Monday, December 17, 2018

It's about the frickin' IDEAS, man!

Is it mandatory for me to begin each blog post with some variant of "Gee whiz, it's been a long time since I posted!"? Sometimes it seems that way.

Well yes, it's been a while, and the reasons are hard to pin down, but they have something to do with the shift in perspective that happened since returning from Europe, and a seeming inability on my part to discern which events in my life are "blog-worthy." In Europe, people blowing their noses in a way that was "culturally different" from my personal background seemed blog-worthy, but here in Amerrrrrica things are less clear to me.

I ended the last post by saying that it was probably time for me finally tell the story of the almost-lawsuit that happened to me a few years ago. But... I'm no longer certain that there is any reason to tell it, perhaps other than the fact that I've teased so many times on this blog that one day I would. When that situation first unfolded, I wanted nothing more than to angrily tell everyone I knew what a fucked up thing was happening to me, but for legal reasons I couldn't. As time went on, and especially after the whole thing was resolved, the salacious and unjust details of the story faded in my mind, and I became more interested in forgiving and moving on. 

Well anyway, here it is, finally: the much abridged version of what happened to "Earth Mover."

In the winter of 2015 I built a new sculpture for the Coachella Music festival, called Earth Mover. It was an ANT, built from heavy equipment parts. I thought it was a pretty good piece. 

Among the people who helped me build the piece was a friend called Ugo. (I am changing all the names). When we assembled the piece at Coachella, Ugo was an excellent parter in the process. After Coachella I was approached by another festival who wanted the piece, and although I was unable to attend that festival personally, I thought I could send the sculpture without me, to be built by trusted crew members. I decided to send two guys, Ugo and Gabriel. Gabriel was my best friend; I had worked with him for years and trusted him totally. I had more experience with Gabriel, but Ugo had more experience with the sculpture. I thought they would make a good team. The festival appointed two local guys to assist, Caleb and Stew. 

At the end of the second day of the sculpture build I received a call from Gabriel saying that the piece had fallen down catastrophically and that Ugo had been injured. Stew had narrowly escaped. 

I flew out to the festival immediately, and through interviewing the various parties involved I learned why and how it had fallen down, and I learned also that there was no shortage of blame to go around, with most people laying the blame at the feet of one person in particular. The truth is that I will never know exactly what happened because I was not there; but there was a fairly high degree of uniformity among the various accounts. 

Ugo was a friend of mine, and also someone that I knew struggled financially, so in the early days after the accident I helped him financially. I started and maintained a GoFundMe to help pay his costs. His injuries were neither serious nor trifling; rather somewhere in between. In the end, he got a shitty billboard personal injury attorney and decided to sue me and the festival. It was very difficult for me to find a lawyer. It was a terrible time in my life (and his, I guess) which lasted over a year, and it played a role in fueling my enthusiasm for moving to Europe. While we were in Europe, we all settled out of court. The financial hit to me (and my family) was significant, but not crippling. When we returned from Europe, I tried to find Ugo to give him a "no hard feelings" message, but he has left town and no one really know his status. I hope he is all right. 

So that's really it. Ugo was injured and I don't know if those injuries have left a permanent mark on his life or not. He got some money, but probably less than he hoped for. I lost a sculpture, the future revenue I might have earned from that sculpture, a bunch of money, a bunch of sleep, and at least one friend (Ugo). My relationship with Gabriel suffered tremendously but seems like it might be on the mend. Moral of the story: Buy the appropriate insurance. 

OK, Jesus... that's over and done with. 
Moving on.

Life in New Mexico for Christina and me continues to be a mix of parenting, homesteading, trying to make money, and trying to lead the art-life. We finally stopped working ON the shop, and have begun working IN the shop. 

A few weeks ago I was alerted by a friend to an upcoming group show at a gallery in LA. The theme for the show was "Robot Love," and I felt that Big Mother (which I built in Berlin) would be a good fit. 

After the curator for the show agreed with me, I set about preparing the sculpture. For various reasons, I had decided to cut off the Birch tree legs of the sculpture prior to departing Germany, so the first order of business was to get her some new legs. After securing the appropriate permits from the BLM, I ventured out into the snowy wilderness and got her some new Aspen legs. 

