setting up you’re greeted with constant hellos from happy folks setting up in the friendliest city on earth. They’re insanely happy to be here, but what rational person would consider packing, hauling all your stuff to this dry lake bed, working for days to build a camp, dealing with the weather, then tearing it all down and hauling it out while leaving no trace a vacation? We are a peculiar bunch.

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Welcome to the Man Pavilion

Midway TentYesterday the Man Base Crew took a little time off from their steady work pace to hang out in the shade, have some beers and get the low down on what art will be living inside the amazing structure they’ve built. BettieJune from the ARTery joined Kimba and Leslie to discuss the art, performance and otherwise illusory and carnivalesque interactivity that will saturate participants once the event begins. Right now the Man Pavilion is a hard hat construction zone with the Maze being completed and painted, the Illumination crew placing lights and eight Belgian tents (from the Souk last year) being erected to house Regionals’ and other artists’ Midway projects. At each of the four portals into the Man Pavilion, Hugh D’Andrade has created fantastical entrances inspired by carnivals around the world.

photo by Sydney Erthal
Leslie and Bettie June photo by Sydney Erthal

The Man stands tall above a Maze and not getting caught up in all the art in the Maze and Midway will be impossible. The Pavilion is anticipated to be a site to behold, an extravaganza of the odd, unusual and entertaining  where you can become one with the carnys who bark to you and bathe in the veritable glow of a Carnival of Art. The Maze structure entrance is to be covered with the “Bannerline Project” by Killbuck. His art once graced Defenestration in San Francisco and now we will have his sardonic Carnival banners in Black Rock City for the week. At the Maze entrance is an installation by Tony Spiers and placed around the Maze look for “Colossal Skeletal Marionette” by Christian Breeden, which is a big skeleton puppet. You will also encounter the “Hall of Mirrors Arcade” by Wolf, “Larger-than-life sized arcade pieces including Giant Pinball, Foosball Reimagined and Jumbo Pachinko.”

Klaus Putting up Lights
Klaus Putting up Lights

“Be the Managerie” by Michael Koi, featuring exotic animals where one can put their face through a hole to become the animal, is inside the Maze and the ARTery is referring to these openings as “Noggin Notches.” “Laffing Sal” by Dana Albany, Haideen Anderson, Flash Hopkins and Tom Kennedy has returned to entertain the little ones with maniacal laughter. “The Church Trap Organ” by Rebekah Waites & crew has been re-imagined Coney Island style and has arrived on the playa. It is being installed today.

Meeting with the Builders“Lumiphonic Creature Choir” by Mark Bolotin and Synarcade  is a 17-foot-wide sculpture with projected faces that promises to be an interactive audio-visual collection of heads that will sing, beat-box or recite fragments of prose. Barron Levkoff’s “Mystical Midway” promises to delight you with all manner of cosplay and invite you to join in on the Mythic Play.

photo by Sydney Erthal
Dana Albany photo by Sydney Erthal

The Midway tents will house Burning Man’s Regional projects, and this year, as with last year’s Caravansary, the projects highlight one-on-one interactions. The CORE began in 2011 with large wood sculptures circling the Man that were burned on Thursday of the event. Burning Man also burned the CORE in 2013 and in 2014 Burning Man brought the Regionals closer to the Man and stopped the large CORE burns to provide more human interaction and cross pollination than sculptures could provide.

photo by Sydney Erthal
Kimba working photo by Sydney Erthal

This year the Theme invites us all to create “panoply of strange and enchanting wonders” and Thursday morning pre-event, the Regionals and other non-regional artists will begin setting up their unique Carnival of Mirrors art and interactive performance. There will be 29 Regional groups that celebrate what makes them specifically unique in our vast Burning Man network and some installations include the “Pinball Machine” from our Wisconsin Regional group, “The Gallery of Infinity”, a sideshow of LEDs and infinity panels from Santa Cruz, “The Baltic Altar” from the Baltic States – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia Regionals that involves immersing yourself in a cube structure where you can compose unique melodies, the “Philly Phreak Show” which is a collection of oddities and “FoxCarn & the Betel Store” by the Taiwan and China Regional that will let “burners experience both forms of capitalist exploitation.”

The Man Pavilion is a saturated hyper microcosm of the entirely of Burning Man. This year it promises to be a fertile art space and a place for reflection and participation so be sure to make your way out there add your spice to the stew. They start installing tomorrow and this is just a sampling of what awaits you. Many more mysteries will be revealed.

