Smoke Daddy and his crew have been testing the neon in the Man over the past couple of nights. He was still burning bright as the sky got light this morning.
Smoke Daddy and his crew have been testing the neon in the Man over the past couple of nights. He was still burning bright as the sky got light this morning.
The Man went up yesterday, and you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures of him already. It’s the way Burning Man is now; what used to happen in the electronic cone of silence of the playa is now seen everywhere almost as it happens.
We’re as guilty as anyone, of course. Yesterday, Alpheus was kind enough to take us up on a boom lift for the raising of the Man, and we had posted a photo to the internets even before we came back down to the ground.
Everyone likes to be first, and everyone likes to show you things that other people can’t. But the lines are blurred this year maybe more than ever about keeping the experience here in Black Rock City instead of sharing it immediately with the social media.
The phone service out here this year has been banging. In previous years, AT&T customers like us have been forced to use a “roaming” service when we arrived in Gerlach. The data restrictions were severe; check your email a couple of times, maybe post a pic, and you’re about done. (Verizon customers have always fared better, with more reception and no roaming to deal with.)
But AT&T has apparently put up new cell towers in the area, and phone service on the playa is 3G with four bars pretty much all the time. We’re thinking that that will change once there are 70,000 people here, and the circuits will become overloaded and all but impossible to use. But the communications landscape has changed.
It’s not a new discussion, whether to be connected to the rest of the world during the event. But the Burning Man organization believes that being connected to the world runs counter to the value it places on immediacy.
“Last year I was out at one of my favorite places to dance,” Communications Director Megan Miller said the other morning, “and I saw three guys standing in a circle looking down, in the white glow of their phones, and I was just like, ‘This is the one place you go where that’s not supposed to happen,’” she said. “You know, they should be talking to each other, or dancing!”
Miller said the organization gets a lot of feedback and discussion from participants about the issue of cell phones here, “and I don’t think I got a single one that said, ‘I’m so glad I can use my cell phone there,’” she said. “What I got was, ‘I saw people riding across the playa, on their phones, like you see in San Francisco,’ and how they thought it was an intrusion.”
Of course there’s no law or rule against being on your phone, “but we do try to set an example by not being on social media while we’re here,” she said.
The estimates are that by Friday there will be enough people here to make cell service unreliable, so there won’t be many as Facebook updates or fresh Instagram photos. So I guess enjoy them while you can, because the genie goes back in the bottle soon.
While we’re on the subject of media: You all probably know of Burners.me, the gadfly site that writes extensively about Burning Man culture. We’ve debated the merits of the content there on numerous occasions, and generally we leave it to the reader to determine when the writer(s) are grinding an axe, and when they are simply reporting the news. We believe “caveat emptor” is the appropriate term.
But Burners.me did something we thought was really crappy this morning. They took a photo of ours from Facebook and posted it as their own.
Now, I realize that posting photos as public on Facebook has its risks. But, as reader Josiah Sean succinctly pointed out, “The easy and organic process of appropriate redistribution of personal works on social media is to hit the SHARE button, so that it is still connected to the author. Burners.me went through the effort of downloading the picture and reposting it so that all comments and likes and interactions would be associated with their Facebook page. #FuckedUp. This was a methodical and dishonest approach aimed at self-promotion and advancement … (and) it makes it that much worse.”
The photo in question, of the Man being lifted into place yesterday morning, was NOT posted on the Voices of Burning Man site. It was posted on my personal page, and just lifted from there. So, Burners.me, do the right thing and take it down. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. It’s called stealing.
UPDATE: Burners.me has taken down the photo and offered an apology. They sent along a screen shot of the same photo that had been posted to the Facebook Burning Man page, where a Brian Romans first put it up. Now, the argument can be made that Burners.me just ripped off the person who ripped off me. But, “I do consider photos of Burning Man posted on the Internet to be fair use in discussing Burning Man,” Burners.me wrote in a message to us. “I’m not making money or trying to rip anyone off or claim credit for their work. Most Burners are happy to gift their photos to others.”
