Posts Tagged ‘The Serpent Twins’

Tranquility Base

Friday, September 14th, 2012

“How was Burning Man?”

The answer can’t be both faithful and concise. The adjectives scroll by the dozen and explanations just dull the experience.

Life from Above

The week long festival offers the highest highs and lowest lows.  It is a sensory and emotional adventure, uniquely monumental, fueled by spectacular art, the greatest parties, and the most epic nights.  But it is a grueling commitment, a jarring expense, and a ton of work in unforgiving conditions.  Your cost-benefit analysis will begin before the trip and continue afterward, especially because you might lose, break, or damage the things you carried.

Pier 2 by The Pier Group
Cleared for take-off (Image by Jake Zwierzycki)

What I can easily share is how sunset on my first night out felt like visiting another planet – or maybe an ant farm with LEDs and subwoofers.  Senses can’t settle among the simultaneous, buzzing activities and incomprehensible trajectories of the surrounding 50,000+ people around me.  Where are you going, but why are you here? 

By day, you can troll or stroll through the camps, many of which have activities big and small – spas, massages, bowling, french toast brunches, yoga, haircuts, meditation, dance parties, and other things that you don’t mention outside of the tent.  I got a cucumber and lavender eye treatment by Dilated Peoples, then attended a Sacred Spaces  seminar called Catharsis and Dark Archetypes, where I learned about my Jungian shadow (and I learned not to remove my shoes for any camp, because one hour later, dust-covered shoes all look the same, especially when there are hundreds).  Continue past the camps and you can comb The Playa to check out the sculptures and installations.

Like Being in Tron

By night, it’s like being in Tron.  Or imagine if Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade went rogue, met Mad Max, started a desert cult, and conceived hundreds of hydraulic, high-wattage, pyrotechnic progeny.  They would include the marvelous, sculptural art cars that drive around with lights, sound systems, flame throwers, and dancing revelers.  Some art cars are high-tech, masterfully crafted by fabricators and electricians; others look cobbled from a drunken welders’ guild.  At the smallest scale, they are modified golf carts and ATVs; larger, they are mobile nightclubs and bars.

Burn Wall Street surrounded by art cars (Image by Laura Szu-Tu)
El Pulpo Mecanico by Duane Flatmo, Steve Gellman, and Jerry Kunkel

The best of these clubs-on-wheels was Robot Heart, which looked like a charter bus covered in speakers. At 85,000 watts, you can hear Robot Heart loud and clear from over a mile away.  -I tested this myself when I walked at a brisk NYC pace for 10 minutes away from Robot Heart – and back – to retrieve an item I left behind a valuable item at a distant sculpture.  Despite that long-range power, speakerfreakers still clamor to dip their heads into the speaker boxes for a low-frequency blessing.

Robot Heart (Image by Flickr user jonandesign)
"Star Seed" by Kate Raudenbush (Image by Flickr user extramatic/James Addison)

The structures in situ at The Playa are dazzling monuments of professional fabrication, including 3D modeling and CNC machining, kinetic components, and self-illuminating frameworks.  Burning Man ticket sales fund the production of some of these projects.  Some are discreet sculptures, while others are installations, sets, or colonies – all are destinations.  They are fun to climb and offer shade from the otherwise unmitigated sunlight.  For some of the artists, burning it down is better than storage.  One impressive work was the laser-cut metal sculpture, Star Seed, by Kate Raudenbush, which invited brave visitors to climb into its nest of biomorphic shards.  The most “incendiary” was Burn Wall Street by Otto Von Danger, and its fiery demolition at the end of the week was a landmark eventThe Serpent Twins  by Jon Sarriugarte and Kyrsten Mate returned this year, as did Zonotopia and the Two Trees by Rob BellThe Pier Group’s Pier 2  attracted crowds, as did Gregg Fleishman‘s Man Base Pistil the interlocking geometric wonder that made habitation possible under the eponymous, communal hotspot, The Man.

The Man (Image by Laura Szu-Tu)

The most sublime structure was The Temple of Juno, designed by David Best and The Temple Crew.  A wooden pagoda centered within a 22,500 square-foot walled courtyard was accessible by four entrances, only to pedestrians, and not noisy cars.  I witnessed one wedding at the Temple but most people visited the Temple to pray, to mourn, to chant, and to reflect.  The Temple is an emotional hothouse and the architecture seems to trace and crystallize the delicacy and density of visitors’ otherwise intangible wishes and memories. Creeping, woven, layered patterns were intricately cut into wooden panels that sheathed the altar, the interior alcoves, and the courtyard walls, all the way to the top.  “The temple’s large enclosed exterior space, along with its interior structure and altar space is intended to address the needs of our community, to reflect and meditate in private,” according to David Best and the Temple Crew. It’s all gone now.

The big climax is Saturday night’s burning of The Man, the iconic effigy standing atop a multi-story shell.  The solemn denouement is Sunday night’s burning of The Temple.  Saturday night is intensely festive and euphoric.  The Man doesn’t so much “burn,” but rather explodes in multiple, face-warming blasts backed by screaming fireworks.  Then everyone charges in to dance around the smoldering embers.  It’s a hot fantasy for a pyromaniac, who otherwise would chase around El Pulpo Mecanico, pictured in my gif above.

He Burns (Image by Flickr user extramatic/James Addison)

Temple night, on the other hand, is astonishingly quiet.  Attendees sit in a ring around the Temple and watch in silence as the towering flames engulf it over one pensive, tearful hour.  “Tearful” because throughout the week, people leave photos and keepsakes of lost people or events that haunt them, or write vows and affirmations in graffiti along the interior of the Temple.  The whole thing is an architectural votive candle and there’s no way to describe the penetrating emotional atmosphere of the burning Temple.

Interior view of The Temple of Juno (Image by Laura Szu-Tu)

Stray myths and misprision about Burning Man still circulate – “dirty hippies,” “dumb and druggy,” etc – and I was hardened by them myself. Now I see that a good sandblasting and some vigorous dancing are all I needed to shake off the callouses.

Anubis by Dan Fox and the Anubis Team (Images by Flickr user extramatic/James Addison)

Update: There are great photos here, here, and here.