Early Art, Insects and Clowns

photo by Sidney Erthal
photo by Sidney Erthal

As our esteemed “Burning Man Organizer” Mr. John Curley has communicated, evidently the insects have run their course. At least that is the official story. The billion wood-boring beetles that descended on the Man’s legs at Man Base have evidently been exterminated. Burning Man will not be brought to you by Citronella and DEET  this year. Behind us are the horrific fear-saturated nights of swarming green beetles, clouds of fluttering moths, biting flying ants, stinging noseeums and locusts so thick we had to don Hazmat suits and run in sheer terror from container to container to avoid being eaten alive.  No more do colonies of bats descend from the sky so thick that they obscure the moon and the hordes of kangaroo rats, ravens, crows, scorpions, snakes and coyotes have also moved on. There was a moth as big as a baby chicken in my camper the other night that had fangs and I finally chased it away with a machete. I haven’t seen it since.

We aren’t sure if it was the water trucks spraying vegan and gluten-free Malathion that did the trick. Or it may have been the initial deployment of our BRC Drone Bug Zappers that took out the first wave of stink bugs on Wednesday. They rose from the Depot,  all flying in formation into the incoming swarms trillions thick,  zapping blue and littering the playa with millions of twitching sizzling bug corpses. Some attribute our victory to Ranger Rico and his Roughnecks who were equipped with armor exoskeletons and flamethrowers that allowed them to capture the Brain Bug. We may never know, but somehow we prevailed. We witnessed, persevered and we survived.

craneWith the bugs gone, Black Rock City infrastructure is going up fast.  Center Camp Cafe is framed and rigging is in place. The Man Base is coming together nicely. Everywhere you hear the happy hum of machinery and the DPW is, as always, working their asses off in the hot sun to put together the canvas for this year’s Carnival of Mirrors.

Speaking of Carnivals, this is not going to be a good year for clown fearing folks. They wander around town even now, shapes in the darkness, ducking behind containers, appearing then disappearing at meetings. They’ve applied their make-up that is becoming caked with alkaline playa dust and is slowly fading each day. Prepare for Sad Clown Town. And beware Plug and Players, the clowns have your number. Locate, Tag, Track and Acculturate. Participate or clowns will eat you. My advice is to befriend a clown as soon as possible upon arrival. They are a hive mind and they can sense your intentions and fear.

Bugpocalypse was just a warm up to our possibly most menacing problem. The clowns are waiting with painted smiles to welcome you to Black Rock City.

But enough about bugs and clowns. The ART this year is going to blow your desert addled brains. There are currently 320+ registered art pieces and with all the pestilence subsided, some of the big art protects are taking shape.

Mazu DragonsMoving out onto the playa from Center Camp you first encounter “Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea” by The Department of Public Art and the Dream Community. Their main Temple pavilion is being finished. There is a huge lotus that will crown it, and impressive shining fire breathing dragons are all lined in a row awaiting placement. Today at their build site shingles were being added to the roof and the Temple structure was being readied for the Lotus to be placed.

Not too near Mazu stands a frame for the Trebuchet that is returning to the playa after a six year absence. I’m told they will be attempting to break the previous world record for distance hurling a flaming piano, a record I believe, that is held by them.

Mike Garlington and crew
Mike Garlington and crew

The playa is wide open at present, sparsely occupied by only a few projects. They are collections of freshly delivered loads of wood, odd sculptures in crates and containers full of tools and art. There are work lights and organized chaos. The installations are in various states of construction, and all are accompanied by small camps of trucks and kitchens, tents and trailers in various states of disrepair to house exhausted artists.

Near the 3 o’clock promenade you will encounter Michael Garlington’s “Totem of Confessions” that’s already impressive as hell even though it is only about half way constructed. Inside they have already begun affixing all manner of plaster facades. “Beauty and chaos of black and white photography in assemblage with salvaged and re-purposed mixed media”. Mike’s art is darkly bewitching and entirely his own unique expression. To see what he’s done this early and walk away a little overwhelmed by his vision guarantees that the finished vision is going to be amazing.

The “Life Cube Project” by Scott “Skeeter” Cohen is also near 3 o’clock and Esplanade and they are finishing up the Esplanade facing wall. It will be a structure of rooms and stairs where Black Rock City participants can inscribe their dreams on the walls .

Further out, past the Man Base, Marco Cochrane’s “R-Evolution” stands in three pieces. I was fortunate enough to visit it last night and I can only say, people will be talking about this sculpture at the event this year. It has to be seen to be believed.

