AFTERBURN REPORT 2007
THE MAN AND PAVILION
Once again the art department began the New Year (starting after the Man burn in 2006) with a new theme, a new Pavilion design, and a new energy source that would take a leap of faith. Wood construction gave way to metal and shade cloth. Closed-structure gave way to open-air. Solar array replaced a massive bio-diesel generator. Engineering drawings went through reconsideration time and time again. And the amount of wood that the Man would stand upon and that would be consumed by fire was reduced considerably compared to previous years. In 2005 the word ’Pavilion‘ came to define any structure or public area that surrounds the Man.
GREEN MAN THEME AND PAVILION
In 2007’s Art Theme, Larry Harvey wrote, “we appropriated the Green Man and the primeval spell he cast on our imaginations for a modern purpose. Our theme concerned humanity's relationship to nature. Do we, as conscious beings, exist outside of nature's sway, or does its force impel us and inform the central root of who and what we are?”
The Man stood atop a structure that resembled a mountain peak, surrounded on either side by two more shade structures representing foothills. The Green Man Pavilion was 30,000 square feet of shaded exhibition space. The Pavilion was designated as a showcase for interactive exhibits which synthesized art, culture, science, and technological innovation to demonstrate a variety of ‘green’ technologies and practices, in areas such as water, transportation, waste, energy, food, green building, toxics and city planning. Artists and inventors were invited by Burning Man to contribute to this exhibition. The team received more than 150 inquiries and managed a collaborative selection process that resulted in 34 exhibits in and around the Pavilion. Circling around the Pavilion were the eight Illuminates. Moving out from the Pavilion stood the "Mangrove", a ring of simulated trees fashioned from recycled industrial materials. This year’s Green Man Theme was the first to be fully integrated into not only the art of Burning Man, but also the operations and infrastructure on-playa and off-playa.
For the first time ever, solar powered the neon and all the electric of the Pavilion. Burning Man worked with a team of Berkeley engineers to install a 30-kilowatt solar photovoltaic (PV) array in the shape of the Native American Zia Sun symbol. An array of this size could power approximately 10 to 20 homes.) In the spirit of Burning Man's gift economy a Burner who runs a ‘green’ technology venture capital firm fronted the funds necessary to help Burning Man gift 90 KW worth of solar array to the city of Gerlach, NV, and 30 KW to the Medical Center in Lovelock, NV after the event.
There was a lot of concern and apprehension from the Burning Man community that this Pavilion was the start of what would become the commercialization of Burning Man. The community was vocal in their concern that the Pavilion would become a marketing showcase for companies trying to hawk their eco-friendly wares. However, the process from the beginning was designed to be aligned with Burning Man’s core values. In fact, a number of companies that were originally committed to participate dropped out of the process when they realized the degree to which the organization is dedicated to these principles. The contract that all exhibitors signed clearly spelled out that no logos, handouts, branding, proselytizing, or marketing of any kind would be permitted. On the contrary, the focus had to be on the technology and learning, using an open source ethos.
The 34 selected exhibits each had a team behind it of 2-20 contributors. They came from across North America and were from the corporate, non-profit and art worlds. While most were veteran Burners, a few had never ventured to the playa before. Everyone worked together to build a space that would provide opportunities for education, connection, collaboration, and inspiration – adhering to the core values of Burning Man, and dedicating many hours to enhance the experience of all participants.
Change of Plans
Due to safety concerns in the wake of the arson (described below), the Pavilion was closed more than it was open throughout the week. Sadly, all of the discussions, workshops, performances, and human-powered kinetic art vehicle tours that had been planned were postponed and eventually cancelled due to the erratic schedule. For the too-brief time that the Pavilion was open, it was filled with participants engaged with the exhibitors and the exhibits – learning, sharing, and enhancing their playa experience with the stimulation of new ideas and perspectives.
To Rebuild Or Not
Certainly Black Rock City never fails to provide all kinds of surprises and adventures. And this certainly would be an understatement in light of the events of 2007.
During the early hours of Tuesday morning, while a total lunar eclipse darkened the skies above the playa, an arsonist scaled the shade cloth of the Pavilion and set fire to the Man. The Man did not fall, but was significantly burned. The Man team was still watching the flames engulf the first Man when they agreed that they would rebuild it.