Ok, fair enough, but: 1) Lawyers get paid to decide if “fair use” includes using other people’s copyrighted work. 2) It would have been easy to attribute the pic to the person who originally ripped it off (although there was no “share” button available) (and we guess there was no intent to rip anyone off, just excitement about seeing the Man go up). 3) I think I gift as many photos as anyone. Maybe not the most, but probably in the top ten. 4) The larger point here, the teachable moment, for all of us, is to give credit where it’s due. We try to name the artists in any pictures we take of the art out here. Maybe you should too. And because you see something on the internet doesn’t mean that you can take it as your own. And yeah, we know, good luck with that.
There’s a changing of the guard going on at the Center Café today. The build team, aka the Oculus crew, is pretty much finished constructing the site, and the Décor team is about ready to make it all look pretty for you.
The Décor crew was out mooping the site this morning, something we hadn’t seen happening before. Betty Boop explained to us that they do the line sweeps inside and outside the tent three times a day now. “It’s easier to keep a handle on this as you go along,” she said, keeping her eyes peeled on the ground for Matter Out Of Place (moop) – screws, nails, bits of glitter, anything.
The line sweeps aren’t the only thing that’s new. Twin Peaks is the new head of the Oculus crew, the first time in our knowledge that a woman has led that team. “It’s different here,” she said this morning, talking about the gender neutrality of the place. Her assistant is Austintatious, and she’s new to the role, too.
Almost everyone on the crew is either new or in a new role. The only folks with institutional memory are Monkey Boy, who’s been one of the backbones of Oculus for as long as we can remember, and Stinger, who’s been the lead rigger for the past several years.
Rigging is a big deal at the Center Café. It is believed that the Café is the largest temporary tensile structure in the world. The shade covers nearly an acre of ground, according to Twin Peaks, and it’s a place of both refuge and entertainment just about any time, night or day.
These are the only times that you get to see the beauty of the structure itself, all geometric patterns and beautiful light and shadow. The Décor team will soon do its thing, and when the event starts, it is one of the finest places on the playa for people watching and people meeting.
Tomorrow they’ll roll out the rugs, and Thursday they’ll put up the flags. “The Café isn’t the Café until the flags so up,” Twin Peaks said.
The speed limit in Black Rock City has dropped to 10 mph as more and more people arrive. Many of the artists and bigger theme camps are setting up, and it was estimated this morning that there are about 5,000 people in the city. That’s a very unofficial estimate, though, and it should not be taken as authoritative.
We were out at the Temple of Promise, and we talked to Jazz, the lead designer of the piece.
It’s his first time building big art out here, and only the third time he’s been to Burning Man. What’s the hardest part about the job?
“One to five,” he answered. That would be 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock, when the heat is at its worst.
Jazz was awarded the Temple project honorarium the second time he applied for it. The first time was in 2014, when he read that proposal applications were due in 11 days. “I had an idea to make the Temple about transition,” he said. “So I got something that went from big to small. … And straight lines are kind of boring, so we put the curves in,” he said.
The lead builder of the Temple, who’s been playa-named Mary Poppins because he seemingly dropped from the sky to help them out, is also a newcomer. He’s built big art before, but not here, and it was his job to translate Jazz’s vision into something that could actually be constructed.
“Jazz designed the whole thing in a gaming software,” he said with a chuckle, “And, uh, there was no real relation of gaming software to architectural prints, so I took on the challenge of re-drawing the structure from the ground up.” And that was a continuing challenge; at the build site in Alameda, “I was on one machine, trying to keep ahead” of construction, he said.
Jazz is not the only first-time big-art designer out here this year. He and his Dreamer’s Guild team are new; Bree, the lead designer for Storied Heaven, is doing her first big piece, and Charlie Nguyen of the Mazu Temple and the Department of Public Art is doing his first big piece, too.
“We like to think that we’re establishing a new generation of artists,” Betty June said at the Artery.
More photos from around and about:
“The Spirit of Wonka,” Spoono’s iconic day-glo art car, was being towed up the 6 o’clock Promenade toward the Man on Saturday night. The sun had just set, and it was a silent, lonely funereal passage in calm desert twilight.
Tony “Coyote” Perez had hitched up Spoono’s rig to the Volare, the beat up, sorry-ass excuse for a car that he uses to get around Black Rock City. There was no one else with him, save for Matt “Starchild” Deluge, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of the art car, where Spoono would have been, should have been.
Soon, a few hundred or so people would be gathering for Early Man, where crews get ready for the final push of the build by burning effigies – some beautiful, some poignant – a miniature version of Burning Man itself. The Transpo team had made giant fly-swatter. The Commissary crew had made a giant greasy spoon. There were three giant Choco Tacos.
