Sep 12 2011

Kids, darkwads, dubstep and jerks – A little feedback to the Borg on Burning Man 2011

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There’s a fascinating thread over at the Burning Man Blog inviting feedback on this year’s burn. The Burning Man Organization (variously known as BMORG or the Borg) asked for feedback, capsule and got an earful – on everything from the joys of big art and gifting to the miseries of unwanted noise and the hellacious exodus ordeal.

Here’s my two cents:

Bullets:

– Eight burns since ’96 (covered it for the L.A. Times back in the day, then fell down the rabbit hole and never looked back)
– Five burns since ’05 with our son (now 11) and daughter (now 10)
– Second year with a major art installation (XyloVan)
– First year with a mutant vehicle (Xylovan–>JANUS)
– Residents of Kidsville
– Virgins hosted – numerous
– Art car passengers transported – too many to count
– Darkwads almost run over – too many to count. You can’t legislate common sense.
– Moop collected – too much to weigh.

Forget it, Jake, it’s Burning Man.

This year was, like all the years before it, the Best Ever, thanks to the massive creativity of the artists, the warmth and intelligence of the great number of burners we shared time with, and hell – the weather was pure butter.

From reading the entire thread, BM2011 also seems to have been the source of a huge amount of glowing compliments, anxious complaints and bitter rants – as it always is …

Continue reading


Sep 9 2011

Burning Man 2011 – Mutant Vehicle pro tips from a first-timer

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Sadder. Wiser. Exhausted. Dazzled.

After building and piloting JANUS at Burning Man 2011 and living to tell the tale (Full build log here) I’ll go out on a limb to say this: Bringing a pre-approved mutant vehicle to the playa for the very first time in your life virtually guarantees that:

  • You will work your ass off
  • You will develop calluses, link cuts, treatment burns, what is ed bruises, muscle spasms and contusions in places you never thought possible
  • You will lose weight, grow muscle and pick up dangerous new skills (say, plunge-cutting plywood with a power saw just inches from your femoral artery)
  • You will empty your wallet far faster than you planned
  • You will – during that period – doubt:
    • your mechanical skills
    • the quality of your design
    • the solidity of your construction
    • your ability to finish in time for the Saturday burn, let alone in time to let you enjoy it at all during the week
    • your chances of escaping without a huge mechanical breakdown, catastrophic fire or horrible injury to your passengers, your crew or yourself
    • your ability to even get a grudging nod, much less a license from the mighty Department of Mutant Vehicles once you’re done
    • your sanity
  • You will show up on the playa having forgotten several critical tools, parts or methods for making it go
  • You will run out of screws, female plugs, butt splices or some other vital, impossible-to-find-on-the-playa supply
  • You will – after looking at other brilliant mutant vehicles around you – hate your design
  • You will vow never to let your hubris con you into such a foolish and exhausting enterprise again
  • You will finish hours – if not days – later than you had planned
  • You will make something bigger and more extraordinary in real life than you had even imagined during the design phase
  • You will be invited to bribe the DMV inspector – and out of desperation you will hope that your offer of a handmade gift-with-keychain-light is not too paltry when the signs say they clearly favor PBR
  • You will be told sniffily, “We’ll let you pass this year, but next year come back with more lights”
  • But you WILL get both your day and night licenses
  • You will remain completely sober (and swallow your tongue several times at the wheel) during the entire week, not because of the many repeated threats that law enforcement can bust you, confiscate your vehicle, kick you out of the event and send you to court in Reno. No, you’ll avoid any intoxicants – even a sip of beer – because at any second, without warning, deeply wasted Burners will lunge into your path, drive alongside you, climb onto your tailgate, bang on your vehicle, march around without lights directly in front of you, cause you to slam on your brakes and generally do everything suicidally possible within inches of your front bumper to ensure you have a heart attack or three
  • You will drive in tense, bitter silence for hours, hating shirt-cockers, sparkle ponies, propane flares, darkwads, moon boots, drum circles, techno, dubstep, neon, mutant vehicles and everything else Burning Man
  • You will vow never to do this again – and maybe skip Burning Man for the next nine years because it almost killed you
  • You will (however) slowly relax
  • You’ll smile – hey, I made it! People seem to be enjoying it! And – despite your charred, curmudgeonly attitude – you’ll start to really enjoy yourself too.
  • Burners will come up and interact with your vehicle – climbing happily aboard, playing your instruments, turning your little cranks, begging you to blast your flame effects (if you have ’em)
  • Kids will shout with joy on seeing you
  • Grownups will too – or at least they’ll say aloud “WTF is that???” and you won’t mind because at least you made ’em think
  • Other mutant vehicle pilots will honk (or blast) and wave, locking eyes with the look that says “I know what you went through – because I did, too.”
  • You will offer rides out to the majestic desolation of the unpopulated, art-free deep playa just because you can
  • You will climb onto your vehicle’s roof and enjoy the view, 20 feet off the ground – of your family and crew grooving on the waves of mutant vehicles, Burners, art and wildness surging around you at major burns (the scene at theTrojan Horse burn was particularly great)
  • You will happily give tours to total strangers, some of whom will thank you profusely and sincerely for showing them them things they never would have seen on foot or from the saddle of a bike
  • You will discover corners of Black Rock City you never knew existed
  • You will stand on your roof with family and friends on Burn night and howl with the glee of a 5-year-old and curse with the vigor of a drunken sailor as the Man goes up in a shower of fireworks, gouts of flame, and the boom of green-tinged propane bombs
  • You will spend 10 hours breaking down your mutation for transport (unless you were wise and rich enough to dedicate a non-transport vehicle to your project)
  • You will drive home wondering what the hell that was all about
  • You will immediately begin dreaming of your next design.

