Was Burn Wall Street the most controversial art installation ever on the Playa? Here’s some (relatively positive) coverage from New York magazine, the Huffington Post and Business Insider – although if you read the comments, the feelings are much more mixed. Here’s some video of it burning:
Burn Wall Street was billed as “The Biggest Art Installation ever at Burning Man”, and one of “5 Art Installations you Shouldn’t Miss”.
Artist Otto von Danger is a former member of the DPW crew, who now fancies himself as a cutting edge artist who created “a political piece that stems from a neutral point of view”.
Otto has been a builder and artist for most of his life and served in the US Marines from 1985-91. He attained the rank of Sargent in the infantry. He is a disabled veteran with extensive nerve damage through out his body but still builds art and receives a small disability check monthly.
Otto started building at Burn Man in 2001 working on the Man and man base (the building under the Man) and still builds the Man presently. Some of his art projects are FrogBat, Barley Man, Cow with Gun, Zombie Raver Hockey Shoot, Norse Man, Megatropolis and the Hippie/Raver Powered Lawn Chair. He has also worked with other artists on projects like the Serpent Mother, Crude Awakening, the Lilly pond project and many others
During the build of Burn Wall Street, word started to trickle out about incredible problems and personality clashes on the project, mostly seemingly related to Otto’s leadership style. A number of volunteers were fired for having a bad attitude, and there was also a report of sexual harrassment towards a volunteer from a senior member of the team.
It’s nothing personal, and I have no issue with the rest of Otto’s art – I hope that in the future he is inspired to keep creating and contributing to the Burner community. Burn Wall Street is a different matter.
Once we got to the Playa this year we were confronted with a whole bunch of big, ugly square boxes. It looked more like a prison complex than an artwork. The “mock city” created for this art piece, 5 huge buildings that dwarfed the Man, was built by a team of 50 volunteers for $100,000. On top of them were a whole bunch of corporate logos. The idea of “Bank of UnAmerica” and “Goldman Sucks” might be hilarious to some, to me they’re not particularly original jokes. From a distance, it looked exactly like a Bank of America logo, so much so that I wonder if they actually sponsored it. They might as well have, no corporation got more powerful advertising exposure at Burning Man this year, or any other year.
Part of the idea of the piece was to get people to deliberately camp there and get busted by the Feds. Not sure if that ended up happening. Here’s the official vision for the art:
Forged from the financial unrest and injustice that has incensed the American public, Burn Wall Street’s core intention is built on participation, one of the Ten Principles of Burning Man. . . . This art project is sponsored by Veterans for Peace, a 501c3 non-profit. . . . We see the Tea Party and the Occupy movements as very similar. They are both well-intentioned groups of Americans that know that things must change. Unfortunately, one group has been hijacked by Right-wing extremists and the other by Left-wing extremists, and both groups have been used as pawns through the use of political wedges to keep each other from the actual goal of reforming Wall Street and saving our economy. . . . So BWS is asking these disparate groups to put down their Bibles and their Communist Manifestos in order to unite, share ideas and come up with actual solutions from a rational perspective.
Here’s the artist himself discussing his vision, at Black Rock City:
The piece was supposed to burn on Friday night, but for some reason was delayed. It was also supposed to be full of fireworks and explosives, but no-one saw any of this – the boxes just burned down and crumbled, after the man Burned on Saturday. I missed it burning, but a friend who saw it said that there was a real violent, angry energy to it – it was not celebratory like the Man, or reflective and contemplative like the Temple.
Did the Tea Party and the Occupy movement unite at Burning Man? Did Wall Street get the message, and change their wicked ways? Was this just a massive amount of timber destroyed in an act of wanton destruction, or did Burners get inspired in some way by this piece? Please add your own comments and opinion.
Otto himself was rumored to have been evicted from the event, for acting crazy and bringing multiple firearms.
There was also a rumor about people committing suicide during the Wall Street burn [see below - this doesn't sound true]. During 4th of Juplaya, there was someone wearing a DPW Jacket and charging $20 admission to Frogbat, an event at the nearby hot springs featuring people blowing up a half frog, half bat statue with automatic weapons. Again, this person was rumored to be Otto the artist, rather than someone actually part of Burning Man charging money on the Playa.
Burn Wall Street was ugly boxes, not art; constantly having to look at the logos of banks wherever you went on the Playa, is not what Burning Man is all about. Even more so, it was a political statement. An attempt to bring politics and angry feelings from the streets, to our festival of art and music and freedom and love. Let’s hope we never have to endure another installation of this kind.