When it was fully dark, Dave X called for a moment of silence to remember Spoono. And then everyone lit up extra large sparklers that glowed red and green.
It’s ironic that this city, known for its debauchery and mayhem, will so often have its throat grabbed by sadness.
Maybe it’s the kind of people who come here. They leave big legacies when they depart, but they might not be the associated with great achievements of state or commerce. Let’s put it this way: People will always be telling great stories about the characters who have swung through this town who were wild enough and tough enough to leave their mark. And Scott “Spoono” Stephenson was one of those people.
No one seems to know with any authority exactly when Spoono first appeared in Gerlach or the Black Rock Desert. Most people say his first job in the area was in 2004 at Bruno’s, the frontier town casino, bar and grubhouse that’s the main sign of life for 70 miles in any direction. He worked as a cook there, and might have had several stints, coming and going as his frustration level waxed and waned.
No one ever heard the story of where he grew up, or who his parents were, or if he had any brothers or sisters. It was as if his life had begun all over again, in that most familiar American story of re-invention, when he came to Nevada. The version of Spoono that took hold here might have been more wholesome, but no less strong.
There’s talk that his past was … checkered. That he had moved with rough people, in dangerous circles. But even then, he always seemed to find the center of things, and to camp there and watch.
Mathew “Starchild” Deluge is the person who Spoono listed as his next of kin on his DPW paperwork. Starchild is actually no relation – just a person that Spoono felt close to, after working long hours over many months during the Burning Man season and afterward. They spent many hours together on the work ranch down the road from the event site, telling stories, being in each other’s lives.
Starchild is a thoughtful, philosophic young man who has a fondness for art, the desert and making things. He’s a crew leader on the DPW, and on the Resto team that makes sure we’ve left no trace in the desert.
Most recently, Spoono would visit him in Reno just about every day in the offseason. They lived about mile away from each other. He’d come by, pet the dog, just be there.
Spoono was one of the people who helped Starchild recover from memory loss issues after he had his own health problems. “He knew more about me than I do,” Starchild said.
They were working partners in Burners Without Burners in the New Jersey operation, when a team went to help out after Hurricane Sandy. Starchild believes Spoono was originally from New York, so he had a fondness and familiarity with the area.
Starchild was talking about the effect that Spoono’s death has had on Black Rock City, even on people who didn’t know him that well. He said it was like their reaction to a clebrity’s death. “Their work affected them in such a significant way, you know?” (more…)
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.
With 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.
Moving 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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re a little out of words, because Black Rock City lost a good friend yesterday, and hearts are heavy. The pictures will have to do the heavy lifting.
But we’ll say this: The bugs are gone.
Ok, not every last stinking one of them, but pretty much. The swarms have dried up and blown away. People are working unmolested. Nature has run its course.
Yes, it was true, unknown bugs of mysterious origin showed up by the thousands or millions in Black Rock City over the past week, but the heat and the dryness have taken their toll. Larger insects came along, too, and there were plenty of smaller bugs for them to eat. Yesterday morning, we saw a small flock of birds down by the Depot, no doubt drawn to the area by the plentiful insect diet.
Please, though: The birds were not massing in Hitchcock-ian numbers. They did not line the trash fence, nor did they swoop and dive on us as we entered the commissary.
They were simply here to play their part in the natural order of things. The smaller get eaten by the larger. The heat ended the infestation as quickly as it appeared, and the inches-high mounds were blown away by the desert wind.
There were none at the Depot, none at the Center Café, none at the Man Base, none at the Temple, none at any of the places we visited a couple of days ago.
It’s all over. You can resume your packing. Sure, throw in some bug spray, because you never know, it could happen again.
(And it could rain. It could flood. It could be freezing cold or blisteringly hot. We could get dust storms. Winds could reach 100 mph. We could be stranded for days. And listen: We are not making any of this up. We are not hyperbolizing. Be prepared. Always be prepared when you come here. It’s called radical self reliance.)