(Please note: the sculpture is not finished in this pic. Some of the "straggler" branches were removed, and the transition from tree to thigh was done properly, with tree bark.
I have a preference between the Birch seen above, and the Aspen in this picture. 
Do you?)

Driving all the way to LA and back in the span of a few days was a bit ridiculous, just to show a sculpture, but what the hell... I guess that is part of being an artist. 

Say YES to opportunity when it arises. 

I'm currently facing approximately four different projects which will keep me out of the shop, lashed instead to my laptop and a sketchpad for the next week or two. 

1) Readers of this blog will probably remember from last year that the process for securing a grant from Burning Man to build new work begins with a Letter Of Intent (LOI). Well, Christina and I have both passed this stage of the process successfully, meaning that the next phase is to work up a full proposal for submission by the January 15th deadline. Lots of work ahead. 
My proposal this year came to me in something of a "flash of inspiration," rather than a labored calculation. I tend to trust those ideas more. 

2) About a month ago, Burning Man reached out to a certain group of "their" artists to solicit ideas for a certain important design element of the city, and I was invited to participate in this. Very exciting! Lots of work ahead on that as well.

3) A good friend of mine is spearheading a team to try to begin, from the ground up, a new interactive art space in the tradition of The City Museum, or Meow Wolf, and he has invited me to be one of the very first artists involved. This is also very exciting, and I'm grateful to be involved. I have quite a large space to fill with some sort of interactive sculpture. It's all about the ideas. And a rough draft of those ideas is due soon.

4) I'm putting some finishing touches on a self-portrait drawing which will be included in a Taos show of self-portraits in January.

It's clearly a phase of gestating and birthing new ideas. It's really the hardest part of making art (by which, of course, I mean just about anything ranging from finger-painting to fashion to film-making), because it is the most important and most critical. Anyone can train himself or herself to be a good craftsperson, or at worst can pay someone else to do the craft for them. But no amount of slick and sexy craftsmanship can disguise a shitty idea. Flashy movies with weak plots always tank after the opening weekend. Beautifully crafted sculptures which are fundamentally about nothing sometimes have longer legs, because the masses are wowed by glitz and glamor, but I don't personally think they will stand the test of time, and I'm not fooled by them even for today. On the contrary, a brilliant idea or a gripping story can sometimes find its audience even when presented in a poorly crafted package, and if that idea is lucky enough to be delivered in a well-crafted presentation, it is practically guaranteed to find success (OK, that's a bold claim... at least such an offering will have integrity... and probably deserve an audience, even if it doesn't find one).

So that's a lot of art-theory and opinion mumbo-jumbo, but now it's up to me to live up to it. Gotta find some good ideas. 

One glitch for me... a personal limitation I am trying to overcome, is the limitation which unconsciously says "don't dream up ideas which you are not personally capable of seeing through to fruition." I know my skills; yes, sometimes they expand and that is exciting, but I also know what I don't know (how to do). Sometimes I feel that my intimate knowledge of my own limitations has a too-important seat at the table during the idea-generating phase. After all, other people with other skills are out there. Yes... it's easier to connect with them in Berlin than it is in Taos, but we have the internet. And electricity. And toilets. (And laser cutters and CNC mills and 3D printers....)

Speaking of Berlin... I went through a phase about a week ago in which I was actively missing the place. I miss Dussmann Das Kulturkaufhaus and the Spree and KOAS and Schlachtensee and I miss bicycling through Prenzlauerberg  and the S-Bahn and BBK and Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain and the Schnitzel and the Schwarzbier and all the great people we met there and who helped with the sculpture. You know who you are. Berlin is a great place, and I hope to return there one day, if only for a visit.

And... here is the best news of the month:  The only food I actually miss from Spain, the only food I ever blogged about (OK, except for Schnitzel and Schwarzbier), the amazing blue cheese known as Cabrales... which I thought I would never eat again... is available from our very own home-town over-priced natural foods store!! I don't care that much about food, in general, but mmmm.... Cabrales!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Home, Home on the Range

It is hard to know how to write this post.
It was so easy to structure a blog post around a trip to Venice or Iceland, or around a salient observation I'd made about the German psychology. 
But now we are home. Day to day life feels mundane, occasionally even like drudgery. Insights around culture and psychology seem to come more slowly here in New Mexico than they did in Europe... though they do still come. Interactions with cultural stimuli are much less frequent and less rich here, and the results of those interactions - be they new ideas or possibilities for collaborations - are also slower to come. In the place of all this are the facts and rituals of homesteading, the daily maintenance and labor of keeping our OWN land and buildings functioning the way we want them to. Would the limited European audience for my blog find these details interesting, in the same way I hoped my US-based audience would be interested in our stories from Europe? Who knows...

