L2k, the ring of lights around the Man, has been around for several years. In 2001, it became one of Burning Man’s officially funded art projects. L2K returns year after year because it provides a pleasing visual effect, and it forms a nearly perfect perimeter around the Man on the night of the burn. Every night, participants are seen squatting over the lights looking on as a pulse comes around and then under them. The ring is made up of computer-controlled harnesses, control obelisks, battery boxes, and of course light pods. The ring has been maintained by the manager of L2K and Reno participants since the project was turned over to Burning Man by the original creators.

Maintenance of the project consists of several activities:

  • Battery charging and conditioning
  • Harness testing and repairs
  • Pod construction
  • Pod recycling

Of these items, only pod construction/recycling and harness maintenance need be mentioned. In 2002, pods were removed in large numbers from the ring, creating a need to replace them. Recycling accounts for between 10 percent and 20 percent of the pods replaced in the system. The parts and pieces left over after recycling are trash unsuitable to be used in the ring in any fashion. For the 2003 event, the team had to fabricate over 300 pods to replace those lost in 2002. That task was accomplished with greater success than expected. Thanks go out to the dozens of volunteers who contributed their effort, the best turnout this project has seen since it was transferred. One factor that improved the construction of pods was the donation of a cement mixer. This new tool allowed workers to mix large batches of cement and transfer it quickly to molds for hardening. Over 300 bases were poured in a few hours.

The LED lenses used in the pods take quite an effort to produce. Wires must be soldered, heat shrink tubing must be applied, lenses must be cast then drilled, and the finished lenses must be glued to the cement bases. Again special thanks must go out to those who helped this process, making so many lenses that we have a surplus ready for 2004. This task was also done in record time, literally weeks ahead of previous years. With newly made and recycled pods, we had more than enough to fill the loss from 2002.

Harnesses testing and repairs were conducted prior to going out to the playa. In 2002, only the harnesses suspected of having problems were returned to Reno for further evaluation. The rest were stored in the Artery’s container. Of the 13 harnesses tested, only 5 proved to need maintenance. Those were repaired and packaged to return to the playa. Only one harness repair was needed after the ring was installed.

Several steps must be accomplished prior to installation. The ring location needs to be flagged with survey flags about every 3 feet around the perimeter to guide in the trenching process. Kudos go out to DPW for another outstanding job of forming the basic perimeter – just part of the unmatched assistance DPW gave to this project. Special thanks are due to the manager of Art Support Services who made sure the trencher was delivered exactly when needed. Also thanks go out to whoever made sure the pod buckets and obelisks were on-site before installation.

As in previous years, the ring was installed on the Monday before the burn. This day is usually a difficult and laborious one for the team, but some changes this year improved the efficiency of the installation. First, a management team was assembled to assist in directing volunteers’ work. One manager directed the trenching, and another wrangled volunteers. This division of responsibility proved to be a great success. The trenching was completed in record time, and the ring was installed before sunset. For comparison, in 2002 the ring was not installed until well after 11 p.m. and was not in working order when finished. One factor that contributed to the speed of the installation was the memory of some words of wisdom from the creator of L2K. In 2002, when the installation was going very poorly, he said “Just put it in and fix it tomorrow.” This advice was taken to an extreme this year. The ring was trenched as soon as the perimeter was flagged out. Harnesses were laid out as soon as the trenching began, and volunteers started connecting pods as soon as they could reach the harnesses. The process took about 4 hours less this year than in 2002.

The sort of vandalism experienced in 2002 was practically nonexistent in 2003. Only one instance of vandalism was noted, when an industrious group or individual buried an entire quarter section of the ring from the 3 o’clock postion to 6 o’clock. The dirt had to be cleared by hand. The act was never repeated.

Driving on the ring was a great problem again this year and contributed to almost all of the damage to the ring. L2K has the distinction of being just about the only project on the playa that vehicles can drive over without completely destroying. Sometimes this treatment causes no damage, but often it does stress harnesses and break pods. Effort has been made in the past to get the word out not to drive on the ring. After 2002, suggestions for protecting it included adding a step to DMV registration warning participants not to drive on the ring (or any other art project for that matter). In 2003, word went out over Burning Man Information Radio not to drive on the ring, except at one of the four 30-foot openings located at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions around the Man, where harnesses are reinforced to resist damage. At those locations the harnesses are buried deeply enough to withstand the weight of just about any vehicle, and no pods are installed. The four entry points are marked by highly visible white obelisks at either side. Unfortunately, despite all these precautions, participants and staff continue to drive over the ring:

  • Several art cars were seen driving over the ring. When questioned, the drivers only stated that they didn’t know not to drive on the ring.
  • The annual DPW parade was especially damaging to a section of the ring between the 9 and 12 o’clock positions. Heavy vehicles were seen driving over the ring, including the Hyster, several DPW art cars, a vehicle that looked like a fire truck, and two fully loaded water trucks (which also watered down the ring while driving over). During the take-down of the project after the burn, several segments of the harness were found to be deeply impacted, requiring two people to pull them up. The pods in that area were in the worst shape of all the ring and one battery box was damaged.

We cannot stressed enough that driving over the ring does damage it.

After the Sunday burn, the ring is uninstalled. The process involves pulling the pods from the ring and setting the broken ones aside. The good pods are placed in buckets to be transported back to storage. The harnesses are pulled up, coiled, and placed in bins. Batteries are loaded onto a truck to be returned to Reno for charging. The area is cleaned up to remove debris. For 2003, all of the harnesses were returned to Reno, where they will be tested and repaired for 2004. The success of the installation was echoed during take-down. This process usually takes 4 to 6 hours to complete. It was done in 2 hours this year. One disappointment was experienced when the management team failed to show up to assist. Volunteers were rounded up and, with the assistance of the managers’ camp mates, the ring was quickly and efficiently packed. Thanks go out to all those who helped make the take-down the fastest to date.

Despite that experience, overall we found 2003 a difficult year to get volunteers during the event, especially for Monday’s installation. The policy of limiting entry to the event before Monday left L2K (as well as many other projects) without an adequate volunteer base. Still, everyone in the project understands the need to limit early entries. Despite the low number of bodies, the project went off without a hitch for the most part.

Lessons learned from 2003 will help us plan for 2004. Having a dedicated management team to assist in the install/take-down was a great success. For 2004, the team will be expanded by one or two people dedicated to recruiting on-site volunteers, This should improve the install even more. Adding 10 volunteers along the ring would save at least 2 hours. As the installation is difficult, more creature comfort items will be available including snacks, cooling water, and chairs for the overheated. Ring maintenance will be divided across four or five weekends as opposed to two. This change will allow repairs to be concentrated on one sort of work, speeding things along.

Submitted by,
Tim Kendziorsk
Manager of L2K