Temple of The “Temple of Promise” by Dreamers Guild appears to be coming along nicely. The tail of the structure’s arches are built and heavy equipment is currently lifting the larger arches and a crew of temple builders are putting them into place. The encampment is a frenzy of activity as most Burning Man Temples are, with various activities happening all at once.

Beyond the Temple and towards 10 o’clock two projects are being built; Ardent Heavy Industries’ “Straightedge”, a 2.7 mile long edge that will be LED lit to show the curvature of the earth, and “Dreamland“, a FLUX Foundation piece “inspired by the wonder of childhood carnival rides” that will feature light and flames. Kate Raudenbush is working with FLUX to create the most sophisticated system FLUX has ever built.

photo Sidney Erthal
photo Sidney Erthal

As you move back toward Center Camp the beginnings of “Own Way” by Sasha Mornov and Sema Payain who built “Cradle of Mir” in 2014 is growing from the playa layer by layer. Inside the Man Base, Dana Albany, Haideen Anderson, Flash Hopkins and Tom Kennedy’s “Laffing Sal” stands all alone smiling somewhat disturbingly sweetly at the maze that will eventually be filled with all manner of Carnival of Mirrors insanity.

But now, occasional dust devils scamper. Lonely crows fly over and land to pick up the last insect carcasses from Bugpocalypse. Activity is at the installations or at the ARTery, the Depot and Commissary, or spread about as work crews erect more shade and infrastructure.

The ARTery is braced for the influx of another 310+ installations to begin arriving today from all parts, including The Generator in Reno where some fifteen artists from all over the world are putting finishing touches on their projects before a stream of trucks tow them out here.

With the City laid out, thousands of creative makers and artists, participants and pilgrims will land like so many moths drawn to a flame. Swarms of us will land to share our visions and gifts. We live in exciting times and Burning Man is a vehicle for what is good and expressive in us. So use this time to paint this canvas.  Bring your art, bring your gifts and let us all make this Carnival of Mirrors a year to remember.

And don’t worry about the bugs. Clowns are far scarier.

Barron Scott LevKoff’s Mystical Midway

This year the Man will be surrounded by a most exquisite clever Midway, a Carnival of Mirrors where participants can turn the surfaces reflecting themselves inside out if they dare, and by participating they may very well discover the multifarious circus of our ordinary life and create new personas. The Midway beckons to us to discover new perspectives and bring them out into the world at the conclusion of our week in Black Rock City.

Our Midway is going to be populated with mind-bending and playful attractions, and I was most fortunate to meet one of this year’s artists, Barron Scott LevKoff aka The Professor, who will be bringing his Mystical Midway to that space around the Man this year.

Barron Scott LevKoff Talking with Scott you get a feeling of how whimsical yet intentional he is. A self described dandy with a very sharp and developed mind highly attuned to the creative force, he is a font of brilliance and ideas flow from him in rapid succession; ideas that range from casual mentions of conscious evolution, social theater, the Human Potential Movement, Wisdom Sharing Networks and Cosplay, to his use of carnivalesque motley fools, hobos, devils , angels and roaming puppetry to provide tools for the creator culture that he cares very deeply about.

He’s spent time sharing the Beauty Engine Social Design he and Polly Superstar created in the early 2000’s. He told me about his work with Polly on another venture, Mission Control, where they tested out, in his words, the “language for creative collaboration” and the “commonalities of social dynamics, social techniques and methods that are similar among creative communities.” Mission Control worked with thousands of people, some of them digerati, and provided inspiration for social networks that came into being including the Abundance League that became Shareable.

Edwardian Ball  Mystic MidwayHe and I sat down for tapas and sangria in the Mission and Scott shared with me his experience of the last 25 years as a performer. Barron Scott LevKoff has had a hand in creating or participating in some of the more surreal ongoing events in the San Francisco Bay Area including Anon Salon, The Edwardian Ball, Mission Control, The Renaissance Faire at Black Point Forest, Club Ritual, Soookeasy, Master Mondos Cabare’, Lost Horizons Box Trucks, Kinky Salon and the Lagunitas Beer Circus to name a few, with his most recent foray being his Mystic Midway.

His involvement in the San Francisco Alternative scene is somewhat epic.

I asked him to tell me about his Mystical Midway that will grace Black Rock City this year and the description poured out of him …

“The Mystic Midway is a trans-media STORYWORLD based on the characters and attractions you might find in a strange, mystical carnival: “The Hat of Many Closets”, “Mister Nobody’s Swamp Shack”, “The Mirror Maze”, the “Haunted Castle” and characters such as Lady Fortuna, Mister Nobody, the Blue Mystic, Professor Grimaldi, The Snakeoil Salesman and others. Each of these characters and attractions has a corresponding card that illustrates a specific area of inquiry attributed to each. Our Mystic Midway ensemble of performers brings these characters to life and we have also created a Cosplay guide crafted specifically as an invitation for anyone to create their own Midway persona and join the Midway!