When we returned from Berlin, I thought that I would be coming around, in short order, to various profound insights about the differences between Europe and America. And... yes... I have had those thoughts, and there are differences about which I have something to say. But as we spend more and more time in our little rural quasi-paradise, I realize that the dichotomy which feels much more salient, more pertinent, is not the contrast between America and Europe but rather the contrast between rural and urban. Living out here where we live... it's really fucking different from life in a city.

If we had lived in Europe the way we live here... which is to say that if we lived rurally, with no neighbors, with our own workshop, in a house and on land for which WE were responsible... THEN I think it would be easy to see the America vs. Europe thing much more clearly. But in Europe we lived in an urban setting. For Christ's sake, we lived in apartments! We had neighbors and trash collection. If the plumbing broke or there was heavy rainfall outside, it was no worry of ours. Here in New Mexico, we live on the land. When we have trash, we load it onto a truck ourselves and haul it to the dump, where we then unload it into the steaming piles of everyone else's trash which sometimes contain dead horses. 

In fact, dead animals are a much bigger part of life here than in Barcelona or Berlin. 

(Freya shows off some of her favorite new toys, an old dog head and a fresh rabbit)

When the plumbing breaks, we fix it because no one else is going to do it for us. When it rains a lot, we have to think about which car to drive so it doesn't get stuck in the mud, and we have to be careful WHERE we drive, so we don't create terrible ruts on our land. When there is a packrat living under the porch, hoarding pencils and gloves and socks and dogshit and dead mice and partial coyote skulls, we have to take apart the porch and evict him. 

It's man versus nature out here, all the time. 

And it takes time. Pulling apart the Honda CRV or putting a new floor into the guest house to deal with the mice can take two or three days. Oiling the wood on the deck to save it from the ravages of the sun, or installing new gutters on the house to protect the firewood from the rain takes time away from being productive and creative. But the payoff, I guess, is that it's all ours. This is OUR LAND, damnit! 

Yes, Trump is an embarrassment, yes our healthcare system is barbaric in its callousness compared to what you see in Europe, and yes the culture of fearmongering here is grotesque, but what affects us on a daily basis is how to remove the dead rabbits from the living room, whether we can get the car out of the driveway, or whether the baby rattlesnake near the shop means that there are more of them somewhere nearby. Well anyway, that's where my head is at right now. I think that in time, these considerations will fade and the differences between the cultures will come back into clearer focus. (As for a snapshot of my thinking right now, I would say that Europe is more humane. Healthcare is a right. Gun violence is not an issue. High quality education at a fair price, or free, is also a right. But we all know all this shit already. Maybe America will grow up one of these days.)

So... what have we been doing anyway? Christina and I both came back from Europe with a really fresh perspective about how our workshop should be organized and have been spending countless hours reorganizing. For me personally, it was all about maximizing floor space to make room for bigger projects, or multiple simultaneous projects. 
This photo was taken in the first days after returning from Burning Man....

You can see that at the left edge of the image there is a big wooden loft, creeping in and stealing large amounts of floor space. I removed all of that, and all the other crap that had accumulated around it, and reorganized the entire left side of the shop. 

It involved lots of work with my really large forklift, poking into my comparatively small shop door...

And here is how it looks today...

You might notice in the background, on the right, is a brand-new room floating in the air, back on Christina's side of the shop. 
Here is a better pic...

This is Kodiak's new workshop! It was Christina's idea and she did most of the work, although I also helped a lot. Here is a pic of the inside...

Christina really did a fantastic job, and it seems to be ushering in a really fun new era of Kodiak working in the shop with us. 
Here, he is using a bandsaw for the first time...

Another thing that inspired me about working in Berlin was the amazing plate roller at BBK...
Here is a pic of that one...

