Margaret left a trace

DumpsterWe always think of the principle of “Leave No Trace” as applying to things. To garbage. To left over zip ties. To empty cans on the ground.

But does it apply to people?

Do we want it to?

I was struck, this week, by an email that “This is Burning Man” author Brian Doherty sent out encouraging people in the Bay Area to see a show produced in large part by burners this Friday at the Castro Theatre.

The show is about a woman of whom there was no trace. Whose life was, literally, thrown in the garbage.

While hunting for a place to illegally dump some trash at three in the morning, an old-time Burner (Chicken John) found a magnificent leather scrap book at the bottom of a dumpster. It was, all but literally, the life of a woman named Margaret Rucker. It had her birth certificate, pictures of her life, clippings from news articles about tragic things that befell her, and excerpts from poetry magazines of verse she’d had published. It ended with her death certificate.

It was all there. At the bottom of a dumpster. If he hadn’t found it, it would have been destroyed.

What happened? He had no idea. Nobody knew. For maybe 15 years he carried this scrapbook around with him, read from it, shared it with people – put on shows devoted to Margaret’s poetry and the mystery of her life.

No answers. Except insofar as we all know, deep down, that people are disposable. That at some point all we are will be left in a trash bin. That no trace will be left. (more…)

The Bay Lights Will Blink On as a Permanent Installation

Image courtesy of thebaylights.org

The Bay Lights, which first started sparkling across the Bay Bridge in March 2013, just hit its funding goal and will now be a permanent installation. The 1.8 mile-wide, 500-foot-high LED sculpture is the world’s largest, made of 25,000 white LEDs whose patterns glow from sundown to sunrise and never repeat. It will stay lit until 2026 at least.

In an email to supporters, Ben Davis, founder and CEO of Illuminate the Arts and big-time Burner, says that the $2 million raised so far was matched by philanthropist Tad Taube, bringing the organization to the $4 million baseline goal.

The Bay Lights installation is the brainchild of Leo Villareal, a world-renowned artist with many equally dazzling installations under his belt. He’s also one of the founders of Disorient, which is a Burning Man camp that, even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve definitely heard. You know the blinky orange-y camp on the 3-o’-clock side of the Esplanade? Used to rock a giant orange traffic cone-looking thing? Yeah, them. Leo joined the inaugural Burning Man Board of Directors in 2011, and he re-upped after his initial term ended, continuing to serve on the Board today.

Villareal has been coming to Black Rock City since 1994, and he brought his first blinky installation in 1997 to solve a clear, simple problem: he had trouble finding his camp at night. That drove him to build his first large-scale piece in New York in 2003, and it just got more ambitious and beautiful from there. As a Burning Man veteran, Villareal is surely used to having to take apart his art and pack it up, but now he’s built the largest LED sculpture in the world, and the people have raised the money to keep it lit.

The piece has to be taken down for bridge maintenance next year, but the New York Times arts blog reports that the piece will be up again by January 2016.

Thank you to everyone who donated to keep this beautiful piece alight in the cities from which the global Burning Man culture has spread.

Tyler Durden Invented Burning Man

Perhaps you’ve still never heard of the Cacophony Society, Burning Man’s parent group.

Pardon the cliche, but for history’s sake, we’re going to have to talk about fight club.

Fight Club is a book written in 1996 and then turned into a movie released 15 years ago this fall (we won’t provide any spoilers if we can help it). Author Chuck Pahlaniuk confirmed at several book-release events last year the “Project Mayhem” group in Fight Club’s story is indeed the Cacophony Society in real life … a wackier bunch of people, without the men-only Iron John subplot or all the property destruction and violence. (Well, serious violence, anyway.)

“But Larry Harvey invented Burning Man,” you may be saying to yourself. No, he and his homeys Jerry and Dan brought the statue to a “Zone Trip” the Cacophony Society had already planned to take to the Black Rock Desert.

The rest of the event didn’t spring, Godlike, from one man’s mind, and materialize like so much ganja in Shiva’s dreadlocks. Cacophony built Black Rock City. It was a group whim — a hive-mind good time which snowballed and splintered, glittering, like breaking mirrorglass.

art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society
art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society

Even if you don’t know it, Burning Man is and will always be the Cacophony Society’s yearly extended-family check-in and show-and-tell. It’s a fight club convention where old-timers don’t make a big deal about showing up to tweak and observe the city they created. This product of new collectivist activity reads like a neotribal Kumbh Mela which embraces chaos as spirituality. The event requires, and has always required, a dark army of dirtbags to make it all go flash bang boom.

Burning Man’s blank slate started as an anarcho-cyberpunk paradise away from the squares, on the moon. A living, breathing Internet, this equalizing Paper Street Soap Company in the dust churned art, analog, digital, fire, lust, danger, meetings, and magic into a whirlwind of construction and yelling. (more…)

Art Beyond Burning Man – Making, Thinking, Understanding

Building art for Burning Man always seemed to be part of my yearly cycle. I love what I have been a part of creating in Black Rock City; I have grown up and cut my teeth building art out on that remarkable desert canvas. Over the last several years, though, I’ve found myself bringing more art to life out here, “beyond the fence.” Thanks to the efforts of so many, we can now cite several instances of Burning Man art in many cities around the world.

Zoa Crew Photo by Kim Sikora
Flux’s Zoa Crew Photo by Kim Sikora

At FLUX we have created 12 works of art in our 4 years of existence. This is something we are truly proud of. We’ve successfully made interactive art accessible to a wide audience, and we use this art as a platform to engage people in the core values we have cultivated as Burning Man artists. Our works have been experienced by people in Oakland, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and now, San Francisco. Sometimes, we are so busy building we forget to take a moment to celebrate and share what we’re creating. In this case, we are celebrating our newest interactive sculpture, Carousel.

