The Universe Revolves Around YOU: an interview with Zachary Coffin

 

I’ve believed Zachary Coffin was part of a select group of great Burning Man artists ever since I first encountered his Temple of Gravity in 2003. He is one of the artists out there who builds something you can’t help but see. You will visit it throughout your week there and you will use as a landmark. He fills up the space because he works on such a huge scale and he fills it with awe. His works on playa include 2001’s Rockspinner, 2003’s Temple of Gravity, 2005’s Colossus and this year, as you’ll read below, he’s bringing us The Universe Revolves around YOU.

Colossus by Zachary Coffin

Zach is an artist who works with really big things and by big things I mean twenty thousand pound spinning and hanging boulders, heavy steel structures that allow you to interact with the weight of freight trains, and the pull of the Moon on the Earth to power Tidal Indicators.  He’s like a bright spark, excited about what he’s doing yet low key about it even though he’s larger than life in many ways. Talking with him about his art you get the feeling you’re talking to an incarnation of some great God of the mountain who is pulling out stones so large that more than one would pulverize a semi with its weight. And he’s building these structures to handle that weight, then loading the whole thing up and bringing them out to Black Rock City to make those stones seem as light as a row of birds on a wire.

He and I sat down over beers across from the Burning Man HQ last week and Zach told me,

“You see a huge boulder. Ever since you were a little kid, you were never able to move that boulder. I can make it possible for you to move that boulder and through that process you can begin to understand what’s possible through engineering and through technology.” He stopped and thought a moment then added, “on a visceral level.”

He has a bit of a twinkle in his eye when he tells you his ideas, like he’s in on something so large you’re only going to get a small glimpse of what lives there, but that glimpse is big enough to blow your mind. I’ve met a fair share of artists and Zach’s one of the sincere ones. He smiles a lot and has a good humor about him and he gives off a genuinely kind vibe.  Update:  There is now a KickStarter campaign for the project. Please donate if you can: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1642032931/universe-revolves-around-you

(more…)

You can’t Burn on Facebook

If you get enough burners together in a room, they will probably (A) throw a party that involves at least partial nudity, or (B) create a sculpture installation that involves at least partial nudity.  Because … well … really, is there a better option?

But if you get a lot of Burning Man regional representatives from around the world together into one room, they will probably end up having a panel discussion on best practices – and it will involve serious note-taking.

I mention this to set the stage for the Burning Man Regional Network Summit, where I found myself surrounded by many of the people who are absolutely essential to Burning Man at the state and local level … and geez, were they taking notes.  What I’m saying is:  data was compared.  Best practices were rocked.  Flow charts flew.  Did they have fire?  No – but they had mad fire safety tips.  There were no DJ’s … which is kind of a blessing, once you’re in the middle of a nice conversation with a woman from Prague and you actually want to hear what she’s saying … but there was a lot of talk about how to integrate people who want to DJ into your volunteer structure.  Because, Christ, a lot of you want to DJ.

It clearly takes all kinds to Burn a Man, and one of the first meetings I attended was about how to reach out to your local burner community and keep everyone in the loop.  This is essential, not just because it helps them know what Burning Man is up to but because it also makes people more likely to come out of the woodwork and explain how they can help.  Because, goddamn, those of you who don’t want to DJ often have incredible skills no one saw coming.

But with such a diverse community (or at least a community with such diverse interests) … how exactly do you keep everybody in the loop? (more…)

A Blue Electric Thread

One year back in the last century, after our peculiar yet determined convoy made it to Black Rock City through gate, unpacked and set up enough of our tents and shade, we did what everyone does and found ourselves skipping off into the playa dust like giddy children and making our way out to see that year’s Man up close and personal. We walked up his hay bale steps and it was still early dark, just nightfall with a few people milling about and large red and black fireballs boiling up near center camp to faraway cheers.

the Man 1998 by Andrew Penn

The Man stood tall over us and I touched the steel support that held his leg and at that moment also accidentally touched my friend and shocked him. After a breath we slowly tried it again and realized that one of us could hold the Man’s leg and then just barely almost touch a finger tip with another and this tiny, delicate thread of light neon blue electricity would dance between our fingers. It was so beautiful and unexpected, like it came to visit us and wanted to play a while. We formed a chain of people almost touching out from the leg, adding one after the other until eventually the person at the end of the chain would say, “I don’t feel it.”

When that happened, we’d move that person to the front at the Man’s leg and another line of us would form and barely touch finger tips until this repeated and another person from the rear was sent to the leg. This went on for a time until some other sparkly thing distracted us and we set out with one purpose across the dusty playa to investigate, leaving our discovery for others to enjoy.

This, of course, was right before Burning Man was officially declared dead.
(more…)

Science at Burning Man from the Exploratorium

Exploratorium Science of the playa
Exploratorium Science of the playa

Our friends at the San Francisco Exploratorium have put together a fantastic set of videos that examine some of the more scientific aspects of the Black Rock Desert.

Exploratorium video on Alkali“What do you get when you send a crew from the Exploratorium to Burning Man? Geeks gone wild! Join us on the playa in Black Rock Desert and explore the science of pyrotechnics, flight, dust devils, rainbows, and more.”

Senior Exploratorium scientist, Paul Doherty, unlocks the mystery behind the corrosive dust that coats the Black Rock Desert, the science of dust devils and the properties of Fire in the desert.

Enjoy the challenges of flying over the Black Rock Desert with pilot Michael Marin and learn about zoology in extreme playa conditions with Alex Smith as he visits the MicroZoo.