When we returned to New Mexico I immediately started shopping for one of these... but we came back to a financial disaster which we are still crawling out of, and machines like this go for $10,000 - $20,000 used, so I had to re-think that pipe dream pretty quickly. The machine above was about $65,000 new. 
Well I put the word out among friends and pretty soon I found a (much smaller!) plate roller for the very good price of $150. It was manually operated, and actually quite physically demanding to operate, so I put a motor and foot control on it. I was able to source all of the power transmission components (motors, sprockets, chains, shafts and bearings) from my own personal supplies, and the foot pedal was about $40, so the machine came in at under $200. Not bad.

Halloween was really fun - the town of Taos stepped up their game and the entire downtown was transformed into a street-fair for kids, with everyone running around in costume. Christina and Kodiak and I all worked together to make him a robot costume, for which he won a prize in the 6-8 year old category.

I continue to work towards finding a placement - a rental or a sale - for With Open Arms... but nothing is sticking so far. If you want a giant sculpture of a robot god from a dystopian future in your front yard, or know someone who does... please let me know!

Paintings and sculptures of the nude female continue to be a force for good, calmness, and sanity in the universe, in my opinion. There's a painting I would really like to add to my collection, but at $11,000 it seems unlikely anytime soon. 

Later this week, we will add a new member to the family... this guy:

He is still a kitten, but I am sure that when he grows up he will bring us lots of dead animals! I expect nothing less of him!

There have been interesting developments in the old story of that pesky lawsuit that cropped up before we left for Barcelona, and so maybe I will finally tell that story. A topic for the next post?

Signing off from the land of entrapment...

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Making a mess in New York

Didn’t I start the last post by saying: “Well here I go again, trying to blog from an airplane!” 

Here I go again, blogging from an airplane! 

Christina and Kodiak and I are on our way back to New Mexico from New York City, having decimated four more cars with the Hand of Man! 

(This might be my favorite photo of the weekend... it really shows the scale of the Hand and I somehow managed to capture a motion blur on the car, or what is left of the car!)

The Hand made its East Coast debut this weekend at Maker Faire New York and was a big hit. I‘m not just saying that… the reception for the Hand was even more enthusiastic than usual. My guess is that folks in the Eastern part of this country don’t see quite as much of the whole big sculpture spectacle thing that we do in the West, thanks to Burning Man and Coachella and Maker Faire (which has a bigger presence in the west). In any case, regardless of the reasons, people seemed to love it. We heard things like “You guys transformed so many people’s lives this weekend!” and “Thanks for getting so many kids interested in STEM!” and “This is the best thing I’ve seen in 5 years of Maker Faire!” Of course it feels great to hear that sort of thing. 

The Hand is finally on its way back to New Mexico after being stuck in Europe for over a year, and it is due for a thorough inspection, some maintenance, and even a few improvements. It seems as if the Hand might get a few more gigs from the exposure it received this weekend, and we’ve gotta keep it in tiptop shape! 

When I blogged last, I was actually not on a plane to New York, but rather to Maine. I know this is going to sound rather extravagant of me… but I have for many years really wanted to get a pair of custom-made Limmer boots. Limmer is a family run business in Intervale, New Hampshire which has been in constant operation since 1925, and which builds durable high-quality custom hiking boots. 

They only guarantee the fit if you visit them in person, and the wait list for such an appointment is about 2 years. My name came to the top of the list while we were in Germany, so it was actually close to a 3-year wait for me, but I finally made it to their little shop to get my feet measured. 

Now I have to wait 8-10 weeks for the boots, but hell, I've been waiting 3 years already.

While in Maine I stayed with Christina’s and my old friend Juniper, who we really wish had never left Taos! Well she lives in there now and it was really fun for me to be her guest in the cute little town of Belfast. She never gets to eat lobster because all her friends are vegetarians (!), but I was thrilled to help her with this little problem. 

Young’s Lobster Pound is really just a warehouse for lobster distribution, but they have a few picnic tables out back and are able to steam fresh lobsters and clams for those who don’t need a fancy atmosphere, and at a very reasonable price too! Juniper introduced me to the concept of the “soft shell,” or the young 1 -1.25 pound lobsters, and damn were they tasty. This was a real highlight of my trip to Maine. 

