Burning Man, 1962: Jean Tinguely Blazes the Trail

by Whatsblem the Pro

Jean Tinguely at the control panel, 1962 -- PHOTO: LIFE Magazine

Jean Tinguely at the control panel, 1962 — PHOTO: LIFE Magazine

On a dry lake bed in the trackless desolation of the Nevada desert, an industrial arts crew assembles a collection of large sculptures with the intention of destroying them in explosions and fire as the gathered crowd looks on. The event is meant as a sort of grand catharsis, a coda for a planet gone stale and mad, revealing and reflecting the dangerous irrelevance of the already-dead culture outside the wasteland, freeing the minds of onlookers from that culture’s tired old bonds and mores, and clearing metaphorical ground to make room for new modes of thinking and living.

Sound familiar?

Burning Man was not the first event that fit that description, but if you’re thinking of the Cacophony Society, or the Planet X arts collective outside Gerlach, Nevada, then you’re still decades late and a dollar short. The event I’m describing happened in 1962, predating Harvey, Cacophony, Planet X, the punk rock arts scene, and even hippies.

It was 1989 when Cacophonist Kevin Evans joined the Planet X folks for a wind sculpture event in the Black Rock desert. Taking inspiration from the trip, Evans and fellow Cacophonist John Law planned a Labor Day weekend expedition to the same site.

“I had been reading essays by Hakim Bey and his ideas struck a chord,” relates Evans in the recently-released book TALES OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CACOPHONY SOCIETY.

“At that time, I was experimenting with the technique of forcefully augmenting or destroying parts of my artwork as a meditation on impermanence and flexible reaction to sudden change. These concepts fused into a plan to generate a creative, temporary incident in the Black Rock with a central theme, the ritual destruction and immolation of sculptures and art constructed for the event, with the peculiar, empty location as a stage set.

“For an insolvent, young, and naïve art student, this vision seemed far too grand and expensive to accomplish alone. I decided to present the scheme as a Cacophony event, a ‘Zone Trip,’ to fellow Cacophonist John Law. Other members of the group were later recruited (M2, aka Danger Ranger) and logistical planning commenced.

“A few months from the target date of the expedition, many of us from the Cacophony Society attended what was to be the last Baker Beach burn of Burning Man in San Francisco. Fortunately, via the intervention of local authorities, the monolithic figurine was not razed. Amidst chants of ‘burn it anyway!’ and pagan-like drumming, a few of us Cacophonists, including Miss P and Dawn, thought it would be a great idea to invite the architects of the wooden construct along for our voyage to the bizarre setting, making it the biggest, most elaborate piece of firewood – a glorious conflagration.”

While Evans’ account neatly deflates the commonly-held mythos of Larry Harvey as the All-Father of Burning Man, Evans’ idea – consciously or not – was an echo of an event that took place more than a quarter of a century earlier.

“I’ve reached the end, you see, for museums in this kind of thing. I need a place where I can build as big as I want, and destroy as violently. The only two settings I can think of as appropriate are the Sahara and the American Desert. ”

These are the words of Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, quoted in a Saturday Evening Post interview dated April 21st, 1962. Tinguely was referring to his piece entitled Study for an End of the World, No. 2, in which he constructed a Rube Goldberg conglomeration of self-destructing mechanical icons on a sun-blasted playa in the Nevada desert. Tinguely’s art, with its unavoidable references to nuclear war, was quite a bit more politically pointed than Burning Man has ever been. . . but in hindsight, comparisons with both Burning Man and the dire machine conflict perpetrated by Survival Research Laboratories in the late ’70s and early ’80s seem just as unavoidable. His machines, designed as they were to annihilate themselves, provided a counterpoint to nuclear war, to the idiocy and waste inherent in mass production techniques, and to the obsolescence of society and so-called ‘civilization’ itself.

“A scene of triumph, lying under an odor of gunpowder” is how Tinguely described the aftermath of Study for an End of the World, No. 2. . . but feel free to judge for yourself; Tinguely’s burn, which took well over an hour, was documented by an NBC film crew for an episode of David Brinkley’s Journal, a weekly news-oriented television show that aired their footage of Study for an End of the World, No. 2 on April 4th of 1962.

The Man vs. the Man: Will Local Authorities Be Booted From Burning Man?

by Whatsblem the Pro

Big doings in the Nevada State Assembly! The website of the Washoe County Republican Party reports:

BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! Photo: David Bobzien

BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! Photo: David Bobzien

“Earlier this morning, the Chamber supported AB 374 in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee. This bill, pushed by Assemblyman David Bobzien, came about because of threats by some rural counties to start charging local permitting fees and increasing costs for the Burning Man festival that comes to the Black Rock Desert every summer. This bill would prohibit any local government from interfering with a federally-licensed event on federal land. We strongly support this concept because of the enormous positive economic impact that Burning Man attendees have on our region.”

AB 374 began life as a different bill, introduced by Nevada Senator Pete Goicoechea and State Assemblyman John Ellison, intended to allow grazing in Federal fire restoration areas as a means of limiting the growth of cheat grass, which creates repeat fire hazards. Under the leadership of Bobzien, that bill was amended with some canny provisions aimed at getting the State and County authorities’ hands out of Burning Man’s pocket.

