We’ve been down this road before…Uchronia, Burning Man, and Lexus

It seems the current Krug controversy is not the first time that a luxury brand has sought the cachet of Burning Man.

In 2006, Burners marvelled at Uchronia, the name given to a 200 feet long, 100 feet wide, 50 feet tall wooden Message From the Future that was burned on Sunday night. It was quickly dubbed “The Belgian Waffle” and it was the hottest nightclub in the world…for one night only.

Message Out of the Future
by Jan Kriekels, Arne Quinze, Maurice Engelen and Uchronia Crew (Belgium)

We descend to share beliefs and to show a sign of trust since in your Future there is no grief, no exile, no fear, no judgement, no internalization for once we will descend to you conscious souls and realize our biggest project ever we will create a pure organic shaped sculpture elegantly fashioned out of local pinewood – a glimpse of Utopia encompassing visions of your highest hopes Utopia as a radical framework measuring a floor span of 60 meters, 15 meters high with a circle of 30 meters in radius in the middle its extreme dimensions also display some fears – being without limits it will never be captured completely – but hey, we can’t give it all away.

Utopia constructed from beams with different lengths, nailed beam by beam, laid out from the floor inside the 3 tree-trunk elements sunlight dropping shadows inside of the structure, at night the light comes from the structure dropping its shadows in the surrounding area we choose beams as symbols of the human race like each individual on our planet, all with their unique traits it is the earthly expression of our inner sense of being, the immense form being inviting to others it is the core, the center to all others that seek warmth, it will serve as a potential to grow, opening all chakras, it will stimulate the purest form of inner sense.

It took 50,000 pieces of 2 x 4 – a hundred miles worth – and a crew of nearly 100 paid employees to construct Uchronia on the Playa, overseen by Belgians artist Arne Quinze and “non-conventional entrepreneur” Jan Kriekels. Their crew goes by the name “The Spirituals”. It was rumored to have cost between $250,000-$800,000. Burncast.TV has an audio report with an interview with the artists (starts 5:00 in). According to Jan Kriekels, “we didn’t use a model, we just started at the bottom and kept adding as we went up.” Well, they might not have had a model for the structure; but they certainly had a business model around the art. Greg.org breaks it down:

The Waffle was controversial for many reasons: it was built in the open playa, not in the city. It was burned the night after the Man burned. At the time, the Waffle’s Belgian designer/marketer Arne Quinze claimed his 100-person crew were all volunteers, but it turned out they were all paid employees. Because it was later revealed that the entire Uchronia Project was an experiential branding campaign organized and executed by Quinze’s agency for the launch of the newly redesigned Lexus LS460 luxury sedan.
See, Burning Man turned out to be only the opening act, the precursor for several Lexus pop-up showrooms with mini-Waffle installations, including one in Beverly Hills and another in Miami Beach which was timed to coincide with Art Basel.

From the New York Times:

Lexus has been giving celebrity-packed parties for its new LS model luxury car inside mini replicas of a 50-foot installation made of secondhand pine nailed into a free-form cavern, which lighted up the skyline at last summer’s Burning Man.

A Belgian businessman had spent 500,000 euros (about $640,000) to send the designer of the installation, Arne Quinze, and a crew of 85 to Nevada for a month to erect it, and then to import 20 journalists to cover the spectacle. Burners called it the Belgian Waffle, and some decried it as crass.

A month after Burning Man, a very similar structure showed up in an art gallery in Beverly Hills, which was really a Lexus dealership in disguise. And a view of Uchronia on the Playa was used in a commercial for the 2007 Lexus LS460 (anyone got a link for that?)

Coolhunting.com confirmed:

the Lexus 460 Degrees Gallery opened 20 October 2006 in LA and runs through 3 November 2006. Curators Shamin Momin (of the Whitney) and Sebastian Agneessens helped Lexus commission artists Arne Quinze, Miranda Lichtenstein, and Pascual Sisto to create the “Light and Speed” exhibition. Featuring Quinze’s massive arcing installation made from readymade 2x4s, the paranormal photos of meditation and levitation by Lichtenstein and Sisto’s dazzling mandala-like videos of freeways and cars, the show interprets car culture both literally and figuratively. Events include a Teuscher chocolate tasting, a glassmaking and silversmithing seminar and Wired magazine’s gadget lab. “Light and Speed” will also travel to New York, Miami and Chicago over November, December and January respectively. More images here.

