Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Burning Man Experience

Joe being filmed wiring the electric sheep

I just got back from the Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert. Yes, I'm home early...I went out last week to help a group of Welshmen build a sculpture which was commissioned by Welsh TV company S4C. My friend Joe Roberts is one of the two artists making this sculpture, and he invited me along to help out. It was fun, and great be involved with a totally different kind of art project, but the conditions were just too much for me in the end. A day long dust storm with winds of 50mph, along with the arid desert heat just finished me off.

Joe in the Dust

I did stay long enough to see the city - Black Rock City, the third largest in Nevada, temporarily - take shape, and see some of the most amazing and innovative mobile artworks I've ever seen.

The art project we were involved with is called 'Man Gwyn Man Draw', which is a Welsh proverb meaning the equivalent of 'the grass is greener on the other side'. The sculpture / installation, satisfying the most obvious of Welsh stereotypes (!) is a herd of sheep headed
towards a giant wheatsheaf with mock flames coming out of the top.

The faux flames

The sheep are constructed as kind of 'cybersheep', out of steel, fleece and plastic. They have lights inside them, and motion activated voice recorders. I'll post more pictures of the finished thing in the next few days.

Sheep heads

The TV show will air in November, and hopefully I will be able to post a subtitled version on this blog (it's a Welsh language production)

Here's a bit I wrote in my journal whilst I was there:

Burning Man 2008-08-24

The wheatsheaf structure

Today is day 4, and there is a dust storm. It’s been crazy so far, what with building the sculpture and the challenges of heat, time and limited materials and resources. The guys did an impressive amount of preparation for this project – having componants such as LED’s and voice recorders designed and manufactured in advance, as well as welded steel structures and fleece sheep coats. There is still a huge amount to be done on site though – 17 sheep need to be made from steel strips: drilled, riveted, bent into shape. It’s a lengthy and repetitive process, requiring cooperation, patience and hard work - far removed from my creative process.

It looks to me like they’re going to get this thing finished in time, but they’re not so confident. The heat of the day is oppressive, too oppressive for hard manual labour, so jobs need to be done in the shade. The actual site of the installation is about a 10 minute bike ride from camp, in the middle of nowhere at the moment.

The city is growing day by day, and other weird and wonderful installations are popping up around us. A giant Hummer is being constructed nearby, and the industrial lighting they use to work at night is almost enough for us to work by. There’s also a temple being made out of wood, which I haven’t been close up to yet. It looks phenomenally complicated. It’s a real eye opener how much work these people put into their camps and artworks, for no profit apart from the pleasure of making. It makes me feel slightly ashamed of my increasingly career driven artwork. Many of these pieces will be burned at the end of the week, like the temple – and this again reminds me of how attached I am to my work, and how driven I am by my desire to sell my work to buy the things we want to furnish our life with – a house, kids, a garden…It’s hard in the ‘real world’ to separate the necessity of the fiscal with your creative drive, unless it’s something you do on the side, as well as your ‘money work’. I guess this kind of event presents people with the opportunity to be childlike in that sense, making for the sake of making, with no other reward than the reactions of other people to your artistry.

The people I’ve met so far are quite odd, as you would expect in a place like this. My social ‘antennae’ feel malfunctional, and I’m not sure what people are saying to me. I think we’re the ‘square kids’ here: we’re not naked or outrageously attired, and that singles us out as outsiders. I think we might be regarded with suspicion. It’s like the reverse of what normally happens in society – the strange and unusual folk are alienated from ‘normal’ people, and are regarded at best as quirky individuals other people secretly want to be a bit more like, and at worst, as freaks of nature people are frightened and resentful of because they’re so far from the norm, and it’s imagined they might be depraved and insane, and capable of anything. Actually I’m starting to think that might be the case, there’s certainly a lot more deviant sexual character to this festival than I imagined. A quick look at the program of events is a shocking experience already.

A frankly overdressed burner (but I love pink!)
More tomorrow.......


NoJoke said...

Really great to see pictures of what you are doing - or did in that flat space ! I found you because I set up an email alert for Burning Man blogs and news to catch a glimpse of the atmosphere and terrain where my daughter is spending a week. This is her first burn -- went down with a group of friends -- they all look very much like the girls on bikes!! So thanks for the window!

melissa lanitis gregory said...

Love your frank comments on the whole thing, and society in general; I know I'd feel like you are... not quite ODD enough!

Like Pyramid commission painting very much too..