“Temple of the Devoted” was an art installation at Burning Man 2017. I’m an Art Discovery Guide at Burning Man, giving bicycle tours through the ARTery, and have brought art to Burning Man on 3 prior years. By far, the most successful was 2016, when “Shots Fired”, a steampunk espresso machine, served up shots of espresso. Two other projects were attempts to help participants communicate through wifi access on the playa.
“Devoted”, however, was something else – an itch that I had to scratch after the 2016 Presidential Election led to Donald Trump’s electoral college victory. I was in shock the day following the election, and then went through the usual stages of grieving.
It was all the campaign signs that did it for me. Going for a morning run, and seeing them all there, still trying to give me hope. At least half of the candidates were not feeling victorious, and certainly let down.
From those signs, I shared the feeling that there are a lot of losers (in 2016, most of the American people were losers), and the growing realization that social media, that great “disrupter”, sold this election as clickbait without regard for editorial control, The signs got me to see an opportunity to take my angst to Burning Man.
There is no prohibition against political speech at Burning Man, and I do think that I did create a debate – but nearly exclusively among those who were already engaged in the process. That said, lots many people viewed the installation, and looked in. Fewer got off their bikes and either wrote on the panels or in the composition books attached to the voting booths. And the writing… well, it is a blank page, and a chance to express. Open ended to the max. Freedom, for sure.
How different was “Devoted”? Different enough to enter mainstream media:
What was conceived…
What was built… Initially…
What was built… Finally.
As you may imagine, a lot happened between conception and delivery.
Saturday afternoon, “Build it Here” is what the little pink floofie in the foreground is screaming. L to R: Dom, Jesus, Henry, Emily, Joe.
Initial construction at ground level of the structure components that are to be over 9 feet in the air goes according to plan. There are forty four cables that define the roofline of “Devoted”. I am a big fan of Kenneth Snelson, this was my chance to get all tangled up in cables.
We had plenty of campaign signs. Campmates came out to pick the most appropriate, in their opinion.
Emily, the human zip tie dispenser, served up over 1300 zip ties to keep the wind at bay.
The hoist moved in, with the plan to tip the structure toward the truck, to about 45 degrees, and install the lower mast.
Close, but no cigar. We got the structure up, but the hoist started to creak, and the truck startet to move toward the structure, and the structure started to bend the form stakes that were to keep it from sliding. Maybe if we had remembered to bring some elephants along the plan would have worked.
But, it didn’t work. The playa surface was slipperier than anticipated. The tilt that was achieved was not enough to “harpoon” the lower section of the mast. Here the artist is pondering “Plan B”, options of which included tearing the thing down and going into hiding.
HEAT, or Heavy Equipment and Transpo Team of Burning Man Art Support Services, to the rescue.
The ” harpooning” with the lower mast, and hinged base plate, worked. You can see how high the hoist on the pickup truck would have needed to be should we have tried this approach initially. This is why the plan was to pin the edge of the structure down where it is currently resting on the ground and allow it to pivot upward. The hoist would pull the structure up toward the hoist to a little more than a 45 degree angle. The sand was too “slippery”, both the truck and the structure moved toward each other.
In a light wind, the structure was up,
With a lot of help.
One set of panels were tried for a couple of days, to make sure that they stayed in place (wind load design was for 100 mph, the most we saw was 35 I am told).
We flew the Flag,
and installed the final panels on Friday.
Was it art? It certainly made me feel something, and allowed me the opportunity to both express my love of this place I call home, and my concern that “enhancing shareholder value” is the only perceived responsibility of our tech leadership.
Some folks get it. If only Tupac were here. He would fix it for us. Or, so one burner thought.