Check out these videos and more at http://www.exploratorium.edu/tv/ and understand your temporary home just a little more next week.

Art Tours and more

Home Sunrise photo by Ales Prikryl

The last of the Art Installation pages are up so come and read all about the amazing crop of ART you’ll be interacting with this year. We’ve got our Honorarium Art, The CORE (Circle of Regional Effigies), Art of Black Rock City and Cafe Art.

Once again Jim Tierney (Anarchist Jim) and Evonne Heyning and the whole Artery Team have put together individual Audio Art Tours for a wide variety of Installations. You can download a couple or get them all in a zip file. Bring them with you on your trips around the playa to really get some insight on these magnificent pieces.

Take a look and a listen and then YOU can be the one who, when you’re out there looking at this amazing thing before you with your friends, can say, “Well, that project was created by… and the artist says this and that….” for which your friends will no doubt be quite grateful and much spontaneous wonder and artistic appreciation will ensue.

Yes, it promises to be a great year once again. Enjoy it everyone!

The Future of Art in Networked Times

Fountain is a 1917 work by Marcel Duchamp

Last week many of us turned in art proposals in hopes of financial support for our little, or in some cases huge, artistic desert visions. The value and beauty of many of these projects is not only their eventual physical manifestation; the highly collaborative nature of their conception and construction is equally important.

Historically, in the early parts of the twentieth century, collectives and collaborative art production were a feature of Dadaism, Surrealism and Constructivism. This spirit of collective art production was then revived in the 60s by the Fluxus, Conceptual, community-based, and feminist art movements.

‘The greatest legacy of the 1960s is the community based arts’ – Lucy Lippard

Turning to our current world of desert art making, how is this collaborative nature changing the current language/dialogue of art? And how is it doing so using the many web networking tools we have at our disposal? With the importance of the art making moving from ‘appearance’ to ‘conception’ and now to ‘society’  how is Burning Man participating in fundamentally changing values within art?

The Berlin-based KS12 collective is asking some similar questions about the fundamental nature of art in highly networked times in their “The Future of Art” – an immediated autodocumentary.  The film was shot, edited and shown at the Transmediale festival last week and supplemented by realtime photos from Flickr, videos from Vimeo, and questions via Quora. It was open to for anyone to submit to the process of production. The very tools of these highly networked times shaped the film; it was a production-as-process work.

The Future of Art from KS12 on Vimeo.

The questions they were investigating are very relevant to the Burning Man art making process:

What are the defining aesthetics of art in the networked era? How is mass collaboration changing notions of ownership in art? How does micropatronage change the way artists produce and distribute artwork?

These are some of the very questions that one ponders when making work with collaborative groups such as the Flux Foundation and Flaming Lotus Girls. Last year we saw many examples of the importance of networking tools. We saw the power of social networking as it challenged Paypal, and Kickstarter revolutionized the fundraising process for countless creative projects, making the concept of ‘micropatronage’ not only tangible but accessible and essential to successful work.

In what other ways do you see this networked era change and challenge our ideas of art and art making?

Solar SunFlowers at the Exploratorium Oct 7th

Sol System at the Exploratorium
Sol System at the Exploratorium

The Exploratorium will soon move to Piers 15 and 17 on the San Francisco Embarcadero.   They are in the process of creating and environmentally friendly new home and  solar power will be a part of their efforts.  Before the big move, they are featuring exhibits that help visitors explore ideas of energy  and  power use, and to kick it off,  the October 7th “After Dark: Sol Systems” will feature Solar SunFlowers.

Black Rock Solar and the Sunpower Foundation, together with Cynthia Washburn and Patrick Shearn and their  team at Poetic Kinetics, are creating two solar powered, kinetic sunflowers that will open gently in the morning as the sun rises, track the sunlight during the day, and close again each night. The multi-colored flowers will be 22 feet tall at their full height and will sense when people sit down at their bases, automatically leaning over to provide shade. The flowers will be outfitted with state-of-the-art technology and will draw people into their space with an unprecedented visual allure. The SunFlower project is believed to be the first of its kind anywhere, blending large-scale interactive art and cutting-edge technology in an immersive educational experience designed to change the way people think about renewable energy.

“After Dark: Sol Systems”

Thursday, October 7, 2010 through Sunday October 10th

Exploratorium
at the Palace of Fine Arts
3601 Lyon Street
San Francisco

Other participants include a bunch of  DIY electric cars, a small aquaponic company called Kijiji Grows (http://kijijigrows.com/)  and solar power sewer  Paul Nosa (http://pnosa.com/fr_website.cfm) who also participated in the Exploratorium’s August After Dark event, Nomadic Communities.   Hogg Island Oysters will be served while you find out about biology of  oyster and ecology of sustainable oyster farming. The night will also feature bamboo bikes and electric motorcycles as well as demos by staff scientists about electromagnetism and hydrogen.

For more information, visit their site at http://www.exploratorium.edu/afterdark/

Solar Sunflowers
Solar Sunflowers

Destinations
The Solar SunFlowers will be installed at schools, events, and festivals throughout the course of the year, at different locations across the country. The first installation will be at the Exploratorium where students and teachers will experience the SunFlowers first-hand: learning about renewable energy and technology, climate change, solar power, and green jobs. The SunFlowers will then be transported to destinations throughout California and the United States, where audiences from school kids to solar professionals and government officials will have the chance to interact with the SunFlowers.

(more…)