2002 Art Theme: The Floating World

Reality is so big that we must protect ourselves from it. We make rooms, then hang pictures on the walls and think that what’s outside must surely be a picture, too. But the rising tide of reality overspreads our boundaries. Our little worlds, in truth, are ships that float upon a sea. In the year 2002, we will cast off from the shore. The Black Rock Desert will become an ocean, a deep and perilous span, forever filled with the unexpected. Our theme is about how we find our way through the world and what we seek and value in it. Prepare for a voyage of discovery.

Graphic by Rod Garrett, design by Larry Harvey and Rod Garrett
Graphic by Rod Garrett, design by Larry Harvey and Rod Garrett

The Known and Unknown

“At night the body of clouds smother the whole quiet gulf below with an impenetrable darkness. Sky, land and sea disappear together. The few stars left below the seaward frown of the vault shine feebly as into the mouth of a black cavern. In its vastness your ship floats unseen under your feet, her sails flutter invisible above your head.” — Joseph Conrad

To help us chart a course through this seafaring world, we will construct a lighthouse. The sturdy bulwark at its base will form a carefully elaborated compass that divides our space — and everything that we believe we know — into 24 arcs of 15 degrees. From these compass points, lines of longitude will radiate outward. When overlaid by curving lines of latitude, they’ll form a hemispheric grid or sea chart. The mile-wide span of our circular bay will be dotted by an archipelago of charted islands, each one a capsule world and unique work of art. Participants are urged to use this sea chart and its orienting compass as they navigate this floating world.

The plan view of the lighthouse, 2002 (Graphic by Rod Garrett)
The plan view of the lighthouse, 2002 (Graphic by Rod Garrett)

A heading, or straight line of travel, may be gained by sighting a fixed landmark along a line of longitude. Concentric lines of latitude, spaced at units of 200 feet, will measure distance from the central Lighthouse and the Burning Man. Together, these coordinates will constitute a bearing: a determined position in space. Buffeted by unexpected winds and invisible currents, confronted by the vast, blank, indifferent face of the sea, mariners have always found their way by means of careful calculation. Your map and the enormous compass at the polar center of our ocean world will be your guide. As an additional aid to navigation, a foghorn mounted in the Solar Plexus of the Burning Man will sound during spells of foul weather, when even the shore of our city and the flashing beacon of its Lighthouse are obscured from view.

Beyond the bay enclosed by our city, faraway in the offing, voyagers will encounter the Unknown: the soul and mystery of the sea, a place where chart and compass cannot guide us. No known points of destination will be entered on our sea chart in this region. Participants who journey there must find their way by means of what is called dead reckoning. An enormous octopus, a mysterious white whale, a giant clam that guards its horde of gleaming pearls – these and many other wonders of the deep are said to reside in these waters, but only tales brought back by other travelers can furnish the intrepid voyager with a guide. Here, amid the vast tract of an undiscovered world, we’ll set participants the task of finding treasure.

A Quest for Treasure

“Spirits of good and evil hover near every concealed treasure of the earth.” — Joseph Conrad

The treasure to be sought in the Unknown will take the form of gold doubloons imprinted with the likeness of the Burning Man. The possession of this treasure will entitle you to enter the Lighthouse and climb upward to the top of our spinning world immediately beneath Burning Man. Here you’ll witness the created chaos of our city as it swirls around you. To be admitted to the Lighthouse, you will be asked by its Keepers to surrender your treasure. You must determine the true value of the coin that you possess. You may retain this object as a piece of property, release it for a passage upward to the Burning Man, or give it to another person as a gift. Under no circumstances, however, is it permissible to barter or sell this coin, nor is it acceptable to collect more than one. This would be unfair to other voyagers who seek treasure. One coin per person is the rule. Each coin should represent a unique effort by a single individual. All who enter into the Lighthouse must solemnly swear to the Keepers that they’ve discovered treasure by their own effort or received it as a gift.

