Burners in flux - Page 3

Why would anyone spend four months and $180,000 building something that will only last a week? The answer says a lot about Burning Man culture

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The 21,000-square-foot Temple of Flux rises in the desert
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY JOHN CURLEY

"Big projects are really tough if I try to think about the whole thing all at once," Jess told me June 6 during the regular Monday evening meeting and work session at American Steel.

Even at that early stage, before the design was done and all the wood had been ordered, there were already many moving parts to the project. A demonstration wall had been built to develop the look for the exterior cladding; a cutting station for creating the plywood strips for the cladding and a painting station for whitewashing them; 10 A-frames from Dumont — the smallest dune, the only one that would fit in the workspace — reached up about 20 feet and created a slow twist; scale models of the whole project were built and refined; and the whiteboard was filled with fundraiser dates and other project details.

Over the coming weeks, Dumont would be cladded with plywood strips and shapes, then torn apart and recladded, several times over, as part of the learning and training process. Caves and benches were added and refined. "This is the only one we can build in the shop, so this is our petri dish," Rebecca said.

Johnny Poynton, a British carpenter and psychedelic therapist who didn't really know anyone with the project but joined after his own request to Burning Man for "a ridiculous amount of money" for a lighthouse project was rejected, quickly became an integral member of the team, and perhaps its most colorful.

He had been going to Burning Man for 10 years with his son, Max, who is now 26. They each have been involved with a variety of camps, together and separately, something that has drawn them closer together. "It's something we've bonded over, to say the least," said Max, who worked hard on the Temple.

That kind of connecting through a shared purpose is important to Johnny, who quickly developed affectionate relationships with those on the project. He said it is the project, the shared vision, that unites people more than casual social connections. "For me, it's not about how people are interconnected. It's about what they want to do," Johnny said.

Catie Magee, another former Flaming Lotus Girl, took on the role of project den mother, seeing to its myriad details while the principals initially focused on design and wrangling needed expertise and supplies. She was also dealing with Burning Man brass, who knew the project was underfunded but promised to make up for it with logistical support, free tickets, and as many early arrival passes as they needed to finish this labor-intensive project.

"From what we gather," Catie said at the June 6 meeting of the passes needed to facilitate a large crew on the playa starting Aug. 13, "we get as many as we need."

 

THE NATURE OF ART

The Flaming Lotus Girls, who work in steel and fire, have always focused on teaching and spreading the skills and knowledge to as many people as they could. But that was even easier to do with an accessible medium like wood, and all the more essential on a project of this scale. They needed as many people as possible to understand the design and do the work.

"A lot of us come from groups where we encourage empowerment and teaching," Jess told the group during one meeting. "If the opportunity is there, please take it [and teach skills to someone who needs them]."

It was something all the leads encouraged throughout the project. "The design is about horizontal learning," PK told group, referring to how the knowledge gets spread, with one person teaching another, who then teaches another.

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