Emergency Services responded immediately with two fire trucks streaming 6,000 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze, effectively turning the ground surrounding the Man into a muddy pond. Other Burning Man departments (DPW, Man Team, Pavilion, Black Rock Rangers, and Community Services) quickly created a makeshift perimeter to keep participants safe. It took approximately four hours for a crew to carefully pull away the largest chunks of the Man that were dangling and seen as a danger to anyone within a 50-foot radius.
All the decisions concerning rebuilding the Man were made quickly. Approximately five hours after the Man was set on fire, leads from the Man, Man Base, Support Services, DPW and Neon teams met to discuss the rebuild. Once the charred Man was successfully taken down, the decision was made to try to harvest salvageable parts of the original Man to use in the rebuild. Once the charred Man was taken down, the decision was made to try to harvest any salvageable parts to use in the rebuild. A small contingent from the Man build team inventoried and considered the reusability of the remains: one side of the head was nearly intact, plus a set of ribs, part of the sternum, and ‘the ornament’. This year the ornaments, the five fingerlike extensions that extend up from the pelvis, had been carved into leaf shapes in the spirit of the Green Man theme. For the unusable remains, it was decided to cut up the pieces and place them in the pyre of the new Man. This allowed the original Man to meet his destined fate, without glorifying the arson.
The Man would be rebuilt within the Pavilion, and would be completed in two and a half days (rather than the normal five to seven). The Pavilion was chosen as the ideal construction site due to the ability to secure and manage a large, shaded space, proximate to the location that the Man would be raised when construction was completed. Additionally, the citizens of Black Rock City would be afforded the unique opportunity to watch the Man being built.
The space directly beneath the man continued to be a hazardous area, with broken glass from the neon; gloppy, slippery mud; standing water; and deep trenches from the wheels of the heavy machinery used to remove the Man. The DPW Playa Restoration Team worked hard to restore the playa to a safe condition in a couple days’ time while the Man team worked away.
Once the area underneath the Man Mountain and the twelve o’clock Foothill was reopened, thousands took the opportunity to watch the rebuild. The cheers and words of encouragement from the onlookers meant a lot to the team. Scores of people showed up with tools in hand asking if they could help, and the team was able to take on about a dozen of these volunteers to help with the effort.
While there were challenges sourcing the materials for the Man rebuild, finding the neon was particularly problematic, since green is a very rare color for neon. The Neon team lead quickly drove to Reno and was lucky to find the exact same color neon as the first Man had. It had been sitting on a back shelf at the shop, rescued from a flood 15 years earlier. The hot shop crew worked around the clock, bending it into the exact shapes needed for the Man. Once completed, they worked throughout the night to attach it to the now-ready Man, and recruited some volunteers from the crowd that was watching their progress. Despite working around the clock at high speed, the team recreated the neon without breaking a single tube.
With careful diligence and attention to detail, the sternum from the original Man was transformed into the outline of a phoenix. This was meant to symbolize the rebirth of not only the Man, but of the community as well. Using a piece of the burnt neon for the eye, this symbol captured all the high energy and emotion that ran rampant throughout the rebuild. It was agreed that this phoenix would be attached to the face of the new Man, heralding the Man coming out of the ashes of the arson, while being a fitting tribute to the team who worked at high speed – without a pause – to rebuild it.
PREPARATION FOR THE BURN
During the event, The Man stood on an engineered steel beam, which was hidden by the Mountain shade cloth and not revealed until Burn day. The Pyre was comprised of massive timbers that would have otherwise been used for firewood, reclaimed from a development in Lake Tahoe. In a regular year the Man is built in 7 days and “cured” for 3 months, making the Man a fast burn. The rebuild of the Man using green wood made the burn slower, but somehow more poignant.
With any tall artwork that burns, the safety of those that wait at the perimeter is paramount. The perimeter cannot be released until the artwork’s tallest height has fallen, and this year’s Man proved tricky in this regard, given the nature of the Pyre, and the way in which it might fall. So the Man’s pyre needed to be brought down at the right time: long enough in that it would be adequately consumed, but not so late that the crowd would become unruly. While the team normally allows the Man’s base to weaken by the fire alone, this year because the wood used hadn’t been dried and cured for two months allowing for a quick burn, a chain was attached between the Man’s top beam and a piece of heavy equipment on the ground. At the appointed time, the signal to pull was given, and the Man was released.
Green Man’s burn was even more meaningful than all the other 21 years put together. It proved one thing: The Man Will Burn At The Appointed Time!
Beth Scarborough, Tomas McCabe, Will Roger, Crimson Rose, Bob Heacock.