Juniper and I travelled to New York where we were joined by Christina, Kodiak, Shay, and Claire. 

What a great crew. Building the Hand, running the Hand, and taking it down went so smoothly. Thanks guys, you are awesome. 

While in New York, I got a chance to catch up with family. My mom is currently living there to help my brother Trevor and his wife Caroline with their new baby Beowulf, who is frankly adorable. Our cousin Vivien also came down from New England so it was work and fun, all in one weekend. 

Trevor, Beowulf, Kodiak, and me

Because Christina and Kodiak and I lived in cities while in Europe, being in New York was a bit of a throwback to our time over there. From the subways to the crowds to the retail density, it all felt familiar and comfortable. But to me, the highlight of the trip was probably our regrettably short visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), squeezed in between work obligations. On view was the special exhibition “Heavenly Bodies, Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” 

Something strange happened when I first came upon this display of outfits… 

…. Something I actually cannot really explain…. 
…and it happened again only a minute or two later when I came upon this piece by Alexander McQueen…. 

…. And that is that I was genuinely, briefly, overcome by emotion. 

Yes that’s right, I was approximately on the verge of tears. And I can’t really understand it. I’m certain that it has nothing to do with Catholicism, for I have no sympathy or fondness whatsoever for any religion. I think it is something more like: I was overcome by so much beauty. I don’t know if that’s even possible. I am reminded of the plastic bag scene in “American Beauty.” Like, there was so much beauty that I just couldn’t take it. I don’t really know. But I was mesmerized. And to be in the physical presence of that winged ensemble by McQueen, which is one of my very favorite of his creations, after having read and thought so much about him, was an incredible feeling. I lingered there… and came back a few times… almost incredulous that I was actually seeing it. 

Some people (some men?) might find such a reaction embarrassing, and might choose not to admit it. And it does occur to me that that is a possible course of action for me. But I find it too interesting, too curious, too worthy of examination. What elicits an emotional reaction, in art? It’s a question I was looking into back in Barcelona. Surely my strong reaction to McQueen was conditioned by my personal relationship to him and his work, but I’m at something of a loss to explain my reaction to the row of black, more overtly religious outfits. Is it the obvious care and dedication and personal investment that went into crafting those pieces? Is it the femininity, the shapes? Is it the flawless presentation? All these factors are ingredients in the overabundance of beauty on display. And to be honest I think the grandiose orchestral music filling the museum played a part, suggesting perhaps that I am easily manipulated, and alluding also to the power of the multi-sense approach (sight and sound) so frequently employed to such great effect in film. Anyway, as I’ve said before, I think that the power to provoke strong reactions such as those that I experienced is a kind of holy grail in the arts, and I find it fascinating, and curious, that I had such a strong response to… 

a bunch of mannequins dressed in high fashion. 

The rest of the museum, or that small portion of it which we had time to visit, did not disappoint. 

Shay and Juniper and I collectively decided that this woman dancing with flowers actually appeared, when viewed from a certain angle, to be gleefully removing her own entrails… 

The museum was not short on beautiful sculpture… Such as this bather, sculpted with unflinching anatomical accuracy,

the somewhat strangely titled “Mexican Girl Dying,” 

this wonderfully sculpted face, apparently depicting someone who has recently learned he will be skinned alive after losing a bet with a god...

and this great torso by Maillol

But McQueen is ever the superstar in my mind, so here are a few more… 

Here is one I’d not seen before, in any of the books… a female torso festooned with roses, crafted in silver, and hinged so as to be actually worn. 

And returning to the wood wings, a side view...

Back view...

In the presence of greatness!

While in New York we also went as a group to see the deservedly famous immersive theater production Sleep No More. So much has been written about it that I won't say anything other than: it was fantastic. I would go again. If you're into the macabre, sex, death, Shakespeare, and theater you will also want to see it. Google it for more info.

