La Vie Boheme: A History of Burning Man, 2000

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This is that same mobile platform, stripped down, and outfitted with a new work of art. This is “The Tree of Time”. It was created by an artist named Dana Albany, and this is another typically BoHo project. It necessitated this huge network of people cooperating and collaborating with one another. She had people fanned out all over eastern Oregon looking for bones — they met a lot of ranchers in the process, — and I’m not sure how you’d pay for such a service. Only a community would have the sort of resource to accomplish this. They found a lot of cattle bones, generated several unlikely friendships, and it circulated throughout Black Rock City just as the Nebulous had.

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This was created by Rev. Al Ridenour, who I mentioned earlier, and the LA Cacophony Society. It was a perfectly scaled replica of an attraction at Disneyland called “It’s A Small World”. They renamed it “Small After All World” to avoid prosecution. The original was created in the 50’s or 60’s, I think, and children of that era were taken there in droves. Al says it frightened him out of his wits.

The premise here is that this recreated version is ruled by Chairman Mouse and his New World Order, and they have come to the desert to create enforced world solidarity. It featured a large cast of “ethnic” characters. A milkmaid from Switzerland and a Swahili chieftain were handcuffed together in front of it. All the while, this incessant theme music played, “It’s a small world after all…”, the sort of tune that sticks and rankles in your brain. They had German helmets with mouse ears sticking out of them, and they goose-stepped around like storm troopers. At the climactic moment, a beautifully rendered effigy of Death sprang from a concealed spring in the back of the great bell tower, and all hell broke loose. The whole thing just blew up, and that was that. [laughter]

Needless to say this was a ritual with some cathartic intent, especially for denizens of LA. Obviously, it’s about anger, about the emotions of those who’ve been conditioned to experience in a world that has been alienated from them and commodified as a distanced spectacle designed to make them passive, a system that relies on social isolation to achieve its ends.

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This is some of the machine art I was talking about. It came out of the punk milieu, late 70s. You know, in the old days at the SRL shows, hey really were throwing rats at people, and this was kind of alienating.

Kal Spelletich, the artist whose work you see pictured here, came out of that school, and his work took a different course. However, it’s also worth noting what Mark Pauline, the guy who founded and directs SRL, accomplished. He taught artists the way they used to be taught. It wasn’t apparent at one time in the world that you needed academic and essentially scholarly training, or that you had to become skilled in critical exegeses to become an artist.

People would look at art, they lived in a world that was filled with art, and they would apprentice to an artist, and then they would branch off and become artist themselves. And that’s what Pauline did. He ran a shop like that. These guys were really gruff, and they looked real tough. But if you could do something, you were there. If you would help, collaborate, cooperate, if you would share resources, you were there, you were one of them, like that.

And cycling through the SRL shop, artist after artist was created. Well, that is the best way to train artists, if you really want to know the truth. And Kal went through that college. He took the SRL idea, which was the punk idea, which was — not to put too fine a point on it — “Fuck shit up”, that was the tenet, the creed, and he made it interactive. He got involved with us — I mean, this was out of his own genius, but it all came together — and he started making machines that the audience could operate. So, instead of saying, “You still here?”, he said, “Come on in! Interact and make the show yourself!”

Last year [1999], he created an entire field of these devices, and let the audience — audience? — I mean, participants — loose to play with it. Here you see a someone operating a figure that burns as it moves.

And this completes the slides. Let’s have a hand for the artists! [applause]