Burners in flux - Page 4

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

The cladding on Dumont was placed and removed several times with different teams to hone the design and facilitate learning, waiting until late July to finally break it down and get its frames and cladding ready for transport to Burning Man. While the team used computer programs to design the structure and faces, the artistry came in modifying Dumont and letting it inform how the other dunes would look.

To represent the varied texture of hillsides, the plywood received a light latex whitewash, the wood grain showing through. Solid plywood sections would represent veins of solid rock, surrounded by the layers of sediment and dirt that would be created using strips of plywood randomly thatched together at varying angles.

"The metaphor we're working for is the rock face with the various strata and how it changed over time," Rebecca said.

"It's important that it's not an artist's sketch," PK said, but a work of art in progress. So as they learned from Dumont, studied photos of their dunes' namesakes, and thought more about their art, the leads would draw new lines on the cardboard model they created, refining the design.

"I'm trying to use geological rules to do this. It's all conceptual geology," Jess said one Saturday in late June as she drew on the model with a pencil, shop glasses on her head, earplugs hanging about her neck, wearing a Power Tool Drag Races T-shirt.

In addition to doing freelance graphic design, she helps run All-Power Labs with her boyfriend, longtime Burning Man artist Jim Mason. "Work gets in the way," said Jess, who was working on the temple project full-time. She supplemented her hands-on Burning Man art experience by studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, earning her MFA in 2005. So she brought an artistic eye to her innate social skills that made her an unflappable connecter of key people.

During a meeting at American Steel, PK said the architectural term for the way shapes are created that only fit together a few different ways is a "kit of parts," adding, "It's like building a puzzle without the box."

Later, on the playa, he conveyed the concept to the group in a way that seemed downright zen. "The pieces will tell you the way more than the guidelines," PK said of the cladding shapes and thatches. He said shapes have an inherent nature, something they want to be, and "they will show you the way if you let them."

But the process was always more important than the product, something that was conveyed regularly through the project. At the July 12 meeting and work night, Jess, Rebecca, and Catie said the need for progress shouldn't compromise the central mission of teaching and learning.

They told the temple crew that one woman working on the project complained that some of the more skilled men weren't taking the time to teach her, and they said that was simply unacceptable. Rebecca even invoked the original Temple builder, artist David Best, who built all the Temples until 2005.

"David Best said, 'Never take a tool out of a woman's hand. It's insulting and not OK.' But I'd like to expand that and say never take a tool out of anyone's hand," Rebecca said. "Hopefully we can take on that sexism and some of the other isms in the world."

 

TEMPLE OF FLUFF

Heavy equipment has become essential to creating the large-scale art that has been popping up in Black Rock City in recent years, so Burning Man has an Art Support Services crew to operate a fleet of cranes, construction booms, scissor lifts, and other equipment that big projects need.

For months, the Temple of Flux crew built sturdy frames that were carefully broken down for transportation on five tractor-trailers, along with hundreds of cladding thatches stacked on pallets, boxes of decorated niches, a tool room built in a shipping container, all the pieces and parts needed to create a smooth build on the playa.

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