Mystic Midway“We also bring the Mystic Midway to life through fantastical sets, props, banners, wagons, flying airships and more. We host Tea Party ‘socials’ where the community comes together and we go into the Midway, almost like a role-playing game. (The ‘HOME GAME’) We go on storytelling adventures of discovery and inquiry, prompted by encounters with the MM attractions and characters. It’s a collaborative, ‘gameful’ style of group storytelling. For example, something like “Fear” might come up in an adventure and we know that it’s time to bring out ‘Mr.Nobody’, a gleeful skeleton figure who eats fear. So the goal in that moment is to name and release the fear to Mr.Nobody, so it’s a bit like a shamanic story telling game. It’s all about identifying the scripts inside us that rule our actions on the ‘mythic stage’ of our lives.

“What’s ruling us, what’s holding us back, what’s keeping us from sharing the magic within us, but feel scared to give it a name or form?”

Scott is a true believer and he’s up to something much larger than entertainment. About the Mystical Midway’s immersive environment he continued, “There’s almost no separation between participant, audience, spectator, performers. It really is immersive social theater. People can jump in with whatever they’re comfortable with. The first time they come, they kind of sit on the periphery, and say, ok I kind of see what this is about. Next time they come and they have a persona and they’re offering their gifts. Maybe I’ll do readings, or I’m more of a clowny person, or I have fairy wings and horns or whatever. You know what I mean?”

Our nice waiter brought us some bread and butter and as Scott and I conversed, I began to realize that there is a deeper level to this sort of play and creative culture. He’s not just creating an immersive experience that will no doubt delight participants on the playa this year.  I took in this phenomenon of a man across the table from me, wearing a black and white striped hat, spectacles and who sported a well groomed handlebar mustache. We discussed the language of creative culture, how he is producing events, creative community and Improv Theater  and I realized I was in the presence of a visionary. We discussed what a crazy journey these last 25 years have been for him and before that, his childhood of “hippie parents, raised in communes, in boats and vans. My mom was a psychic channel and I was raised around all these different intentional communities. So as a kid I got to see all these intentional ways of coming together so I was primed my whole life for alternate ways of living.” He then brought up his interest in magic and alchemy.

It was then that he leaned in, suddenly somewhat serious, and as he spoke he brought his visage forward and upward and I could see his brown eyes and that slyly mustachioed mouth as he flashed an upward smile and I thought — he’s up to something. Oh he’s up to something.

Barron Scott“I see society as a sculpture; it’s created intentionally by people. And a lot of people don’t see that our society has been crafted by capitalists and industrialists and consumerists towards people like you. You NEED THINGS. Medicine men knew this. Like, oh I’ve got something you need. This is a shiny thing and it’s awesome if you have this thing. You need these sneakers to be more desirable. You need this makeup or you need this clothing, you know what I mean right? And these are scripts that are running in society and so many people think, oh that’s the way it is, that’s the way life is.

“Burning Man is a place where people can look at the scripts and be like, wait a minute, does that serve me? Does this way of being serve me? Does the way of connecting and relating to other people, does this actually have value to me? So I want to create the permissions and give people the tools to examine, do these scripts serve them anymore.

“That’s why we embrace the term SOCIAL THEATER. You know because the Midway is a place of heightened social interaction, where everything is a mirror. Every character on the Midway is a mirror, a card, the story cards of the Midway that everything is based on, that I’ve been developing, I’m taking all my observations of creative culture they’re all in the story cards. Everything’s a mirror, hey take a look at this. What has value to you what are you pulling yourself to?

“How does insight serve you? Are you just a mental, intellectual person or do you have insight and intuition, so everything is inquiry. Hey what do you think about this, what do you think about this, no truths, just inquiry. Just questions. It’s all questions.

“It’s a crazy experiment. And I need a Christmas miracle to pull this off.”

The Mystical Midway, Carnival of Mythic Possibility has an ongoing IndieGOGO campaign to get them to Burning Man.

Go there. Contribute and read on.

Our sangria arrived, we toasted a cheers and I took a plunge into the fascinating world of Barron Scott LevKoff also known as “The Professor”.

