Hiya Burner friends. It's been a pretty rough ride since our return from the playa, and I wanted to share with you some of the stuff that transpired during the event as it relates to the project. Please forgive me in advance for such a long post. Here goes, and thanks for your interest...
In the opinions of myself and many of our volunteer crew members, the installation was a complete success. The primary objectives were for the most part satisfied or exceeded, with over 90% of the systems installed by deadline and fully operational at any given time during the event as long as electrical power from the grid was not interrupted. Reviews of the piece are prevalent on the internet so I won’t toot my own horn here. I would like to express how pleased I am that the gay community seemed to get the joke in profound ways, which was one of my concerns from the outset due to the controversial nature of the humorous content and how far I was pushing it. The placement was absolutely perfect, combining with other camps including the Popcorn Palace and Bad Idea Theater in transforming the 3:00 plaza into somewhat of an all-night “theater district”.
I was approached during the event by about a half dozen participants who were camped in the 3:00 plaza itself that complained about the constant “repetitive” sounds emanating from the piece and how it was interfering with their personal expectations of sleeping hours accompanied with requests for me to shut down the installation during certain hours or reduce the volume. I did my best to be a good listener, respectfully repeating their concerns back to them so they felt heard and appreciated-- asking if there was anything else about the art that offended them and they all answered “no”. I then explained my philosophy of the audio being a vital component to the art, and that I was watching the body language of the crowds of participants surrounding it and adjusting the volume so it physically drew them in but did not push them back. I apologized to many, but did not yield my position. The more they wanted to talk about it, the more I listened and attempted to explain, including pointing out that the sound system was running well beneath the 300 watt maximum (for camp areas) with all speakers facing The Esplanade as well as it being a 24 hour honorarium installation in a busy plaza in which they asked to be placed themselves, and that many may be making a pilgrimage to experience the piece after following the project online for many months or contributing to it in one of the many fundraisers. One woman persisted with me to a point of insistence, so I felt compelled to make a gesture toward her camp and say “Less red”. As she did not understand I explained my parody of her complaint: “Your camp has too much of the color red showing. I have an expectation of less red at Burning Man. It is interfering with my enjoyment of the event I want you to reduce the amount of red in your camp—for me. I am also allergic to the color red”. It got me nowhere with her but it felt like a good Burning Man interaction afterward. There were others there, even campmates of the woman I mentioned, who completely supported and “got” what we were doing saying things like “Don’t fight the flame, you only make it stronger” (Thanks, Nick!). We laughed and celebrated with them as they used a bullhorn to implore with participants not to push Georgie Boy’s button—their making art out of frustration was glorious. I am happy to have been able to predict the complaints due mostly to the repetitive nature of the audio content and talk about them with members of the Honorarium Grant Committee early on, and I’m proud of the way I handled them in ways that they never escalated to needing a Black Rock Ranger or ARTery staff member to mediate them. During the last half of the week, just about every morning was met with a discovery of our electrical power plugs being pulled out of the sockets in front of the 3:00 plaza camp they were trenched to (steel cage around the box next time?), There were also two occasions of vandalism, one in which the large interactive control button was torn out of the pulpit to which it was mounted. It was very cool that Kevin, the owner of an electronic supply company, donated several backup buttons for just such an event, yet the installation ran all day every day and most all of every night.
Peddling back from the breathtaking Temple Of Transition burn, I chanced upon a couple in the 3:00 keyhole who told me that they had just that moment proposed and agreed to be married. I asked them if I was the first person on the planet to know it-- which they confirmed. I told them I had a gift for them to mark the occasion and walked them just a few paces over to my art installation where I announced their good news to the participants there, opened the control room door and interrupted the game-play to start the animatronic sequence that included the song “You and I” by the rock group, Queen. The moment was absolutely precious for many as Georgie Boy, his dog, rats, and masks serenaded the couple and onlookers. It hit me hard in that moment as to how grateful I was to be in a place where happenstance, serendipity, and my ability to give all came together in such profoundly moving ways. Whilst hiking behind my house a couple of months before the event, that same song came to me on random when I was feeling like I was running out of steam on the project and it somehow carried me through only to be delivered in such a remarkable way in the end.
I was clearly fooling myself by saying this was not a large project. Sure, it was physically smaller than last year’s Ein Hammer, but the technical involvement and attention to detail blasted away any expectation of working “every other Sunday” that I encouraged our volunteer crew members to have.
It is with a heart full of love and light that I thank you and Burning Man again and again for the opportunities of self expression that this and the four previous honorarium grants and countless personal contributions have afforded me and my work. So now it’s time for a break, eh? It feels really good sharing with you the fact that I will not be applying for honorarium funding in 2012. I am rather excited about the idea of not entertaining yet being entertained, and becoming a true participant at Burning Man from the other side of the velvet ropes instead of another "work vacation". So when I’m out there next year and someone’s art piece blows stars through my mind as it would want to do, I can lock arms with you as we simply revel in its grace... together.
Be well and do strange things,