Many Burners were outraged. Others defended the right of the artist to get paid for his work. It cost more than half a million dollars – someone’s got to pay for that, right? It’s not your ticket money at work – the cost of this project is as large as ALL of Burning Man’s art grants for 2012.

Some were upset that the waffle was burned at all. Others objected to the choice of timber! Ah, Burning Man…so beautiful, and yet for so many there’s always something to complain about…

The BMOrg chimed in to say that the whole thing was great and not commercial in any way. Seems like the artists left Burning Man Art Curator Lady Bee in the dark.

The Belgian project at Burning Man was a stellar example of community and generosity, funded by two Belgian business owners who regularly do community based art projects worldwide. The wood they used was last-quality Canadian wood destined for the dump. Additionally they are planting trees in Belgium equal to the wood used, and all leftover wood was donated to Burners without Borders, a Burning Man group that does relief work in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Get your facts straight before you criticize. You mean-spirited comments make you seem…petty and vindictive. I managed this project for Burning Man and there was virtually nothing objectionable in it. In fact these two business owners are trying to promote community through art-making and are very generous and forward thinking.

Burning Man got the last laugh, saluting the “punking” with a waffle-themed Man in 2009

I think the project was fantastic, inspiring and interactive, open to and shared with all Burners – and then even people off the Playa too. Kudos to Lexus for sponsoring something like this. No logos in sight, and it doesn’t really seem like this is violating Burning Man principles. They left a clean-up crew of 5 people for a week. It sounds to me like the creators found a great way to fund their vision. They donated 6 truckloads of lumber to Habitat for Humanity, the biggest donation they’d ever received.

Here’s an email from Lady Bee explaining the project.

The Belgians sent us a grant proposal last winter, but the cost was prohibitive, and we didn’t fund it. Later in the spring three of the group members came to the office and presented their project to us. They told us it was being funded by a guy named Jan Kriekels, who had come to Burning Man in 2005, loved it, and wanted to create an installation. We went over basic logistics, and then didn’t hear much from them. They ordered a huge amount of tickets and they arrived on the playa on the first day possible, August 14, and started building.

…Arne was a high school dropout who lived in the streets for a while,
stealing food and falling under the influence of an older Hell’s
Angels guy, who got him into serious drugs and street crime. After a
short stay in a local jail, Arne decided to start a design business
and got loans from the Belgian government to do so. He invented a
foam product with the texture of human skin, in many colors, that is
hugely popular. He is not a trained architect or designer and does
not use CAD or any computer programs to do his designs – just draws
them. He has become very successful and if you look at his website:
quinzeandmilan.be/index.html – you’ll see the range of work he
does – interiors, furniture, graphics, on and on. You can see the
foam product in some of the furniture. So he’s a 34-year old tattoo
covered freak who has managed to become one of the most popular
designers in Europe. He’s been selected to be the artist of the year
at the upcoming Basel-Miami Art Fair. He believes in chaos theory,
community, and collaboration, and he and Jan do these sorts of art
projects all over the world, once or twice a year.

Jan Kriekels studied anthropology and he told me that his basic life
question is: What truly makes people happy? One thing is warmth –
hence he started a radiator business- www.jaga.be/Default.aspx
– which features literally thousands of designs, as all of his
employees get to design radiators and all are put into production.
Jan does not believe in top-down management, and empowers his staff
to create designs and to work on projects like the Message Out of the
Future, as well as many others: see www.theradiatorfactory.com/experience. Half of the Belgian group on the playa were factory
workers, all on their usual at-home salary, and the other half were
artists, designers, sales people, photographers, etc. Jan wanted to
put everyone together in this situation to foster collaboration and
community. He and Arne believe in what they call ” the creative
economy” where every person is empowered to create.

Truck Arne designed for Jan’s radiator company

So Jan and Arne financed the whole project. In addition to the
Message Out of the Future installation, they are creating 50,000 full-
length books on the project, each of which will contain a DVD of the
film made at the event. They are gifting these books to their
creative contacts worldwide, in an effort to promote the creative

We expect to see many more European participants next year because of this.