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Licked by Kittens Camp

The Man
The Man

Oh how things have changed from the Rainpocalypse of Monday’s downpour, hail, and lightning strikes that shut down the city and kept gate closed for hours. Black Rock City is in full force with roaming dusty bands of painted and festooned citizens and with flowing flocks of decorated bikes ridden by enthusiastic, wide eyed  merry makers. There are shiny newcomers all acclimated and fabulous, as well as those who’ve been out here a while and who  are now relaxing and taking it in. Art has burned, parties have been thrown and like all cities, we’ve weathered this together and become closer. There are peals of laughter and general hilarity across the city, howls as the sun drops behind the granite range and the magic hours begin, sizzling grills smoking at all times of the day, be it bacon hour or the dinner cocktails time, with art cars of all types and sizes: cats, ships, dragons, camels, rolling slow, shimmering disco and techno as they slowly cruise and create temporary ambient environments prowling up and down the avenues of our city.

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Breathing Sea Monkeys

my old neighborhood
my old neighborhood

When you’re on the playa a certain number of hours, you acclimate. That number of hours depends on your constitution, but after all the preparation and anticipation, the packing, driving and making it to the event sign on 34 and pulling off the pavement then making your slow progress through the Gate and later, through Greeters, you find your camp and get your essential shit together. You unpack everything you brought with you because we have a tendency to bring everything just in case we need anything and you set up your essentials shelter and water. For a few hours you’ll spend time with camp mates who were already here and have acclimated, or you’ll wander, or you’ll just collapse into  sleep, submersed in an ambient glowing soundscape of a City that is coming alive around you.

That first sleep comes on strong, cool and windswept beneath shivering shadows cast by tents and shade structures, to sleep and to dream in this wide open space where nature is the ultimate governess. And each breath away from the barrage of the default world we are all complicit in creating, complete with alluring suggestions regarding what you should believe and buy, each breath will clear your mind of any unhappy maniacal anxious material monkeys that our society packs on your shoulders all year, those screeching little rascals who crawl up your spine and tend to make you insane daily. You’ve worked on your art to gift, planned and set aside some of the tribute you pay to the world behind to come and camp out here to contribute to a community that’s one some of us believe is something that could be better than the one we leave behind.  We’re experimenting each year, trying to fine tune this on playa situation and some of us are hoping enough of here seeps out into there.

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The State of the Art

For those of you who come to Burning Man to see the ART in store for you, I have traveled the playa and met with many good artists and can most joyfully tell you that the  State of the ART in Black Rock City, despite the previous weeks’ weather is very, very good.

Dan Fox's Alien Siege Machine
Dan Fox’s Alien Siege Machine

The largest project closest to the ARTery, up around 6:30, is Dan Fox’s Alien Siege Machine. This beast is growing daily, with all but the top floors installed, and it will eventually reach 40 ft tall. Participants can climb all over and inside this beast of a machine that will burn on Friday.  I met Dan Swain, aka Dolphin, the project architect, who told me the structure should be completed by end of day today. Fox and his crew built Anubis and the Trojan Horse.  They like big wooden sculptures that end in the most impressive burns, so this one will be a must see. They’re based out of the East Bay, Oakland and the project prefabrication is done at NIMBY. When you arrive in Black Rock City, please be sure to climb up in the Machine for the view and for a sense of back in the day when you had your forts and tree houses, complete with “NO GURLS (or BOYZ) ALLOWED” signs, however this time you’ll be  inside an Alien Siege Machine that is ready to pilot into battle and lay waste to everything in its path.  And there’s a really big bomb loaded in the bomb bay waiting to drop.

A happy  Toilet Bowl Crew
A happy Toilet Bowl Crew

Following the Promenade to the Man, I ran into the fine folks at The Toilet Bowl along the 9 o’clock Promenade. Tracy Gillan, Don Rider and Gaylen Hamilton of Bathroom Beacons: Welcome to Fabulous Black Rock City (their group is collectively known as StarPony Labs) and hung out with them a moment. Tracy told me, “I bought all this bowling alley stuff on Craigslist and I wanted to make a bowling alley here on the playa. Don and I are in the same hula hooping class and I told him I wanted to call it the ‘Dust Bowl’ and asked if he wanted to be part of it. He asked if we could incorporate it into his Bathroom Beacons art then we decided, Toilet Bowl!  History was made: a melding of bowling and bathrooms.”  “The Big Lebowski” will play on continuous loops on the bowling lane consoles and their group is also building Bathroom Beacons: Welcome to Fabulous Black Rock City, the redux of the Las Vegas sign, guiding participants to spots of relief. They are also installing Twisted Bristles in the 3 o’clock plaza – a large toilet brush featuring optic fiber and LED lighting.

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