AFTERBURN REPORT 2002
It is an exhilarating challenge to place pyrotechnics on a wooden sculpture with an electrical circuit running through it to drive the neon. During the last few years, we have learned to assemble this combination with the right level of precision-not too perfectly, but enough so that we only have to worry about the small stuff. Precision is a word that keeps coming to mind for 2002.
The lighthouse on which the Man stood was a fitting pedestal for "The Floating World" theme. A green krypton laser pierced the darkness like a searchlight, with four beams radiating out from the lighthouse, at the 0, 90, 180, and 270 degree positions to pass through our city to the far edges of the trash fence.
The center of the lighthouse sat atop the germinal point from which our city was surveyed. The sturdy bulwark at its base created a carefully elaborated compass whose points divided our space on the playa into 24 arcs of 15 degrees each. From these compass points, lines of longitude radiated outward to form our streets. When overlaid by curving lines of latitude, they formed a
hemispheric grid or sea chart.
The Man rose on this pedestal through a carefully thought-out process. Despite all the confidence born of precise preparation, some moments still make your heart stop, as when the 100-foot crane raised the Man (a ton of wood) by the neck onto the perch. The team could only watch nervously, fearing that one false move could send the Man crumbling to the playa floor.
The "Man Team" takes great pride in this achievement each year. The dedication, skill, pride, and responsibility that each member takes on make this team rock. With every operation, people place their asses on the line to ensure success throughout the process, and that dedication brings the Man to reality.
BUILDING THE MAN
For the second year, the volunteer team of builders assembled at Work Ranch in the Nevada desert to complete the project. In an attempt to reduce the stress of the project, the build schedule was moved up to the week surrounding the Fourth of July. This decision meant placing rush orders for materials and accelerated planning for the logistics of housing a large group of volunteers for a full week that early in the summer. Meals were originally planned to be the responsibility of the volunteers, but that policy changed to shared contributions from the crew and the Project.
Another wrinkle was a requirement that the tools used for Burning Man projects should be owned by the Project. This change, necessary as it was, required us to add new, specialized tools formerly contributed by volunteers to the shop's inventory. The learning experience of this acquisition process boils down to an important reminder: ALWAYS FILL OUT THE PROPER REQUISITION FORMS.
The week of the build went extremely well. Several veteran builders and experienced carpenters made coordination an easy job. Working together, the team completed one of the fastest builds in Burning Man history. Some struggled with the heat, and a minor lumber shortage (that is, pieces of lumber that were too short) required creative solutions. In fact, more volunteers showed up to help than were needed for the build, requiring rotating crew assignments so everyone could get a chance to work on the Man. These terrific volunteers eagerly took on other chores at the work ranch. One couple who were professional cooks made their contributions in the kitchen.
One of the volunteers suggested making mementos out of the scraps. The crew named them "Wish Blocks," and everyone involved took one to cast into the pyre, saying, "What I take from the Man, I give back to the Man."
The big head start was intended to relieve the stress of building the Man, but completion of the project still required extensive coordination between the crews for pyrotechnics, laser, and neon, as well as the lighthouse and other art projects. Planning had begun in the spring so that all these elements would dance around one another, and crews would enhance rather than hinder each other's work.
Construction of the lighthouse started with preparation of the site. A 5-inch layer of sand was spread on top of the burn blanket, and then a five-story structure took shape-built according to code and in record time. In 2002, the height of the Man atop its lighthouse was 69 feet.
As the lighthouse rose, the Man's builders worked in its shadow. The arms and legs were assembled on the torso, and burlap bags soaked in hot wax were stuffed inside. The neon crew and riggers contributed their expertise. For the first time, the new neon fabricators attached the tubing before the Man was raised, leaving less work to be done up in the air hanging out of a lift basket. The height of the pedestal prevented lowering the Man to place pyro, so the crew had to do some creative rethinking for their part of the work, as well. Their work is the main reason why the Man is off limits the day of the burn.
With the work on the ground completed, the marvelous men and women of the heavy equipment crew lifted the Man up into place before an admiring audience of staff, DPW workers, and some early theme camp artists.
The day of the burn starts very early with all the last-minute preparation required to pull off one of the most amazing feats of the Burning Man event. Many more people get involved in addition to those already mentioned. During the week, the area that surrounds the Man is known as the Great Circle. It is lined with 2000 LED lights known as L2K, both a decoration and a toy for participants during the week. On the night of the burn, though, this boundary becomes a safety perimeter. This Great Circle is a dangerous place to be during preparations for the burn, and only those that have been advised of the danger and authorized to enter may do so. The Safety Brigade and Rangers monitor the perimeter and help channel the chaos, making sure that the pyro and neon teams can finish their jobs without being interrupted and that no one crosses until the Man falls.
Once the perimeter has been set, fire fighters stand by in case of an emergency. They also make sure that no one gets too close to any of the pyro before it is ignited and that no one gets too close to fire after the Man falls.
Soon, Fire Processions start off the evening's events, supported by Fire Art Cars of DPW, Bone Fire Brigade, Encompassments, and the Fire Conclave. In 2002, over 700 people performed in the Great Circle the night we released the Man.
During our time outside Black Rock City, we become used to a certain norm; things are in place, life has its order, and little happens that is unexpected. On the playa, the rules change. Once the fuse is lit, you can only hope that the burn flares beyond your expectations. For several years past, problems have interfered with raising the Man's arms during the burn. Designers knew what the problem was, but they still worried about the solution. As late as 2 days before the burn, special rigging equipment for the arms hadn't arrived. Still, the riggers did a tremendous job by finishing in time for the pyro crew to do their work. When the time for the burn came, the riggers assembled at the pull point for the arms. The enthusiastic group pulled, and up the arms went . . . up and up . . . and bam! They hit the top! The arm rigging was done so well that they didn't require so much pull. Still, they went up and the Man stood in glory, then exploded magnificently.
Some wonder how anyone could burn up something so beautiful. This question cannot be easily answered except by saying that we know it simply must happen. We have one chance every year to see all the elements flow together, to let go of something so precious, so fleeting, that you want time to slow down to a crawl, to drink in every explosion, every whiff of smoke, every burst of flame. The pyro, smoke, fire, and dust devils that engulf the Man combine to make the night's release so special and yet so quick.
No matter what the weather is like during the event-despite rain, wind, and whiteout-we always manage to set off the Man at the right time, as if some power that is beyond all of us is the one that allows us to let go, to celebrate. Maybe the Man allows us to do this, or maybe the sheer presence of everyone's energy gathered together in Black Rock City gives us permission to let go.
Submitted by, Crimson Rose and Spyral