22, and found the playa thick with deep drifts of dust, making it a difficult and tiring bicycle trek into the deep playa where San Francisco artist Peter Hudson and his crew were building Tantalus. But it was worth the ride, particularly if seeking a great take on the American Dream theme.
Like most creations at that early stage of the event, it wasn't up and running yet, but it would be by Aug. 24, when the event officially began. Still, even in its static state, it was an art piece that already resonated with my exploration of how the counterculture sees the national political culture.
Tantalus looks like a red, white, and blue top hat, with golden arms and bodies around it. And when it spins around, totally powered by the manual labor of visitors working four pumper rail cars, the man a modern American Tantalus reaches for the golden apple being dangled just out of his reach and falls back empty-handed.
It's a telling metaphor for such a big week in American politics.
There were plenty of political junkies on the playa, including two friends who let me crash in their RV for two nights and who left the playa for Denver after a couple of days. Fowler's sweetie, Heather Stephenson, is with Ideal Bite (their logo is an apple minus one bite) and was on an alternative energy panel with Mayor Gavin Newsom, Denver's mayor, John W. Hickenlooper, and Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado.
"The American Dream to me is not having barriers to achievement," Stephenson told me. It is Tantalus getting some apple if he really reaches for it. Fowler said that it is "the freedom to pursue your own dream without interference by government or social interests." But, he added, "the American Dream is more a collective dream than an individual dream."
Bay Area artist Eric Oberthaler, who used to choreograph San Francisco artist Pepe Ozan's fire operas on the playa, hooked up with the Philadelphia Experiment performers years ago at Burning Man including Philly resident Glenn Weikert, who directs the dance troupe Archedream. This year they created "Archedream for America," which they performed at Burning Man and the Democratic National Convention. Weikert told me the artistic and collaborative forces that Burning Man is unleashing could play a big role in creating a transformative political shift in America.
"These are two amazing events that are kind of shaping the world right now," Weikert said. "A lot of the ideas and views are similar, but people are working in different realms."
Tantalus. a Burning Man installation
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