The Man

The Man and Pavilion 2008

Whereas most Burning Man departments are able to leverage much of their work and materials from year to year, the Pavilion team starts new every year. In 2008, the team combined sophisticated wood and metal construction to create the tallest base for the Man to stand on in the history of the event. The base became known as the Obelisk and, for the first time, neon was used to illuminate the vertical outline of the structure. Beyond this striking tower stood a circle of 24 illuminated “Obelights” outside of which stood the “Colonies”, four shade structures offering a place to rest, have a conversation, and interact with different works of art.

Despite significant challenges presented by this year’s weather on the day of the Burn, we were ultimately successful in releasing the Man in pyrotechnic delight. For more on the Burn Day activities, please see the Fire Conclave Afterburn Report.

American Dream and Pavilion

Aug. 28, as the sun comes up in the eastern horizon.

Aug. 28, as the sun comes up in the eastern horizon.

The Obelisk was an imposing monument, emblazoned with the images of almost 200 flags representing the countries of the world. Ranging from Canada to Chad, from Brazil to Burundi, from Vatican City to the Republic of China, the emblems shown brightly at night, gleaming like illuminated gems that stud a giant jewel box. Only one flag was missing, that of the United States. An internal staircase wove around itself like a DNA strand’s double helix, letting participants step off to a series of viewing platforms. The topmost tier was directly underneath the Burning Man.

At 60’ tall, The Obelisk was the tallest structure upon which the Man was ever situated. The team grappled with ongoing challenges with the construction method of the Man and Obelisk to ensure it stayed true to the original design while keeping costs under control. One particular challenge was that the Obelisk was built in such a way that it may not burn sufficiently to fall safely in a reasonable amount of time.

It should be noted that burning artwork is an art form in itself. The ignition point is important for a successful burn. Starting a fire at the base increases the potential that the art will fall over half-consumed. Not having enough fuel can result in the fire extinguishing itself before the burn is complete. Psychologically, there is certainly something to be said as to how the Man is consumed by fire: the ideal burn, most appropriate to its mission, is one where the Man is allowed to burn completely and eventually disintegrate into embers.

The ignition points were carefully chosen, and extra wood was placed on all levels of the Obelisk to fuel the fire and ensure as even a burn as possible. Thanks to the pyrotechnics team’s careful planning and attention to detail, the burn was one of the most spectacular combinations of pyrotechnics and fire we had ever experienced. The Man and his Obelisk burned beautifully.

Man Build

2008 saw the smoothest Man build yet, with an outstanding group of skilled people bringing their eagle eyes and skilled hands together to make a fine Man. For the first time in several years, the team forewent the use of CNC tools (computer numerical control) to cut the more complicated shapes on the Man, instead choosing to fabricate them all by hand. This was in part inspired by the great satisfaction earned from making these parts by hand during the 2007 rebuild on playa. To perfect the layout of some of these shapes, the team made a series of old-fashioned mechanical jigs that we could continue to use in years to come. With careful layout, some dedicated jigsaw operators, and a pile of jigsaw blades, the pieces were cut and ready to become part of the Man.

For the first time ever, the Man Crew documented the build on the Burning Blog (under the Building Black Rock City category), as well as on an SMS text-based microblog system. The intent was to strengthen the connection formed between the community and the building of the Man that was re-established in 2007. The team got some great feedback from participants about the blog, and intend to continue documenting this way in the future.

The primary challenge in building the Man for 2008 was a structural one. The platform was to be much taller than it had ever been, placing the Man much further from the ground as well. Since wind speeds increase dramatically with height above ground level, the Man was expected to withstand greater wind loads than ever before. While the structure itself could withstand the wind easily, the loads transferred to the rigging points would be greater and the structure of the pelvis had to be strengthened to compensate. Also, because the Man would not be rigged to the ground, the steep angles of the rigging cables caused a need for standoffs on the rigging points to help the cables clear the structure and the neon tubes. With these considerations in mind, rigging hardware was fabricated, extra blocking was added to the Man, and rigging points were welded onto the steel top of the platform.

The Man was built with particular attention to detail this year. Each cut was made with great care, each surface and edge sanded to velvety smoothness. Fine details were carved into the head and many discriminating eyes checked pelvis, straight lines and smooth curves. The Man’s parts were completed within a week, and then put into storage to cure until August. Ten weeks later, we reconvened at the golden spike to assemble the pieces and prepare the Man to be hoisted to the top of the platform. With some adjustments, the Man was assembled and covered in wax within a few days. The neon was installed and, with the help of some giant cranes and a break in the variably heavy winds, we were able to get the Man hoisted and installed on top of the Obelisk on time. As the winds picked back up throughout the rest of setup week, we were able to verify that the rigging was well-designed and that the structure was strong enough to handle the new heights.

Thanks to the hard work of all teams working on the Man and the Obelisk, the 2008 Man was a great success. We struggled through some challenging wind conditions, and the serial nature of the project tasks contributed to some time challenges, but everyone persevered and the project was delivered safely, beautifully, and on time. Many thanks to all involved.

Submitted by:
Tim “Espie” O’Keefe, Beth Scarborough, Will Roger, Crimson Rose