Here’s the full build log for the JANUS portion of XyloVan:

Below are photos of some other mutant vehicles (including the gobsmacking El Pulpo Mecanico, which hands-down WON Burning Man this year). I also posted photos of some of JANUS’ passengers, including the wonderful residents of Kidsville – and random bits of art.

Fifteen years and eight burns after I first tried to explain it, Burning Man still leaves me beggared for words. But building JANUS made me appreciate the worth of keeping my wrenches arrayed by size, making sure I had enough wire, and being deeply grateful for all the good friends who helped make this vehicle happen:

My long-suffering wife Kristina, David (the architect) and Marcelle, who generously donated heavy labor and painted the Janus medallions for front and back, Dave LaF, Alan and John for initial construction logistics; Marcus and Larry for on-playa muscle when I was about to lose it; Mac, Tina, Bernie and everyone at Big Art Labs for tools, welding, moral support and good cheer, and my right-hand kids, Cooper(Biomass) and Miranda (Hitgirl) for showing they know the value of hard work – thanks to all of you for supporting this whacked-out dream.


Sep 9 2011

Burning Man 2011 – Panoramarama

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The vast expanse of the plana lends itself to cinematic views. You find yourself wandering around the desert like David Lean, and previsualizing shots for “Lawrence of Arabia.”

I used to hand-stitch photos together in Photoshop from whatever digital snapshot camera I was using, approved which was horribly time-consuming. This year, I discovered the iPhone app 360 Panorama – which lets you basically scan an entire 360-degree panorama within about a minute (or 90 seconds at night) and then automatically stitches the images together and uploads them. The results can be kind of kludgy at times – edges don’t mesh well if you spin imperfectly, or if your iPhone vignettes photos at night.

But I like the immersive feel you get when viewing them on the Web – or on your iOS device – it’s like a window into another world. Click the thumbnails here, then click-drag the images on Occipital’s site. (*hit the back button to return here)



360 Panorama: Self-portrait inside JANUS – Waiting for the Department of Mutant Vehicles to inspect and clear us for nighttime driving.


360 Panorama: JANUS and other vehicles in line in the DMV inspection lanes.


A quiet evening in Center Camp



360 Panorama: JANUS and other mutant vehicles at the Temple of Transition.


Another view of JANUS at the temple with the excellent submarine vehicle (at left)


360 Panorama: The Temple of Transition



360 Panorama: The Kidsville tour circles up between JANUS and the Temple.


360 Panorama: A romantic afternoon


360 Panorama: The Circle of Regional Effigies – wooden structures and sculptures built and then burned at once by 23 regional Burning Man communities from around the world. Our own Los Angeles was represented by SCARAB, a food truck that served snow cones and chips to burners before being burned on Thursday night.


360 Panorama: Before any major burn, mutant vehicles gather on the playa like fishing boats circling a fruitful patch of ocean. Here, JANUS and the submarine join others ringing the site of the Trojan Horse burn.


Thronged by burners and mutant vehicles, the Trojan Horse – all 5,600 pounds of it – goes up in flames.



360 Panorama – a sunny afternoon in Center Camp



360 Panorama – The Man, about to burn.


360 Panorama – the Man burns


360 Panorama – Tearing down JANUS and striking camp – a day-long affair. The work was long and hard (we went from about 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.) but the weather was gentle, and the dust not too bad.


360 Panorama – Exodus. Tens of thousands of vehicles stream towards the exit – basically eight lanes of cars, driving through the dust and the night towards a pinch-point one lane wide that lets them out onto the main road back through Gerlach. Timed right, you can be on the road in 20 minutes. Timed wrong – when most people are leaving – it can stretch to 3 or 4 hours. We stopped in Center Camp to get drinks right after the Temple Burn on Sunday night this year, and so escaped to the road in about 2 hours.


Sep 7 2011

Music in the night

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The beauty of sharing a huge musical mutant vehicle is that – at any moment – something like this can happen:


… or this …


… or this …


… or this …

Thanks to THAT Damned Band, sale Titanium Sporkestra, viagra sale
, and all the musicians – trained, wild and accidental – who breathed life into XyloVan when we weren’t around to enjoy. You’re the reason we built it, and you’re welcome to play it any time you like.


Sep 7 2011

Built, spun and burnt – first panoramas from Burning Man 2011

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Back in Silver Lake two days after leaving the playa, here and I’m still foggy and bedazzled: That was the biggest, prescription hardest, cialis 40mg most invigorating burn we’ve ever had in eight residencies on the playa since 1996.

XyloVan/JANUS took two and a half sweaty, sometimes lonesome days to build (my deepest thanks to David, Marcelle, Marcus and Larry for pitching in so hard), and once we got our DMV licenses, we had a blast bringing music, mystery and magical rides to the people of Black Rock City.

The city has changed, the culture has changed, and we have changed. Many more thoughts (and photos and video) to follow, but for now, here are some panoramas that show off XyloVan/JANUS in its natural habitat.


Sep 5 2011

Pro tip

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A neodymium magnet around the neck makes for a convenient third hand.

Extra pro tip: Don’t forget to strip it before crawling into bed. Messy.