You’ll note that no corporate logos, URL’s, or any mention of these
two companies was made on the playa, nor are their businesses
promoted in the project website www.uchronians.org. This is truly a
gift to Burning Man as well as to all of the Belgians who
participated in the project. Their mission is identical to that of
Burning Man : creating community through art-making. And yes, the
wood they used was low-quality Canadian wood destined for recycling,
and they had an adequate burn platform.The extra wood has been donated to
Burners Without Borders and will be used to build housing for homeless
people in Reno.

I hope many of you had a chance to visit their camp, where there were
nightly dinners, films and music. They worked tirelessly but welcomed
everyone to their camp and seemed to love Burning Man. Would that all
corporate moguls had their vision!!!

Promote the creative economy” sounds like code for “Sell a shitload of Lexuses with a quirky marketing campaign targetted at the Art Basel/Burning Man scenester crowd” [full disclosure – I drive the hybrid version of this car. But I didn’t know about the Burning Man connection until today – bonus!] If anyone has one of these book/DVD sets please get in touch, we’d love to check it out.

From the Reno Gazette-Journal

Left-over lumber from Burning Man is unloaded off a truck Wednesday at the Habitat for Humanity in Stead. Construction manager Steve Stegmeir estimates that the nonprofit organization has received $10,000 to $15,000 worth of lumber, the largest donation he’s seen in his two and a half years with Habitat. A total of six truck loads of lumber was donated to Habitat for Humanity

The city that, for one week, had Nevada’s fifth largest population has recycled its foundations and walls. For the first time, the wood left over after the approximately 39,000 Black Rock City residents departed Burning Man will be used in the construction of 13 low-income houses in Stead. Steve Stegmeir, construction manager for Truckee Meadows Habitat for Humanity, estimates that the non-profit organization has received $10,000 to $15,000 worth of lumber, the largest donation he’s seen in his two and a half years with Habitat.

“These people don’t even live in this community,” Stegmeir said. “That just tells me that there are individuals who are so community-minded that they’re willing to fix a backyard that is not even theirs.”

Burners Without Borders, a group of volunteers who helped with the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief, decided to try recycling the lumber that was left over from camps and art exhibits. Previously, the wood that wasn’t hauled out of the desert was burned. The Burners put out a few signs at the festival and waited to see what would happen.

“We were completely overwhelmed by the response,” project administrator Tom Price said. “But in a way, that’s predictable. Any idea that is community-minded takes off like a rocket. “By addressing climate change and recycling on this scale, we’re putting a practical face on the ideals that the people of Burning Man share.”

It took nearly a week to sort the 20-foot mountain of lumber. The Burning Man group, helped by volunteers from Burning Man’s Department of Public Works, sorted the wood, then hauled it to Stead.

For some families, the donation will make a huge difference. Certified nurse’s assistant Pearl Arteaga will be able to reunite her family under one roof as soon as her Habitat house is complete. Arteaga lives in a motel with her son. She had to send her daughter and granddaughter to live in California. When the house is complete, they’ll all be reunited. “If (Truckee Meadows Habitat for Humanity) weren’t here, I would never be able to buy a home,” Arteaga said. “It makes a big difference because you don’t have to worry about someone taking you out of your home to sell it.”

Families approved for Habitat houses are required to work 500 hours, but Arteaga has put in more than 2,000. “I enjoy the labor and getting to know my neighbors as I build their houses,” Arteaga said.

Stegmeir can’t estimate how long it will take to finish the 13 houses because they’re made almost entirely with volunteer labor. Last Wednesday, not one of his scheduled volunteers showed up. But the Burners’ generosity had Stegmeir marveling at the lumber that will make the process easier. “This is huge,” Stegmeir said shaking Price’s hand. “Thanks guys.”

Price said they plan to recycle lumber from the Burning Man festival again next year.

“The force multiplier of gifting is incredible,” Price said. “The great thing about this is that it’s not an end. It’s a beginning.”

The contrast between this project and the Krug/Town and Country affair shows that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things – and that some Burners are going to be pissed no matter what you do.