(Returning to my Why We Burn series, I wanted to cast the spotlight on Heavy Meta, a majority woman-built/non-American Art Car that will be hitting Hyperborea (a new Ontario Regional Burn) and the playa this summer. When we last spoke with Kevin Bracken, we spoke about Brooklyn, Toronto and Opulent Temple. This time, I’m so pleased to have spoken to his colleagues, a group of kick-ass ladies who are turning this car into a legit metal dragon. Enjoy this discussion about Burning Man in Canada, dystopian, welding & being awesome. And don’t forget to smash the play button on their favorite tunes from Art Cars over the years!)
Interview by Terry Gotham
After hearing from the team that’s behind this Leviathan, I began to grasp just how different the perspectives of non-American Burners can be. While I’ve spoken to non-American Burners before, there’s a lot of good stuff in this chat, not just including the fact that in Canada, you can get high school credit by working on an art car! Who knew\ “the low Canadian dollar” could be used as a reason when you’re completing your Low-Income Ticket application, so all you Canadian Burners who need a little bit of help, take note!
Kevin: We actually have two teenagers who come to the shop regularly, Jackie and Alex. Jackie is indeed completing a high school credit by working on the dragon, and we met her teacher yesterday! The first time Jackie came in, and Alex too, the American in me was definitely anxious, thinking, “If they get hurt, their parents will totally sue me!” However, Canadians are considerably less litigious than Americans, and each of them came vouched for by a different maker space, which put me at ease. On top of that, Jackie has completed a welding course and a workplace safety course, plus she can lay down a nicer weave than I can on the welder! Obviously we don’t let under 19s drink in the shop (the drinking age here is 19.) Finally, considering I went to my first rave in Jamaica, Queens at 15, I thought it would be hypocritical to keep them out just because they’re young.
This made my month. The morass of corruption and apathy that best describes the American education system is thrown into such sharp relief by this statement. Not only are the young women being encouraged to develop their skills in an environment that interests them, but the honest awareness of what it means to be young is so reassuring. Having to be good at welding so your shit doesn’t fall apart, as opposed to taking some stupid standardized final is wonderful, and I bet those two are going to be skilled when they’re done. One of them spoke to me about what they’re getting out of it:
Jackie: The Heavy Meta shop has shown me the dynamics of cost, insurance, event booking and how to prototype ideas. I’ve learned how to fabricate and weld crazy dragon curves, constantly be adaptable, and give an offering to Odin!
I would’ve done so much more hands-on fabrication, tooling around and engineering, if I could be attached to a project like this as opposed to screwing around with a T-Square & a Cisco Router. Plus, the HS/college graduate women in the camp will remind the HS girls how stupid HS boys can be, which is such a needed service I’m shocked the Canadians haven’t started paying for that too. To learn about how the pilgrimage from Toronto to Black Rock City is done right, I spoke to Tamara, another member of the Heavy Meta team:
Tamara: My first year I went on a three week road trip from Vancouver to the burn with a dude I met once off of Tinder. We lived out of a van and bought all the camping supplies there. My second year flew to San Fran and my camp mates took care of providing me with a bike, tent, transport and groceries. It’s logistically more challenging, you can’t bring everything and a lot of the time rely on buying stuff locally or having storage or friends. A lot depends on time and money. Favorite local event was probably TComp 2015. It was after my first burn and I never thought the magic and craziness of the burn could be replicated in a hippie commune warehouse on the edge of Toronto.
This is almost identical to the way New York Burners get out there. Campmates doing the heavy lifting and possibly even the van & Tinder. Sometimes you fall into the Burn, sometimes it’s a huge event with friends with months of preparation. I certainly relied intensely on my campmates with RVs & DJ equipment.
But now she’s got me interested in how hippie commune warehouses on the edge of Toronto & Burning Man-style events north of the border happened, so I spoke to Dasha, their social media & event maven.
Dasha: The TSSA and fire department have to get involved when there is fire at an event, and this runs about $600 per application, with a mandatory on-site inspection. None of these licences are hard to get per se, it’s just a bureaucracy everyone has to learn to navigate. (We’re lucky we have fire-master Seth Hardy on the Heavy Meta team!) Thus anything creative in our city needs not just the art itself, but also a committed group of people who can communicate well, know about and fill out the right paperwork, and work very hard to project manage the entire thing!
BUT what bothers me MOST regarding public events in Canada – and this is a perfect time to mention this – is the lack of local artist support. One recent concerning example of this is the new Toronto Lights Festival at the distillery district. Of the 21 installations in 2017, 72% were international artists. We have Canadian content requirements for radio whereby the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television-Telecommunications Commission) requires that stations devote a percentage of their weekly music broadcasting to Canadian content, (a low 35% for commercial radios) but what about physical art-related events? The Light Festival barely hit the 28% mark – and this is the sad reality for a lot of local talent. Heavy Meta shares our workspace with Lumatronic (Lumatronic.ca) – a very talented custom lights duo who would have surely outdone any of the 2017 installations! That’s just one example – our city is full of talent. Similarly, Ottawa has just spent $3 million dollars to bring the La Machine spider from France. Though the spider is an amazing piece of work – three million dollars – awarded to an international company for a Canadian celebration of Canada. Such is the strange hypocrisy within Canadian arts.
This is a spectacular point. No seriously, how many localities on both sides of the border spend lavishly on foreign art and events that benefit companies that don’t have jobs in that locality. The idea that the entirety of the Western world is running around screaming about foreigners taking our jobs and money, and then they don’t even spend the money they have in ways that stimulate local art & businesses is one of the more confusing thoughts I’ve encountered in the months since Orange Xerxes has come to power. Having festivals where only 28% of the art is local seems like a way to send supply stores, restaurants in warehouse/industrial loft space districts and creative businesses into bankruptcy.
Additionally, the permitting expense creep is well known to my friends in LA, SF and NYC, so we can all share that pain together. In NYC, the cost of doing business when it comes to real fire performance has become so astronomical, I can count the number of organizations that actually have the permits and a good relationship with the FDNY on 1 hand. There’s something to be said for communities such as JunXion, Treetops, PEX & ICARUS spending fundraising dollars on local talent to attempt to embiggen their communities. Heavy Meta preaching this gospel is lovely, and the more Burners that do, the more we’ll be able to fight the tide of commodification.
Marie: I want people to experience the collective creative energy that comes from attending Burning Man events. I think it’s extremely important to step out of the 9-5 every now and then and focus on experimenting. It’s easy to get caught up in routines. It’s comfortable. Inspiration often comes from stepping back. Trying something new. Resetting your mind. I see Burning Man and similar events as the evolved version of a playground. When you’re a kid you get recess. When you grow up, you get this. Heavy Meta will act as an ambassador to our fellow Canadians. Black Rock City is an amazing place that everyone needs to visit and we aim to be a glimpse into that world.
I wanted to end the piece about Heavy Meta with an important truth it’s easy to lose sight of. While some people have said I’m anti-Burning Man, this is exactly how I think of it. Burning Man is such a hard reset for one’s awareness, At it’s best, it’s unmatched at being a playground for big kids by any other event anywhere in the world. This mentality, vs. creating a playground for billionaires and their stable of sparkle ponies, truly resonates with people the world over. Which is why so many are willing to trek out to BRC for the experience. It’s why we burn.