Anatomy of an Honorarium Grant Project

The lanterns and silk created a good shade structure during the day as many people came out here to escape the high heat.

The lanterns with bamboo and rattan frames held up well against the high winds and dust storms too. Actually the direction of the wind meant that the walls of dust from Thursday onwards moved just to the west of this piece. For most of the event, people who ventured out onto this less trodden piece of playa breathed easily. The design of the lantern bodies and their hanging allowed them to twirl in the wind, creating a surprising visually effective kinetic effect.

On each day that we came out to service the piece, recharge the batteries, replace rocks, etc, there were regular visitors such as this friend who I found visiting the piece almost nightly. By Friday evening the piece had a small following of perimeter dwellers, people who for one reason or another felt pulled outward to the edge of Black Rock City limits.

Other visitors left their own offerings on the small altar constructed along the side of the tree in similar fashion to the “cay da” in Vietnam. I have collected all of the offerings and am planning to clean up and preserve them as well as some photos of the image for my own collection of artifacts from this piece. After five days, the offerings looked more like a carnival of toys and beads and less like the simple and orderly offerings on a Vietnamese altar-incense, flowers, water, rice, and fruit. I lighted a small lantern on this altar using an led bulb and d-size batteries.

I began preparing the sculpture for its burn on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately it was at this time that the documentary crew arrived to photograph the event and to ask me about it. Likewise with LadyBee, shortly after. I think this was the only regrettable part of this year’s experience, that it had to come down after the Man on Saturday night instead of my usual Sunday, and that certain people who were instrumental in its creation hadn’t made it out yet. Hence this documentary with pictures and my submission of a lantern to the Atery on Sunday morning.

The burn happened about an hour after the Man went, with several layers of class c fireworks going off in stages before the main hulk (pictured behind Hong Anh with her fire extinguishers) continued to burn in the relatively high winds. I decided this year that I will not burn my pieces in future years because of the hazards associated with burning the piece as well as the problem of not having an art piece any longer to contribute and permanently install.

about this photoThis image shows one lantern remaining lit in the foreground and the piece incinerating under the whitish light of fountains and firecrackers in the background. The crowd of a few hundred loved the fireworks, however the BLM rangers informed me that I had to have a special permit (besides the Burn Permit) to use fireworks even class c and higher-basic consumer fireworks. They were nice enough not to fine me, and if I ever do burn a piece again with fireworks, I’ll inquire more about this.

Overall, I was very pleased with this work. For the first time in artwork at Burning Man I feel that I really created an environment as well as an art sculpture that brought joy to several thousand people who made it out there. I found crowds of ten to twenty people in the mornings and evenings standing 100 feet away and slowly rotating around the piece to look at it from all angles. Couples sat under the branches hidden by lanterns and talked or kissed. Some brave souls climbed inside the trunk to look at the tree from the inside out. People sat around and talked, stayed cool or enjoyed the soft light at 2am. As with all my intended sculptures, this piece was a warm sanctuary far on the periphery of the event. I could not have been happier with the lanterns and the colors chosen. I’ve received a lot of photographs from passersby.

about this photoLessons Learned:
I did learn quite a few things while making this piece that would help me to do a piece differently in the future. For one, I think it would be more interesting to not destroy the piece after the 500+ hours spent creating it. Not to mention the time and energy spent on transportation to Olympic Peninsula plus my costs in transporting pieces from Vietnam, and the final transportation to the Black Rock Desert. Instead, with just another week added to the truck rental and maybe some funds for labor costs, an installation could then be delivered from the desert and installed permanently at the site of an accepting recipient.

about this photoIn this year’s case, I would have chosen the Quileute Nation at La Push and in a short ceremony on behalf of Burning Man, I would have given this piece, fully reconstructed, to the Quileute. In thinking of future projects, I am keeping this idea in mind. I think that this would not only be of benefit to the artist but also to Burning Man in helping it to reach out in thanks to communities that have helped support its art and artists.

I’m thinking of a piece for next year that might borrow from Paiute traditions at Pyramid Lake where they had in the past constructed stone towers. After completing the event, I would include a budget for the transport and reconstruction of the piece at a site chosen by the Paiute Council for permanent installation.

Another element I would work on next year would be using materials with more long-term durability. I’d switch from fine silk to colored canvas, which is sturdier material. The connector strip and driftwood used this year were sturdy enough for the winds sustained, which weren’t nearly as strong as the previous year or two.

My budget of $2500 came in about $1000 short. I needed to make scouting trips to the Olympic Peninsula, which cost several hundred dollars in rental car prices as well as renting the cargo van to pick up the wood. While I saved money with a less expensive and brighter source of illumination (450 aHour commercial battery and 7 watt outdoor lights), I spent way more on the physical construction of the tree. I purchased tools as well as things like trash cans for cleanup, a magnet for collecting nails, ladders, siding, shovel, rake, etc. The Home Depot bill ran to about $600. Also I had budgeted for a rental pickup truck for the event totaling about $900 including gas when the final rental ended up being a 16 foot moving van with enough power to carry the wood down. The total for the van at .20/mile plus the gas ended up to be $1500. The purchase of silk, bamboo and rattan in Vietnam ended up pretty close to budget, only about $150 over estimates because of extra materials purchased and higher quality silk.

about this photoFinally, this year’s project and the very positive response it garnered have led me to consider ways that I might be able to make my ventures into environmental sculpture a more significant part of my day to day and year to year existence. I’ve thought of ways that I might be able to establish myself as a sculptor working on large, outdoor commissioned pieces in the future for organizations or institutions interested in compositions of culturally significant materials, as well as the overall creation of a piece that connects a particular location with the larger surrounding environment.