Perf Safety Team

Early in 2008, it became apparent that artists looking to burn their artwork on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights would make for an all-hands-on-deck situation for the Performance Safety Team. The team met with artists early to discuss the timing for each burn and allocated staff and resources accordingly. We are especially proud of our pre-event work with fire artists in developing their perimeter and safety crews, because it allowed us to rely on them more, so we could send a select number of our staff to act as focal points for the logistics, communication and support for each burn.

After years of experience in the burning of art we have decided on a preferred system for the protection of the playa surface. For structures that are too heavy to be practically lifted off the ground and placed on a burn pan or platform, we recommended the use of a layer of Decomposed Granite (DG) placed beneath the artwork and surrounding area. This material, when spread evenly to a minimum depth of 4-6 inches, provides both the support necessary for heavier pieces and excellent thermal protection to prevent baking and discoloration of the playa surface. Post-event, we found that these areas had for the most part been easy to clean and we will again recommend this system in 2009.

Examples of the wide variety of art built for the moment and freed by fire include such projects as:

  • Zsu Zsu The Cry Baby Drama Queen by Mister Jellyfish – She taunted us all week. A tower was built for her amusement. The citizens of Black Rock City begged her to come out from her trailer. But no … the tower was offered back to the city while she remained in that trailer and mocked us.
  • Basura Sagrada by Shrine, Tuktuk, and the Basura Sagrada Collaborators – Each year the temple is a place where we gather for the sacred and this year was one that allowed a new crew of temple builders to shine. We did note, however, that telephone poles are hard to burn.
  • Trash Fence By Bob Noxious – While not exactly art being burnt, this tribute to the dreams of those who were here on the land already and those who came after did incorporate a large fire each night near the northern end of the trash fence that was a welcome and warm oasis on the edge in the late hours of the nights.

The fire art communities also showed in full force this year with an ever more complex and varied offering of flame effects including such projects as:

  • Shiva Vista by Dave King – Dave King has over the years brought the Reno fire arts community together and set the bar in the construction of the complex and impressive display of flame effects. The piece also served as an open stage for fire performers and troupes throughout the event.
  • Ketchup by Bruce Bender – Fire played an important role in this project as potatoes were prepared and hot French fries were consumed by delighted visitors to this familiar and iconic bottle of tomato goodness. The fire involved with this project, while not as obvious as other projects, still required the same amount of oversight and safety.
  • Hydrogen Economy by False Profit Labs – As gas-filled soap bubbles hovered inside a custom-designed viewing case (for safety), participants were challenged to pop them with fire sticks for a delightful mini-explosion and display of fire.

The playa is a place where whatever we may do is small in comparison to the power and will of the weather. The day the Man was to burn was a dust storm from the very start. As most of Black Rock City retired to tents, trailers and the company of friends to ride out the storm, the pyrotechnic crew worked through the winds and dust to prepare the Man for its end that night.

As the day was coming to an end, there was a possibility that we would not be able to burn the Man. Crews worked in some of the most challenging work conditions in the world to be able to burn the Man, should the weather offer the opportunity. Once the pyrotechnics are in place, many people’s safety is on the line, and when we saw that we might have a window to burn, it was agreed to proceed with an accelerated timeline.

The Burning Man community once again proved its ability to adapt to adversity, and as the weather cleared, Black Rock City converged to its center in expectation and enjoyment of the burn.

The Performance Safety Team looks forward to helping you create dangerous art safely in 2009.

Submitted by
Dave X