Assemblyman Bobzien – who also sponsored AB 304, a previous bill that clarified and simplified permitting for fire performers – had this to say on the subject:

“I for one prefer to keep politics away from Burning Man. My own experiences on the playa are thankfully partisan-free, and AB304, a bill that enjoyed broad-based support from Democrats, Republicans and Governor Sandoval, was a true example of non-partisan problem solving to help constituents. And by the way, these are constituents who are part of a culture with economic importance in northern Nevada- it’s estimated that the Burning Man festival alone pumps $15 million into the local economy every year.”

As AB 374 has gained support, the authors of the original bill have moved to distance themselves from it, and now openly oppose it. Goicoechea and Ellison expressed their opposition to AB 374 during a conference call last Friday.

“If you have an outdoor activity on public lands of over 1,000 people, then the county has no involvement or enforcement on that activity at all,” said Goicoechea. “It all goes to the Feds. We’re not prepared or ready to let our police powers go. Technically they’d be on the hook for all the emergency services but wouldn’t have the ability to enforce any of their laws or public safeties. It’s just another intrusion into the County and the State’s rights when it comes to any type of enforcements on public lands.”

Pete Goicoechea and John Ellison - Photo: R. Dalton

Pete Goicoechea and John Ellison – Photo: R. Dalton

John Ellison agreed, noting that the bill as rewritten will have an affect on the ability of every County in the State of Nevada to regulate large festivals held on Federal soil. “If we open Pandora’s box and we allow this to happen, this could be on every event on public lands,” he said.

The full text of AB 374 can be found at the Nevada State Legislature’s website.

In an unrelated story, astronomers report that the stars over Nevada have spontaneously rearranged themselves to read “FYD PETE & JOHN.” Authorities at NASA were unavailable for comment.

Temple Builders Revealed!

by Whatsblem the Pro

The Temple of Whollyness - Rendering by Gregg Fleishman

The Temple of Whollyness – Rendering by Gregg Fleishman

With David Best out of the picture for 2013, there’s been a lot of anticipation over who will build the Temple this year. There’s even been talk of more than one Temple being built; one prominent industrial arts crew has been seriously considering building their own design without funding from the Org.

Today, the honorarium grant for the 2013 Temple was awarded to the Otic Oasis‘ triumvirate of Gregg Fleishman, Melissa ‘Syn’ Barron, and Lightning Clearwater III, who will build their “Temple of Whollyness” with labor courtesy of the Otic Oasis crew.

Syn, Gregg, and Lighting - Photo by Tedshots

Syn, Gregg, and Lighting – Photo by Tedshots

USC-educated architect Gregg Fleishman has been exploring the possibilities of interlocking slotted plywood for many years. Working out of his studio in Culver City, California, he creates elegant decorative furniture, model vehicles and other sculptures, and full-sized structures, all with no metal fasteners or joints. Fleishman works miracles out of single sheets of plywood, crafting compound curves from flat-cut material. Some of his pieces even incorporate wooden springs and hinges. His “SCULPT C H A I R S” are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (NY), Yale University Art Gallery, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Not surprisingly, Fleishman expressed an interest in sacred geometry when we spoke. The concept goes back at least 3,000 years, to the time when King Solomon reportedly built his Temple on Mt. Zion to house the Ark of the Covenant. Solomon, so the story goes, received his blueprints directly from God, and his Temple was designed as a sort of architectural wave guide in which the God of the Hebrews would resonate harmonically, the way an untouched string on a guitar will vibrate when an adjacent string is plucked at the same note.

Photo by Gregg Fleishman

Photo by Gregg Fleishman

The 2013 Temple design is highly geometrical, and will be built using Fleishman’s patented connectors at each joint, capitalizing on the intrinsic strength of the arch at every opportunity in an interlocking jigsaw of triangles and pyramids. No nails, screws, or other metal connectors will be used at all. The gross form of the Temple will consist of a large central trussed pyramid, sixty-four feet tall and eighty-seven feet square, with four smaller satellite pyramids measuring twenty feet tall and twenty-nine feet at the base, intricately interlocked and ornamented in Fleishman’s signature style: Archimedes, Pythagoras, and R. Buckminster Fuller holding hands and enjoying some really good acid.

Birch Car - Photo by Gregg Fleishman

Birch Car – Photo by Gregg Fleishman

The Otic Oasis, a “wilderness outpost” intended to serve as Black Rock City’s equivalent of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, debuted in 2011 and returned in 2012, providing a much-needed respite from Black Rock City’s continuous sound. There won’t be an Otic Oasis this year, as the crew will be busy with the Temple of Whollyness, but look for the Oasis’ return in 2014. As the city grows and becomes noisier, Otic Oasis is an increasingly vital resource for the dazzled and overstimulated among us, or for those of us who just want to connect with the spartan beauty and enchanting ambience of the desert.

The group also built the ‘Pistil’ sculpture inside the Man base in 2012.

'Pistil' - Photo by Gregg Fleishman

‘Pistil’ – Photo by Gregg Fleishman