[Update: 9/4/12 6:14pm]
Burner Deb has objected to the lack of links in this article to rumors. I am not trying to propagate baseless rumors, and it’s hard to link to things that trusted people have told me verbally. I don’t want to get into a game of “he said, she said”, calling out every person who has ever criticized Otto; if you’re on Facebook on the Burning Man (Group) as opposed to the Burning Man (Community Organization), you would have heard many of these rumors too. Are they true? Well, it’s the Internet. You shouldn’t assume anything is true. But I have heard a lot of such rumors coming from this project, versus almost none from any of the others this year. I am not trying to personally bash Otto, just pointing out the reasons that this installation has been so controversial. If anyone can confirm or deny these rumors, please add to the discussion. In the meantime, here are some specific opinions from other Burners about this art installation:
Burner KentuckyDerbyLatte said : I hated this POS. Happy to know it failed in everyway. Let’s keep default world logos and struggles OUT of the burn. I head to the playa to free myself of this kind of crap. It was very cool to see it be tagged all over though. Hated that thing
Burner Anjelika said: I did not like it at all. It looked so foreign and so annoying. I want more things like Peter Hudson does, or Bliss, or Temple, something that we don’t see in default world. The burn was big, yes. But just a big fire doesn’t really make an art installation outstanding
Burner Nick said: Ugly structure with a negative vibe. Vilifying an entire industry, offering no solution or new viewpoint and needlessly reminding me of a world I chose to leave behind for a week. This was something I would expect from an angry high school student who just learned about the injustices of the world but not something I’d expect to find on the playa.
Burner Josh said: Most of us hate the politics of Wall Street as well as seeing logos at Burning Man. I met Otto in 2011 through people on the Temple Crew and he can be hard to take, however he is a human being, and if Burning Man were to teach us anything, it is that at our cores we are all just looking to find our way in this world. Even if you hated Burn Wall Street and think Otto von Danger is a jerk, please remember he is just a man looking to find his way through self expression. If we can find compassion for those we dislike, imagine what we could do for those we love. )'(
Over at New York Magazine, Jvennema said:
For what its worth, none of that stuff described inside the buildings ended up happening. They were just 3/4 finished empty facades. At one point there was a giant bat on top… for some reason. Not that there wasn’t a lot of hard work and money poured into the project, but it seemed like they thought up some elementary school puns and left it at that. More white elephant than bold art piece.
Burned pretty good, ‘tho.
This comment suggests that a whole bunch of press was being done about the piece (isn’t that also a Burning Man no-no?), and someone was feeding some bullshit to the press about things going on to make the art installation interactive, that never actually happened.
[Further update: 9/5/12 4:53am - yes long night in Reno at the Grand Sierra, there were thousands of Burners there, the party was still going off when we left]
I am now being accused of slander, with threats of legal action. In my opinion this is a false accusation, from a friend of the artist determined to stick up for him. I have provided links to other articles, expressed my opinion
that this art piece was a blatant violation of the Decommodification principle, and mentioned some of the rumors that have floated around this art piece. I am not providing links to all the rumors, and I’m not going to name some of my friends who have discussed this with me personally; it’s up to you readers to decide what you believe. I have no agenda in this, other than that I do not like seeing neon corporate logos at Burning Man, art or not, I don’t think that’s what it’s all about.
M Otis Beard
is the administrator of the Burning Man Facebook group
. He’s one of the volunteers who was kicked out of the project. I suggest you read his group for more of his opinions. He said this on August 10 2012:
Oh god, it gets worse: one of the women who was fired from the project for no particular reason just wrote to me and said this about Fester/Jonathan, Otto’s second-in-command:“Fester the molester on my second day of working told me that I had to go out to the desert to help him when he took me out there all he wanted to do was try to make moves on me and tried to kiss me and i denied him then he got all bitter and started spreading all these rumors about meHe told me im shallow
I told him hes just plain ugly”
You make up your own mind Burners. Perhaps that’s not sexual harrassment, it’s just something that every girl has to deal with, all the time. Otto von Danger was a sergeant in the Marines, I’m sure he has endured worse things in his life than being called a “dingbat
“. I’m not slandering anyone, I just think this was a shitty art piece covered in corporate logos, that was not in line with what Burning Man is all about. Did he really expect that he could put a giant neon Bank of America sign up on the Playa, without some criticism or dislike of his artistic statement?
In 2007 Uchronia
caused problems with some Burners who thought it was a front for a Lexus commercial, and the destruction of this enormous structure inspired at least one Burner
to think about building things and keeping them to re-use as art, instead of all the money and materials going up in smoke. Sure, much of the art of Burning Man is about destruction and waste. But there are also art cars, theme camps, art installations, that we get to see every year. Some of them even grow and improve over time. This is what I think the future of Burning Man, and applied art, needs to be. Creation and permaculture, not environmental degradation, pollution, waste, and angry protests. Did burning through $100,000 and all that useable timber really make a statement that changed people?
