Catch Up On Some Light Reading

Reno’s KTVN 2 news brings us a story about the Library of Babel, which is taking shape at The Generator in Sparks, NV. It will be 50 feet across and 45 feet tall, with silk screening based on Muslim designs.

borgesdesmazieres2Based on an idea of Jose Borges more than a century ago, the massive structure will be filled with books. They are making the books and even the paper themselves. What will fill the books? That’s up to Burners, who will be let loose in the structure with marker pens. The idea is to display the books to schools around the country after the event. No problems there, I’m sure a bunch of naked, drug-fuelled Burners will keep it G-rated. Perhaps Burning Man’s contribution to the literary life of Nevada’s youth will help sway the local Judge, Sheriff, DA, and others who firmly believe that the party with its Slut Gardens and Orgy Domes should be adults-only.

From KTVN:

In the early 1900’s Jose Borges wrote a story about The Library of Babel. In his story it was a library that contained all the stories ever written. In a warehouse in Sparks, Warrick Macmillan is building his own, with a Burning Man slant.

“It is the physical interpretation of that story,” Macmillan tells me as crews begin assembling the walls for the hexagonal building.

burqa girlIt will be 45 feet across and 50 feet tall when it’s done. It’s covered with an infinite Arabic design of ancient tiles.

“We silk screened all of this which was mind blowing,” says Peter Laxalt, a local graphic designer working on the project. “I mean think about just silk screening a T-shirt and what that takes and then transferring that to an 8 foot by 10 foot wall…it’s amazing. And it worked!”

Crews are rotating in at all kinds of hours to help Macmillan get his project off the ground. And he’s found some monetary support.

“We got a grant from the Burning Man Foundation for like three-fourths of this and a smaller grant from the Sierra Arts Foundation for when it’s done. But we still need money for lighting the space once it’s done, and for transporting it all to the playa,” Macmillan says. 

In addition to the structure, they are filling the library with handmade books.

“Everything is repurposed,” says Macmillan. “We are using recycled paper to make our own paper and then we are putting it into books that covered with donated fabric. Each book is unique.”

All those books will be filled with whatever Burners want to fill them with at this year’s festival.

“We’re supplying paints and pens and they can draw or write or paint. We’re leaving it open and just want to see what happens,” Macmillan says.

They have a Kickstarter campaign to help fund it all. You can find it at:

The Generator is located at 1240 Icehouse Avenue. 

Here is some more information from the Library of Babel’s Kickstarter page:

library of babelAny piece of art is defined not by the person creating it, but by the individual observing, interpreting, and interacting with it. The Library of Babel, a Burning Man 2014 honorarium installation being built at The Generator, is a project whose boundaries have intentionally been left open to ensure that it is not a static concept that separates those who create and observe:  everyone involved in building, at Burning Man, and within our greater community will by default share the role of artist and observer.

babel booksInspired by Borges’ short story, The Library of Babel is about a universe which is an indefinite, perhaps infinite library which contains every possible book, within which are “all the possible combinations of the twenty odd orthographic symbols.”  Our intention is to interpret and expand Borges’ ideas by building a real library, and asking participants to become the librarians.

babel panelThe theme of this project is simple: that we are unlimited in thought and creativity. Our ability to express ideas begins with words, but diverges into many realms of nonverbal language. The Library asks participants where this distinction lies. Upon entering the space, one will feel compelled to address this enigmatic question. Whether reading what others have written, composing one’s own stories, sketching an idea, or simply admiring the mood and discussing its values with a friend or stranger, this Library will inspire one to explore the range and limits of language.

babel componentsIt is an endeavor continually progressing through the interactions of those people who use the space through writing, drawing, and reading the books. It will define a unique narrative of the playa; indeed, it has no individual owner or author, but rather a more universal presence whose uncountable layers are defined by an intangible, inexpressible evolution.