And I will end with this not-fully-formulated non-sequitur: 
I was on airplanes today. I really enjoy looking out the windows, especially near the beginning and end of the flight, because you can get such good aerial views of topography, of cities, of the land. The view from an airplane can really let you see the relationships between things on the ground, in a way that you simply can't see from the ground. And it occurred to me, actually, that this is exactly what looking out of an airplane makes me realize: just how shitty the view from the ground really is, how very little you can see from down there. And in all of this, a metaphor came very clearly to me... which is that I think most of us go through life on the ground, without a clear perspective on what is behind us, in front of us, or to the sides. It's hard to get perspective - to get up high and see the relationships between the events in our lives - to see how one event, one relationship, one success or failure, flows into and informs the others, just as rivers flow from mountains which rise from plains (all of which is so easy to see from an airplane but hard to see on the ground.) What then, in this metaphor, is analogous to getting up high and getting that perspective in one's own life? Is it meditation? Is it introspection? Or therapy? My guess is that all of these help, and I think you also have to want to understand yourself. I think we humans are handicapped in our efforts to understand the big patterns of our lives by our poor memories, and maybe also by the occasional desire to forget. Anyway I don't know the answer. But it strikes me as a good metaphor, and the views from the plane were good.

OK, I guess that's it.
For the first time in more than half a year, I have nothing in particular on my calendar. No trips, no deadlines. Sometimes that feels scary, but right now... at 10:15 on Tuesday night... it feels awesome.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Burning Man 2018

Well here I go again, trying to blog from an airplane!
OK, this time I have no pretensions of actually being able to post while I am still up in the air – I don’t think it’s even worth my $7.99 to purchase wifi on United flight 217 – but I will at least get some writing done, dammit!

And I did promise more photos in this post.... keep reading, they are down there....

The danger of letting too much time go between posts is that you forget about certain things, things you wanted to write about, if you don’t write them down immediately. Burning Man already feels like a long time ago, so I better write about it… STAT!

The big thing that was different about Burning Man for Christina and me this year was that our camp was comprised of a high percentage of first-timers; we were playing docent and tour-guide to a gaggle of Euro-Newbies! OK, one of our newbies (Fergie) was American, but with a camp of 14, 8 of whom were first-timers, that’s 57% newbies and 50% Euro-Newbies! (Maybe I just like writing “Euro-Newbies!”) Anyway it is always fun to see Burning Man through the eyes of people who’ve never been before; it helps stave off the jaded vision and keep things fresh. Claire, our friend from Barcelona, did more and saw more this year than I have in years!

And, interestingly, not everyone in our camp exactly loved Burning Man. It’s a hard thing to describe to someone else; you have to experience it to understand it. I suppose one thing that means is that you won’t be sure if it’s ‘for you’ until you get there. At least one member of our camp said they wouldn’t return.

Of course, with the uninitiated, there is always a learning curve, and to some degree the burden of providing a camp, with everything that entails, fell more heavily on the few veterans who joined us this year than it normally does. But hey, Burning Man is a lot of… a lot of things. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of partying, a lot of dust, a lot of people, a lot of stimulation, and a lot of work. Sometimes you forget how much work. You can basically think of it as a few days of work (driving there, setting up), followed by a week of partying, followed by a few days of work (breaking down and driving home). Of course you can reduce your workload by flying there for just the party week, like so many people do (plug and play campers), but then you are just shifting your workload onto others, and it’s not really an option if you are presenting a project.

In this spirit, I want to extend a big hearty THANK YOU to those people in our camp who stepped up and did the work. You know who you are. Thanks.

So, a few days before we set off for the dust, Christina and I received a planeload of Europeans! OK, to be fair, it was only four… our friends Anka, Isabelle, and Jascha from KAOS, and Claire from Barcelona. We spent a few days resuscitating bicycles and cleaning astroturf, and we were off! We met up with Fergie on the way and had a pleasant and uneventful 3-day journey to the big dustbowl. Getting into the event was a bit of a nightmare, but it always is.

What followed was three days of the most protracted bad weather I’ve personally witnessed out there. In Black Rock City, all it takes is a bit of wind to really ruin a day. The ground surface of the Black Rock Desert is easily pulverized into an inconceivably fine, talcum powder-like dust, and as you can imagine, the 70,000 plus citizens of this temporary city do a good job of this pulverizing. It’s ironic to realize that on a windy day most of the rest of that desert is not dusty at all – because the ground surface is still hard-packed – while the city itself can be simultaneously blanketed with a thick layer of the stuff, making visibility low and breathing hazardous. 