It was pretty interesting, though, to NOT be a part of the media yesterday, but also to be a part of it, as the story. Just from the things we saw or heard about, our little report on bugs in the desert got picked up by CNN, SFGate, Gawker, Mashable, Rawstory, NBC News, Vanity Fair, Channel 4 in San Francisco, just to name the ones we
It was fascinating to see how the different outlets presented the same basic information, mostly based on the same slim details provided here. We were soooooo happy not to be a part of the 24-hour news cycle, where the identical facts are hashed and rehashed and then regurgitated again. We feel sorry for the lost souls who have to write and rewrite the sketchiest outlines of a story into headlines they hope will grab an eyeball or two. (Attn: lost souls: we say that lovingly; we’ve done the same or worse ourselves, many times.)
Most of the outlets used quotes just plain lifted from the blog. This was supplemented with Twitter posts and pictures. There was little, if any, additional reporting. Most of the outlets also used the photos we posted here, without asking permission (those that did ask were denied, according to Communications Director Megan Miller). By the way, the photos are copyrighted, with rights jointly held by me and the Burning Man organization.
We’d be assembling a legal team if we didn’t already know that the normal and customary fees for what would likely be called “freelance submissions” range all the way from nothing to about fifty or a hundred bucks. You don’t get the big money doing journalism.
So what the hell. It’s fine. It was a good story and lots of fun, even if it did throw a scare into people. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.
But it was also predictable. After all, it’s Burning Man. You know, naked hippies high out of their minds, running around looking for the next person to have sex with. Then you add pestilence, and by damn god you’ve got a Biblical tale. God hath wraught fire and brimstone down upon Sodom and Gomorrah. It was a hard one to pass up. And very few outlets did.
(My favorite piece appeared on NBC.com. It used the same set of quotes and attributed them to “Burning Man organizer John Curley.” Burning Man organizer! Hey, I should get a raise!)
Anyway, the storm has passed. Little has changed. Life goes on.
And we don’t need any stinkin’ fire wraught upon our heads. We have our own fire, and plenty of it.
Loren out at the Temple had a good idea. “We’re gonna have a petting zoo,” she said. “Granted, it’ll be mostly insects.” But they could also include ravens, scorpions, black widow spiders, rabbits, seagulls and at least one owl, because we’ve seen all of them out here or in town in the past few weeks.
Nature. We love it.
And watch for the headlines appearing soon.
A campmate was applying balm to art director Charlie Nguyen’s back out at the Mazu Temple build site this morning. Charlie’s entire back was covered with welts, the result of the continuing plague of insects that are bedeviling everyone in Black Rock City this year.
Kiwi Hankins, the architect, designer and build lead, was out with Pope Phabulous, Hyster-ing the last of the eight beautiful metal dragons that will surround the sculpture. Kiwi is a veteran Temple builder; his last contribution the gigantic Temple of Transition in 2011.
And Nathan Parker was just pulling up in his van with a donated generator, so that the 25-plus people working on the site will have the power they need.
These are tough times for the Mazu crew. It’s not just the heat and the bugs and the thousand natural shocks that art projects are heir to. All the planning, all the fundraising, all the building they’ve done over the past year took a body blow the other night, and they’re still trying to recover. (more…)
Burning Man is a lot of things, and every time we try to say what it is or isn’t, we fail. But we do know that there are some things that are undeniably true. One of them is that Burning Man is a family affair.
The latest example we present is Audrey Pickney, one of only two second-generation DPW workers. (Welboy’s son, Corey, is the other, but he’s not able to be here this year.)
Audrey is in her second year of working DPW, after three years working with Gate, Perimeter and Exodus. Her mom, Ridge, is a longtime DPW worker who’s also taking a year off this year, so Audrey is holding down the family presence.
She goes to the School of the Art Institute of the Chicago, where she is studying fashion and fibers, the art of sewing. It’s wildly expensive, but a variety of fellowships and grants have her about a semester and a half from graduation.
You’d think it would be a stretch to come out here after the urban art world in Chicago, but she’s been doing it for so long, it seems perfectly normal. Her first year was 2002, when she was nine years old. That’s right, nine, so she’s kind of a poster child for young Burners, too.
Her mom started coming to Burning Man in 2001, and she loved it, and she thought that Audrey would like it, too. So she brought her, and she’s been coming ever since. She’s missed a Burn here and there for school reasons, but still. That’s a lot of her youth spent in the desert.
“I love it here,” she says down at the Depot as the day winds to a close and the heat is finally letting up. “All my people are here. … I love doing work with my hands, I love the desert … like, why would I not?” (more…)