…The initial draw to the library will be its distinctive exterior presence.  The exterior, inspired by The Dome of the Rock, one of the oldest examples of Islamic architecture still with us today.  The Library will illuminate the playa with the elegant symmetries and colors of ancient Girih tile patterns, recreating the ancient artistic and mathematical genius of our predecessors. 

Embrace Embrace

Embrace is going ahead – and looking for a home after Burning Man. Unlike the Temple design they were initially pitching for, now they are building art that can survive to be enjoyed by others outside the burn. We hope to see much more of that in the future. Embrace is looking for a good home post-Burn, as well as another $60,000 – if you can help them, get in touch. It’s seven stories tall, which might create some insurance issues. They already beat their $47,000 Kickstarter goal. According to this interview, they have raised in total $140,000 of their $200,000 total goal, including a 2014 Burning Man Art Honorarium grant. This project is going ahead, and it is going to be significant. It’s from the crew who brought you the Pier, operating out of Vancouver, BC; Portland, OR; and Reno, NV.

Matt Schultz is the director of The Generator in Reno. He shares some of the thinking behind the Embrace, and discusses the “hetero-normative backlash” the piece triggered – apparently, mostly from straight white guys…


Story from IgniteChannel:

Matt Schultz Gives the People of Burning Man a Giant Hug with His Sculpture Embrace



Embrace Sketch by Killbuck


Evocative works of art embrace us; they inspire action, thought, and emotion; and even subvert the dominant paradigm. Matt Schultz and the Pier Group’s 2014 Burning Man sculpture, Embrace, embodies all of those qualities. Rising from the playa, Embrace is a 72- foot sculpture of two people entwined in a bond of affection and acceptance. The wooden, cathedral-like structure will cradle all who enter and provide a space for celebrating relationships of all kinds and remembering, with joy, those who can no longer be physically embraced.

The Pier Group have created wonderful art on the playa before, including The Pier, Pier 2, and the Ichthyosaur Puppet Project.

Matt is also the Executive Director of an inclusive art space called The Generator, located in Sparks (Reno), Nevada. This is the heart of the Embraceproject, but the actual hearts that will light the inner beauty of the couple are being created by crews in Vancouver and Portland.

The Ignite team had the pleasure of speaking with Matt about his inspiration for Embrace and the challenges of building a large sculpture at Burning Man.

Is this project going to be almost like a second Temple?

Matt: We have a huge dialogue behind all of this. We wanted to try to take the idea of Temple and flip it a bit away from so much of the feeling of this release from death. I think it is release in that way that you kind of let it go and forget about it. We wanted people to think about those that they care about.

Instead of thinking about loss, we wanted people to smile for the good times they shared with people. That’s why Embrace, for us, is about the moment. It’s a Temple dedicated to “right now.” It’s a Temple that gives for your relationships in the moment. Within the context we originally defined for Temple, we wanted to embrace and define a broader experience for participants when it comes to relating to death and sorrow and despair.

We want to give people a palette for some more positive emotions, too, in relationship to that. This project has been straddling these two worlds and one of the worlds it has been straddling is this traditional need that the Temple appeals to. It’s a core functional piece of our city. The Temple allows a lot of us who don’t have religion, who don’t have an organized body to turn to, to have a place to express that grief, to express a sense of spirituality, to release from challenges that we don’t have anywhere else to go to. That was the kind of first place we were straddling with Embrace.

The second place we were stepping to was that we wanted to create a new space at Burning Man – a space that is focused on the here and now – being present in your relationships, being present with the people you love, with the people you hate, being present in your relationship with yourself. We really feel like that part of the idea was so complementary to the first idea. You have your release, that kind of time when you let go, then you have the analysis of it, the chance to take time to think and reflect on those moments in your life. I really like that duality.

I think initially when we didn’t get Temple, we as a crew were pretty bummed out, but a lot of our crew were 50/50. Some of us wanted Temple, some of us didn’t. I think maybe it was an ego blow for us more than anything, but once we realized that we weren’t the Temple, we found a lot of joy in it. Not being Temple is something that I never realized would have a positive nature to it.