Camp Dust

It so happened that the first three days of our time there this year, days on which we built our camp and the sculpture, were really bad. There’s a lot of discussion about how the other-worldly environment out there, including the dust, can contribute on a psychological level to the feeling that you have been transported “out of the normal,” and I think there is a lot of truth to that. But there is also truth to the fact that working in those conditions is tough.

Zero visibility from the truck

In the first few days of being there, Christina was still in Taos with Kodiak and was “on the fence” about whether to come. I didn’t know how to advise her, because although I wanted her by my side, I also felt like I wanted to protect her from those horrendous conditions. Luckily, she decided to come, the weather improved, and we had a damn good time.

Anka, Alisa, Peter, Ema and Jascha enjoy a meal without a side-order of dust.

"With Open Arms" was well placed in the event, and well received. Lots of people climbed it, lots of people took their photos with it, and we even did a Japanese rope bondage performance in front of it with my crane truck. 

I know from Instagram that a lot of people name it as their favorite sculpture of the year, which is of course gratifying. Speaking of Instagram, I’ve been posting a lot over there on my profile so you should go look.

And, speaking of people taking their pictures in front of sculptures… I observed a weird phenomenon out there at Burning Man this year (actually it’s almost more accurate to say that it’s a phenomenon I observed on Instagram, upon returning), and I feel compelled to comment on it. It seems that Burning Man is a hot new destination for the supermodel and wannabe supermodel set, and it seems that their goal is to flood Instagram (and the rest of the web) with pictures of themselves at the event. Heidi Klum, Alessandra Ambrosio, Paris Hilton, and hoardes of lesser supermodel pretenders attended this year, and used Instagram to make sure the world knew all about it. Christina and I didn’t attend in 2016 or 2017, so maybe this phenomenon isn’t new, but I didn’t really see it in 2015.

Long-time readers of this blog will already know that I am as much, or more, a fan of finely wrought examples of the female form as anyone else, but I’ve got to say that this whole thing irks me. And here’s why: These women, and their dutiful photographers, were approximately invisible at Burning Man; I basically never saw them (with one notable exception, explained below). What this demonstrates is that they are not out there integrating with the people of the festival. In fact it seems quite likely that they show up for only a day or two – long enough to snap a bunch of photos – and then head back to their lofts and laptops. The only interaction I had with any of them was when Christina and I were sitting at the base of a beautiful dinosaur skeleton which had been covered in colored glass beads, talking to our friend Elaine Stinger Eno, and one of these 6-foot tall models and her photographer swooped in. The photographer immediately asked if we could get out of the way so they could take a picture. I was sitting comfortably, my shoes were off, and so I replied “Maybe in a minute… or ten.” They grumbled their dislike of my answer and headed off in another direction. They spent about zero seconds looking at the sculpture.

We know from the episode described above that interacting with the art is not much of a priority for these folks, and the Instagram record also shows this pretty clearly. Sculptures and other forms of art are rarely seen in the pictures, and when they are they are little more than props.

If these folks are not interacting with the people, and not interacting with the art, are they really interacting with the event? Or is Burning Man just a background for a photo op? Participation is one of the 10 core principles of this event, and that just doesn’t look like participation to me. Much the same can be said of the 1%ers who show up for a few days in their plug and play Sahara-themed camps – they also do not really interact with the event - but these supermodels do something unexpected that Elon Musk and his buddies don’t do, which is that they grossly skew the way Burning Man “looks” on the internet. If you search Google or Instagram for pictures of Burning Man you are going to see vast troves of pictures of these people… and I’m sorry but Burning Man just doesn’t look like that. Burning Man is full of incredibly talented people; people of varying body types and personal styles; people with wide-ranging skills; people who actually talk to other people; people who are there for weeks toiling in the dust because they believe in art, the event, themselves; people who participate. It would be nice if the internet reflected that reality, but hey… I guess that’s just the celebrity driven, internet mediated, me! me! me! world we live in now. People who actually make shit happen just aren’t as motivated to plaster the web with scantily clad pictures of themselves.

Some of my favorite sculptures (other than my own) were “In Every Lifetime I Will Find You”, “Desert Guard,” and “Night at the Climb-In.”

