Yesterday 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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
Recently I saw someone share a video entitled “The Heart of Burning Man”, and while the video was slick and impressive, I came away disappointed because it almost entirely focused on Robot Heart and the dance camp experience.
To be fair to the creator of the video, they did say, “To me, the Heart of Burning Man is the people who make it happen year after year…” and you know, I absolutely agree. But I take issue with equating the people partying at a sound camp with “the people that make Burning Man what it is”. That’s a part of some people’s Burn, but I think it’s the minority, and it’s certainly not what makes Burning Man happen year after year.
What makes Burning Man happen year after year is the volunteers, and if you are not volunteering, you are missing out on the Burning Man experience. (more…)
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.
I have always envied people their transformative experiences at Burning Man. Friends, acquaintances, strangers whose stories I read on the internet. “Burning Man changed my life!” they say, and point at one instance, one specific moment where they realized their life was going to be different moving forward.
This will be my 12th year in a row of attendance at the event, and I’ve never experienced that lightning bolt of differentiation.
Burning Man HAS changed my life, though, just not in the way I expected. It occurred to me recently that my life would be entirely unrecognizable if not for Burning Man. Transformation has snuck up on me slowly, over this dozen years of participation. (more…)
“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…)
“I don’t sing about myself. I sing about life. The songs don’t belong to me, they belong to those who hear them.”
– Po Campo – Camp cook for the Lonesome Dove cattle drive
If a crew is a hard working wagon wheel, then the cook is the hub. All spokes lead to him. He sits at his hearth, fanning the flame that energizes the core. He’s the crack of dawn coffee that brings you to the center so the wheel can align once more. He’s the embrace of comfort food that binds the dusk and invites the stories of the day. He’s the monarch of his humble realm and will smack the hand that tries for an early piece of bacon. He will listen with his heart wide open, but his kitchen knife will cut right through the bullshit. He will pour his heart and soul into a meaty pot of stew that’s always spiced with a dash of arrogance. It’s required to stay ahead of the cowboys that come to supper with spurs still jangling. But the fire that simmers under the stew will always come from a selfless temper. There may be big-hatted buckaroos leading the teams, but the camp belongs to the cook.
* * *
When you camp under the stars, it’s the sliver of dawn that usually wakes you, but this morning, it was something else. It was a mellow drone. I lay in my sleeping bag for a moment thinking that it sounded like maybe the hum of a fish tank pump, or something electrical. I unzipped my bag and sat up into the chill of the morning, leaning on the wall of the Octagon – an eight-sided wind block that doubled as our survey station and campsite. “Something is out there!” I thought – which was peculiar because the survey team of BRC is always alone on playa. I stood up to peer over the wall. There was just enough morning glow to announce the vastness of the open playa once more – and there, about fifty yards away, sitting hopelessly alone with only the stretch of the desert as backdrop was a folding table with a coffee urn and a plate of still warm beignets sitting on it. The mellow drone was coming from a small Honda generator powering the urn. There was a small stack of paper cups with a carton of half and half, sugar packs, some wooden stir sticks, and a tiny wastebasket. No one was there. This could only be the work of Spoono.
“Hey – wake up everybody! You gotta check this out.” I said.
Astounded crewmembers were sitting up in their sleeping bags not believing the smell of fresh brewed coffee wafting about. The St. Nick of Survey – Spoono, had visited us.
* * *
I don’t remember meeting Spoono. It seems that I have always known him. It seems that he has always been our camp cook. He was a large man with a larger heart that knew better than you what you needed. 2009 was the year of the coffee urn and was also the year that he started cooking for the survey crew. Like many of the positions out here – he got the job by doing the job. He had often said that his favorite time of year was to be out on playa under the open sky, frying bacon and beating pancake batter in the pre-dawn as we lay slumbering in our bags.
We all knew that his health was slowly failing him, but he had told me over the phone that he had one more survey in him. It was always after dinner in the fading dusk that I would catch him sitting content on the couch, gazing into the pastel evening of the Granite Range. This year, his gaze held tears. I now think it was the gaze of a man coming to terms with how ephemeral our joys can be. I now think he knew it would be his last.
I will never stop missing Spoono. I will always have his voice in my spirit. I will always have his thorny western advice in my holster like a side arm. I will always love him as the magnificent man that he was.
[This is the third in a series of blog posts addressing sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the importance of consent in the Burning Man community. It was compiled with the invaluable assistance of Bonnie Ruberg, a six-year Burner, university instructor and a queer community organizer in the Bay Area, and Gigi-D L’Amour, a founding member of and volunteer coordinator for the Bureau of Erotic Discourse.]
(Photo by NK Guy)
Black Rock City is a place where we go to be ourselves. We travel to the playa to feel “at home” in our community, our experiences, and our bodies.
Unfortunately, sometimes the public spaces in BRC don’t feel welcoming or even safe for some Burners because they receive unwanted sexual attention when they walk down the street. Sometimes they get catcalled. Or poked and prodded. People on bullhorns shout at them to take off their tops for bacon and get surly if they refuse. Moments like these are unfortunate but they happen — probably more often than you think.
What is sexual harassment? At its most basic, sexual harassment can be defined as unwanted sexual advances or sexually-charged remarks made toward another person. It can happen to all types of people, and it can occur between friends and acquaintances as well as between strangers. Sexual harassment is harmful because it makes those who are harassed feel targeted and vulnerable. Harassment that doesn’t seem sexual can still make a person feel uncomfortable in their body. Remarks about someone’s gender, race, age, body type, physical ability, etc. also have the potential to be deeply hurtful.
And harassment doesn’t just happen to women. LGBTQ folks and folks who are transgender or genderqueer also often find themselves on the receiving end of hurtful comments and inappropriate behavior. Men can be harassed, too. Everyone deserves to feel welcome and respected in Black Rock City. That’s what Radical Inclusion is about — that’s what Burning Man is about.
Making Black Rock City a more welcoming and respectful environment is a responsibility we all share. Here are some simple guidelines you can follow to help prevent sexual harassment on playa. (more…)