Design and graphic by Rod Garrett
Design and graphic by Rod Garrett

We will also furnish participants with another way of finding treasure in the charted world of Black Rock’s bay. The names and locations of theme camps participating in this treasure hunt will be indicated on our city’s map, and each of these camps will have a special sign. At each theme camp travelers will undergo a rite of passage and receive a special token. When you have collected five of these tokens, you will e given a secret clue. This clue will be a measurement of latitude, a measurement of longitude, and a time. A sample clue: 1300 feet latitude, 300 degrees longitude, and 7:00 p.m. These coordinates will guide you to a secret nightly location, where you will be marvelously entertained. Here you may exchange your tokens for a golden doubloon.

A City By the Sea

“[The city] had found a inviolable sanctuary from the temptations of a trading world in the solemn hush of the deep [gulf] as if within an enormous semicircular and unroofed temple open to the ocean, with is walls of lofty mountains hung with the mourning draperies of cloud.” — Joseph Conrad

Black Rock City will become a coastal town in this year of the sea, and its Esplanade — literally a “level stretch of ground designed for walking along a shore” — will be a marina. Every type of seagoing vessel, from boats, yachts, and galleons to submarines and ocean liners, will be allowed to dock along our waterfront, provided they are firmly moored and have received permission from our harbormaster. We also encourage participants to contribute to the superabundant life of our bay. Pods of luminescent jellyfish and floating fields of lily pads will populate these waters, along with many other creatures, plants, and exotic visions. For descriptions of many of these installations, consult our listings of theme art projects for 2002.

Graphic by Rod Garrett
Graphic by Rod Garrett

Lines of latitude and longitude will also mark the streets that span our city. The radial streets dividing the arc of Black Rock City will be measured in 15-degree increments of longitude, from 60 to 300 degrees (formerly indicated as 2 0’clock and 10 O’clock our city’s plan). Each latitudinal street along the curve of this great arc will be named and assigned a number corresponding to our system of measuring distance from the Man. With the exception of the expanded block devoted to theme camps at the front of our settlement, each of these blocks will be spaced at 200-foot intervals, ranging from 2100 feet along the shoreline of the Esplanade to 3900 feet along its back street, the Abyss.

The Island

“[Azuera] lies far out to sea like a rough head of stone… Utterly waterless, it has not soil enough, it is said, to grow a single blade of grass, as if it were blighted by a curse. The poor, associating by an obscure instinct of consolation the ideas of evil and wealth, will tell you that it is deadly because of its forbidden treasures. Tradition has it that many adventurers in the olden time had perished in the search.” — Joseph Conrad

The distant island of Azuera will mark the outermost rim of our turning world. It will be located at 0 degrees longitude on a common axis with our Lighthouse and the center of our city, fixed at the exact dividing line separating the known and Unknown world. This is the embarkation place for all who sail beyond our bay in search of treasure. The many-tiered Temple of Joy will mark the island’s location. Some say that it is built upon the bones of former treasure seekers, while others say it was erected to release their spirits. By day, during spells of fair weather, participants will spy its shimmering tower pointing upward on the horizon, like a quivering compass needle. This landmark coincides with everything we know and do not know, with all that we have lost or hope to find. Here you will discover treasure in a form redeemed, not as hoarded wealth that’s coveted, but as a gift that gains its value in the sharing.

This adventure will depend on your immediate involvement. Once you have arrived at the Temple of Joy, you will be invited to write or tell the story of a gift that you have given or received that has changed your life or that of another. This might be a gift that is innate, such as a talent or any other kind of gift that has been given you by a parent, a lover, a friend or a stranger that has affected what you are. If you feel you have squandered gifts, feel free to tell this story, too. We also encourage participants to create memorials to gifts or their givers and bring these to the temple. On Sunday evening, the Temple of Joy and its immense accumulated record of this passage of gifts will be set afire.