“In Every Lifetime I Will Find You”
by Michael Benisty had a title far too cheesy for my taste, but was beautifully fabricated. If I may be permitted to let out my inner art critic a little, I felt the exquisite fabrication was however undermined slightly by an internal inconsistency, and a certain anatomical vagueness. The fingers and fingernails and toes and toenails were rendered in much detail, while the upper backs of the figures were practically flat planes, devoid of any hint of spine or shoulder blades. I understand, and forgive, the desire to leave the faces blank… but on the rest of the bodies a level somewhere between realism and cartoonish abstraction should have been established and adhered to throughout. But again… the technical execution was flawless, and the piece was gorgeous.

“Desert Guard”

by Lu Ming was a huge figure of a skeletonized Mongolian warrior fabricated in steel, and shipped from China. The fabrication was somewhat rough up close, but from a distance the effect was fantastic. The detail in the costume particularly impressed me. I heard a rumor that the artist was a first time attendee. If so, that’s even more impressive.

“Night at the Climb-In”
by Dustin Weatherford was a sculpture (but was it really a sculpture?) that I liked for entirely different reasons. This was a single piece of steel tubing firmly affixed to the ground with seven wrecked cars impaled upon it, topped with a vintage camping trailer. Above the camping trailer the steel tube ascended even further to a crow’s nest with a cramped capacity of about 8 people. And even higher above that was a propane “poofer” flame effect. The whole thing was meant to be climbed, even though there were essentially no accommodations for that activity… no handles or safety railings or anything like that... just steel cables and jagged metal. What I loved about this sculpture was how audaciously ridiculous it was, how obscenely dangerous it was, and how thrilling it was to climb. One poorly-executed hand-hold, and you would be dead… or maimed. Of course I went to the top… and I had an idiot’s grin plastered on my face the whole way up. After only 2 or 3 days it was closed, due to an apparently large number of falls and injuries. I’m glad I climbed it while I could. I love it that Burning Man said YES to such an... (I can’t quite find the right adjective)…. Said YES to a sculpture that so unabashedly compelled people to put THEIR safety in THEIR OWN hands, to find THEIR OWN limits. I guess there were a few too many who didn’t know those limits.

Oh, and these puppets..

were really great too. Built by Carros de Foc, they hail from Barcelona.

The burning of the Man itself was good... 

Fire performers before the Man burns down

complete with the de rigeur (though nevertheless spectacular) gasoline mortars.

You can see the Man in the middle of this image... or at least his legs.

I happened to have my camera with me that night so I got some good pix of our great crew, as well as of the post-burn chaos. 

Christina and Anka

And with Ema Andreoli, our hilarious Italian intellectual

Cedar, Alisa, Chris and Anka

Peter, Cles, and Claire

Saint Fergie

Jagged Melon at work

Cedar and Christina watching the chaos

The contrast between the firefighters calmly patrolling in their highly protective gear and the naked people frenetically dancing around the fire always amuses me.

As promised, here are even more pictures of the build and other random stuff….

Building in the dust (photo: @jaggedmelon)

Putting up the Flame Burst, in the worst of it (photo: @jaggedmelon)

Almost done... putting up the arms (photo: @jaggedmelon)

We followed through with a plan to put red lights in the head... (photo: @jaggedmelon)

The "good" side... (photo: @jaggedmelon)

and the "evil" side. (photo: @jaggedmelon)

Chris Iwasjuta and Amihay Gonen, my German and Israeli electronics experts, sort out a problem with the lights. (photo: @jaggedmelon)

Day time.

Night time.

Dust time.

Another GREAT pic by @jaggedmelon

Jessica and I giving an interview (photo: @jaggedmelon)

My trusty tallbike. Damn I love that thing. I don't really ride anything else at Burning Man.

And... Cles and Eleni got married... again! Their marriage in Lesbos was better attended, but this one was more... surreal. Plus it was a good chance to do a group shot of our entire camp!

I’ve now pretty much finished the writing aspects of this post, while on my second flight of the day... heading to the East Coast to run the Hand of Man at Maker Faire New York this coming weekend. If I’m a good and conscientious blogger, I will write about that next week, before it slips too deep into the memory banks.

Thanks for reading,