Flux Building Carousel
Building Carousel Photo by Jess Hobbs

Inspired by the shared experience and wonder of the swing rides of childhood carnivals, Carousel uses a variety of materials, a playful color palette and communal interaction to create an immersive environment. In this space, people will contribute to a cumulative visual expanse, reflect on inspiration, and engage in conversation. Participants will return to a sense of wonder as they sit beneath and contribute to its creation.

Flux Building Carousel
Building Carousel Photo by Jess Hobbs

Carousel has been commissioned by the Abundance Foundation and built for Making, Thinking, Understanding, a conference created by Harvard’s Project Zero. The conference will start tomorrow, October 10-12, 2014 at Lick Willmerding High School in San Francisco. (more…)

David Best and Artichoke Building a Temple in Northern Ireland

Temple of Grace interior, 2014 (photo by Robert Bruce Anderson)
Temple of Grace interior, 2014 (photo by Robert Bruce Anderson)

David Best, creator of the beautiful Temple of Grace at Burning Man this year, will be traveling to Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland for his next project.

In Derry, a city historically split by religious and political divisions, there is a long-standing tradition of burning and building extreme bonfires. UK-based charity Artichoke, who specializes in large-scale interactive public art installations, wants to bring David and his crew to build a temple with the local community that will turn the notion of bonfires and burning in Northern Ireland on their head. The temple will serve as a source of healing, uniting people as they come together for the epic build. Four people from Derry came to Burning Man this year and studied with David as he worked on the Temple of Grace.

The Burning Man Project is thrilled to support this collaboration with its first official grant from the new Burning Man Arts program. Burning Man Arts has also awarded a grant to support longtime Burner and documentary filmmaker Laurent LeGall, who is working on a full-length film about David Best’s life and work. He will shoot the temple project in Northern Ireland for the film, which is expected to be released sometime in 2015.

Artichoke is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise £30,000 for the project and they’re reaching out to the Burner community for their help. Please show your support!

“Burning Man: Art on Fire” Goes to Haiti

Sidney Erthal and Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly
Sidney Erthal and Haitian President Michel Martelly

Sidney Erthal, co-photographer with Scott London, and author Jennifer Raiser of Burning Man Art on Fire, which is topping the charts at Amazon, was packing to leave Burning Man last week and noticed he had several calls from his good friend Claude-Alix Bertrand, the Captain of the Haitian Polo Team. When he got Claude-Alix on the phone, he wanted to know if Sidney could “Please come with me to Haiti?” Claude-Alix explained that he was about to be awarded the honor of being an Ambassabor of Goodwill for Haiti, and could Sidney please come, and take photos of the event. The Haitian Polo Team had just won their first Championship Trophy.

So Sidney traveled home to San Francisco, packed a few things and off he went on the red-eye to New York City and then a jump to Haiti, and at that point, Sidney had not even been off Playa 48 hours. As Sidney said,

That moment when you thought you were going to have a very slow decompression and life surprises you big time… A life changing experience after a life changing burn. Embracing the mission.

He was in Haiti for just less than a week, and what an adventure it was.

Claude-Alix Bertrand granted his "Ambassador for Goodwill for Haiti" title from Haitian President, Michel Martelly
Claude-Alix Bertrand was granted his “Ambassador for Goodwill for Haiti” title                        by Haitian President, Michel Martelly

But without a doubt, the highlight of the trip for Sidney, was meeting the President of Haiti, Michel Martelly, when he presented the Ambassadorship to Claude-Alix. Sidney had the opportunity to give President Martelly a copy of his book, and chat a little about Burning Man, which Martelly had heard of and was excited to know more about, and the President’s vision of Haiti’s future, to perhaps be a destination point for polo, to create more jobs in Haiti and improve the country’s economy. Sidney and President Martelly also had a moment to talk about the work that Burners Without Borders has been doing in Haiti to support Haiti’s recovery from the 2010 earthquake and help artists with their job skills; to read more that program, click HERE.

After meeting with the President, Sidney and Claude-Alix were taken on a tour of Haiti by Haitian Minister of Tourism, Stephanie Villedrouin.  They saw a broad cross section of Haiti in their travels. They also attended a lot of meetings, or as Sidney said,

Meetings, meetings and meetings. I always knew my degree in Tourism would be very useful at some point! YEAY!!!

 

 

Burning Noir: It’s Raining Art

IMG_6386After the rainstorm cleared it was pretty easy to find anyone who wasn’t huddled in a building: with no cars on the streets and no bikes that could get traction in ground this muddy we were all out walking, but the mud stuck to our shoes so quickly that we didn’t get far. Augustus St. James actually came to me, collapsing next to me on still-dry couch inside BMIR’s shade structure. We were both waiting for the ground to harden, so he had nothing to do but tell me his story.

Read all the entries in the Burning Noir series here.

 

The art bus picked me up just before sundown and we started touring around the metal insects, glowing skulls, giant flowers and strange geometric shapes that had been stationed out in the desert. A number of pieces weren’t even up yet, which was good for me, but it still looks like Hieronymus Bosch designed a playground out there. There’s something a little threatening about art that isn’t kept in a museum, but I suppose that’s the point.

What I didn’t see was anything that someone who believed he had the secret to happiness would obsess over. What are happy people even obsessed by? Is happiness like money or sex, where you just keep wanting more because enough is never enough? Or is happiness the one thing that can extinguish the desire for itself?

No, I didn’t go to college. But I once watched a YouTube clip about Schopenhauer. Also vacuum cleaner repair. (more…)

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.

(more…)