[Update 9/5/12 3:33pm ]
Hal from Veterans for Peace is the first person actually associated with this project to give us some feedback and further information
Reality Check: BWS was conceived DURING Occupy Oakland last year. Inspired by the 1970 burning of Bank of America in Isla Vista CA by UC Santa Barbara students, (at the height of the war against Vietnam, & after the “secret” bombing of Laos AND Cambodia was revealed by nixon – see Kent State) I sought space in Oakland to build a bank and burn it to the ground. For some reason, a suitable space could not be found, in Oakland. Otto suggested we do this in Black Rock City and an art piece was born! I’ve little issue with burning symbols of corporate and/or capital America and personally, would much rather have seen “Bank of America” burn then what the neon said! You don’t like what those corporate logos stand for? Do something to alter our consciousness and political realities instead of criticizing art meant for theatrics. YOU could have helped burn it down or added more graffiti. Wall Street did not burn on Friday because primarily, the perimeter safety crew had not been complete and nothing burns without. No fireworks could be loaded on Friday due to lack of said crew. One red rocket, in honor of the dedicated and awesome crew, began the burn. Elements of interactivity were never played out & most were unaware they were walking on the U.S.Bill Of RIghts when they entered the NYSE. BIG hugs to an incredible crew who came together to build and complete this project! And, btw, Veterans For Peace did NOT sponsor this project. We were simply the non profit financial conduit for funding. Personally, while it was not quite what I envisioned, I enjoyed watching BANKS and the NYSE burn. Some New Yorkers felt the BoA fall was reminiscent of the 2nd Twin Tower fall. All the better
And I think we should all reflect on Burner Jared’s very salient point:
Only thing wrong with it was that it was an effigy. With 60,000 people we could burn down the real Wall Street
If everybody got that message, maybe Wall Street really would change.
[Update 9/7/12 11:53am]
Wall Street took notice. Bloomberg News, the main source of information for Wall Street, covers the piece
with bewilderment. And here’s some interesting commentary
on the piece from Market Ticker.
[Update 9/10/12 11:14am]
There’s a lot of discussion of the piece over at Reddit
, and peoples’ viewpoints seem pretty consistent with our poll. I’m surprised by the amount of people who liked it, just as many have been surprised that I would dare to criticize it.
djrollsroyce calls this the “rumor du jour”, although unlike many of the other rumors related to this piece, this is the only place we’ve heard of it, so take the rumor as you will:
rumor de jour: Friends former boss rode up with a board member of JP Morgan who kicked in the final 100k to make this thing happen, notice no jp morgan building…
Our information is that the total amount raised for the project was $170,000. FYI, “Chase Manhattan” was acquired by JP Morgan in 2000
, forcing the name to be changed to “JP Morgan Chase”. So technically “Chase”/Chaos is a part of JP Morgan, but they’re a 200+ year old firm, it makes sense that they would love to be rid of the suffix. $100,000 is not even a tip to the hookers for these guys.
Burner Tykeryerson nailed it with this comment:
I think the main outcome of the Wall Street burn is a ton of fodder for whomever to claim that anarchists are out of control and new legal measures must be put into place to control them. Videos of that event will be WAY more useful for those who want to protect Wall Street… and mostly hurtful for any positive cause, or push for change.
It looked like a big advertisment for Wall Street, and showed how much they dominate our lives – we can’t even escape banking on the Playa, this one thing we made where commerce (supposedly) isn’t allowed. Our one chance to be free of Western society and the world of money – and nope, there we are, it’s the biggest thing there, it’s neon logos staring down at us. djrollsroyce’s rumor certainly would explain a lot.
Burn Wall Street created a message that plays perfectly into their hands. Certainly, the Wall Street coverage of it that I’ve linked to above is already playing out the story line Tykeryerson predicted. Although it’s hard to tell if the Bloomberg reporters are shocked more by the sentiment of West Coast liberals, as they are by the huge insensitivity such images present to anyone who lived through 9/11. The anniversary of that date is tomorrow, let us know if you notice any link made anywhere in the media.
Another bonus of this project for The Powers That Be may have been distracting 50-100 underemployed Burners, so that for a few months their energies went towards Burning Man instead of the Port of Oakland
or the San Francisco public transportation
systems. We’ll see what happens over the next 12 months – did Burners teach Wall Street a lesson, did our fire magic create a positive intent that benefitted us…or does Wall Street and whichever Government they bought use this as yet another excuse to crack down on our freedoms?
Artist Alex Schaefer has famously been creating art about burning banks, Wall St and so on
The New York Stock Exchange – what the buildings on Wall Street really look like