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.
Monday night they began tearing down the Center Camp Café. I was walking back from dinner where entire camps were disappearing with great expediency, leaving gaping holes in the once urbanized wall of themecamps that were there only one day before. Gone were the Home Brew camp, the Beacon and Eggs bar. As I passed the Café I saw two of the last stragglers; a tall naked man stood with his back to me next to his female companion who wore a flowing paisley robe, both staring wistfully into the Café that had become a deconstruction zone. I could tell they only wanted just one more Tai Chi or Chai Tea but the Café is closed for business.
The Art is disappearing out here overnight, with a couple of the non-burnable huge pieces like Zach Coffin’s The Universe Revolves Around YOU and Pier 2 in the process of being taken down. The playa’s pretty much empty now with only the Man pile still burning, the Dragon Smelter and Bone Tree hanging around the Esplanade, and I’m told about four pieces out there waiting to be pulled up. Burn piles out where David Best’s Temple of Juno, The Man and Otto Von Danger’s Burn Wall Street stood, are being tended to by those cleanup crews.
As you’ve no doubt heard, there were a couple Burns out here last night. We had a strong showing by our valiant Man who held on as long as he could before slipping in a mass of fire and embers below to howls primeval. His pavilion lasted much longer than he and it was probably the most substantial structure I’ve ever seen the Man stand upon since he’s been on top of them. It was a fitting and beautiful tribute to the man who designed it, Rod Garrett.
Tonight the Temple burns and all of the emotion we’ve put in there this week will wash up in a cathartic column of fire, sparks and ash that will send those notes of love and loss and of grief and forgiveness swirling into the night sky. Dust tornadoes will form and dance around us as if they are our loved ones lost, caressing us in the firelight’s glow, saying do not worry, everything is as perennial as the seasons, or the plants that return each spring or the love that brings us all together eventually.
Princess Blahblahblah came by the ARTery with her pony that she’s been bringing out here for years. She’s with Kentucky Fried Camp and someone stole the pony a day or so ago and the camp was predictably bummed until yesterday when the pony mysteriously re-appeared and had been Sparkle Ponied, with new faux fur on her mane and sides, hearts and sparkles glued all over her. A Polaroid was left; a picture of the Pony with another smaller pony out near the Temple at sunrise, with a note that read “Thank you for dancing with me all night.”
Eva told Mike and I a story yesterday when we were at Eggchair’s bar in Center Camp and I cannot attest to the facts nor the timelines, but our discussion of art tours took a bit of a detour and she said something very close to this.
“Back in 1993 Larry Harvey wanted to bring a porta pottie to the playa for what they were calling ‘Burning Man’ and he came over to my place and helped me pack my van for the trip. He helped me entirely pack but I think he was waiting for that twenty dollars we all were putting in to pool our money for the porta pottie because none of us had much money.”
“We finished packing, I gave him the twenty dollars and he took a napkin and wrote down the directions to the playa with ‘get off the playa here’ and ‘go 3.5 miles this direction then go 1 mile that direction.’ He then wrote ‘Paid 20$ for porta potties’ and signed it Larry Harvey.”
“So, I came up here to Black Rock and followed the directions. It was Wednesday and we didn’t burn the Man until Sunday then so I finally find where they are and Larry is in a pup tent and the Man is in the back of a pickup with about twenty people camping there. On Sunday it was a great burn and about a thousand people showed up, a lot of them from Reno.”
Mike took a sip of his drink and said, “Do you still have that napkin? That might be worth something. It sounds like one of the first tickets to Burning Man ever.”
Eva thought a second then said, “No, there wasn’t any toilet paper in the porta potties so I had to use it to wipe. I’d already followed the directions and found Burning Man.”
Despite four days of nightly white outs, including the mother of all sandstorms and 12 hour delays on I-80 over the pass, being surrounded by hundreds of wild fires burning, and rumors of a fuel line break that would make gas impossible to procur, somehow most of the art for this year is either complete or almost there. This is indeed a fertile year for art as it springs up seemingly everywhere on the playa.
A few of the larger pieces are still putting on finishing touches. The Temple of Juno is built and there are only cherry pickers affixing the intricate decorations to the outer walls as they finish the altars inside the courtyard and Burn Wall Street has all their buildings up and at night you can see the neon signs.
Now that the gates are open, playa citizens wander along in fresh packs wearing clothes that have yet to be brushed with the color of playa. They ride through the art on blinking bikes as mutant vehicles boom or blast disco and the city now hums with the sound of construction as themecamps spring up along the Esplanade, and points beyond are filling in. Scaffolding rises, Pink furry places with fluffy couches and Shipwreck Tiki Lounges are close to being open for camaraderie. The graceful French Quarter, BaalMart, Spankys and large scale sound camps of pyramids and enormous domes lit from inside at night out at the ends of the city are appearing with wild abandon in this frontier town.
48 hours after the Otic Oasis crew entered the Man Base to build the Pistil, the last of a tirad of finials atop the piece were put into place. The Pistil is composed of Gregg Fleishman’s interlocking wooden pieces and it spans most of the middle of the Man Pavilion, climbing up to just below where the Man stands above over the open oculus. It’s an elegant sculpture that swirls around in a series of modules connected by stairways with a flowing symmetry suggesting both a honeycomb and very much this year’s theme of Fertility.
The crew climbed all over the sculpture working, and as the last pistil top was lowered, there were many deft fingers in there making adjustments, with bodies intertwined, twisting and raising the graceful piece into place. When the node slid down to a stop there was applause. Then one by one, curved vertical pieces were inserted and pins placed, then each crew member took a turn knocking the pins into place with their mallets. It was all very deliberate and with the absence of power tools, it seemed very ritualistic and beautiful to behold. (more…)
The ARTery is in full swing, with projects beginning to pour in by the truckload. Where once was open playa and the original four projects with their encampments, now a cornucopia of projects grows every day. Bands of dusty artists arrive in caravans following long trucks packed with wood and steel and those artists are beginning to match the population of those building Black Rock City. Flux is here setting up Zoa, the EGO project, Reno Star Cosmic Thistle and Anubis among other pieces are all placed and building, rising up like tiny desert tribes, settled in and circling whatever tall idol they’re erecting.
Out at Zoa Flux heavy equipment (HEAT) was helping to put together the three steel structures that are the underlying “sculptural array” for the project. They’re named Billy, Etta and Nina and large star shaped wooden pieces that will form part of their wooden Seapod exoskeletons lay off to the side awaiting numerous adjustments, placements, riggings and gas lines installations before being fitted to the outsides. Flux is a whirr of energy with crews working all over and last night and tonight they’re testing flame effects. Jess Hobbs was out there and she had a button her hat that read “Chaos is my Bitch” and Masha showed us the orb on Etta that she’d cut from a huge pipe then shaped and sculpted. Zoa is located past the Man, before the Temple out toward 2:00 and will be burning Wednesday night at 9:00.