When we were vying for Temple, we had a lot of really great positive feedback about our project, but within that positive feedback, we had a handful of mean, negative, dark things said about this project. That was really challenging. None of us are getting paid to do this project. We are doing it as a giant “thank you” to a community who opened their hearts to us and welcomed us in.

We saw elements of the same community shunning us and telling us we had horrible ideas, yelling and screaming at us and being hurt by what we were proposing. I can only speak for myself, but part of the reason I started doing art at Burning Man is that it was the first community where I felt welcomed  in and where I felt I had a real home. The Pier and the ship are so innocuous. They’re fun, but they are more pieces that just evoke senses of wonder. They are part of a dream scape. They’re pieces of surreal thrown on the playa that don’t actually elicit any strong emotions outside of the childlike desire to explore.

Embrace is certainly a more interesting piece from my perspective. It was challenging reading some of the Facebook threads and feeling like people really wanted to attack me for this idea.


That’s too bad that has to happen. Nobody can every please everyone, with anything that they do, but to be attacked by people is sad, especially since your project is all about love. What’s to complain about?

Matt: The people who were complaining had a realistic complaint. Most of the people were complaining about things they dealt with in the real world that they felt were reflected in my art piece. One of the biggest kind of critiques leveled against it was that it was too hetero-normative, which was a term that I was not familiar with before I started this project.

That took me for a loop because I have always kind of struggled with how I identified within my gender norms. While I am very much male, there are times when I am far too female for normal society. I’ve been critiqued my whole life for that. When we designed Embrace, we designed it to be much more androgynous. We didn’t want it to be a man and a woman; we wanted it to be a sculpture where people could identify with it any way that they liked. If they wanted, it could be a mother and a son, a father and a grandpa, a husband and a wife, or brothers or sisters. At the same time, we wanted to make sure that it still seemed human. I didn’t want it to be too incredibly neutral. I didn’t want them to look like a sculpture of a pair of elves. So I wanted to have some musculature, some curves and some shape.

The smaller one is more slender, but the smaller one has a broader chest and no hips, while the larger one is more muscular with a much shallower chest and broader hips. They both have androgynous features and they both have gender-specific features.

It was really funny because most of the conversations I’ve had, people say, it’s clearly a man and a woman because one is taller than the other. I can’t count the number of people I’ve looked at and said, name one relationship you’ve had in your life where you are the same size as the other person. Size does not delineate gender.

That’s so weird because I’ve been writing about transgender issues lately. I’m not transgendered, but my friend is and some other people l know are. I know that transgender people face a lot of challenges, but from the messages I get from them, I doubt they would be upset by Embrace.

Matt: Most of the people complaining have been straight white men. There is this projection of identity which is very interesting. A large majority of the friends that I have are kind of outside of the hetero norm – they see a lot of positive in this piece. Within that, as an artist, I don’t want everyone to love my piece. I had to learn to grow a thicker skin. If I’m going to be disappointed that people that are throwing barbs at me for making a piece that compels them to like it or not like it, I can’t at the same time be happy, or compelled, or so proud that a dialogue is forming from the piece.

I think I have to accept that when making a piece of art, you’re inherently communicating a message and communicating it very loudly, at least when you are building on the scale that we are. We are screaming the concept at the top of our lungs, but we’re not refining that concept. We’re letting people choose what that concept is.

I don’t know if I really have a right to complain about that concept in that manner because of the simple fact that the narrative is beautiful and blossoming. A good narrative should have both negative and positive aspects to it, and that’s what I always wanted to do with my art. If all you want is to make innocuous art that no one complains about, you aren’t creating any conversation.

Option two is you can create interesting art that some people are going to hate and then they are going to reflect that hate upon me. There isn’t a lot of middle ground there, especially with the American relationship to art. At the same time, if I am going to be yelling from the top of my lungs and building some giant sculpture dedicated to relationships, I should expect a little blowback from people who have had difficulty with relationships.

I don’t think people realize this, but Embrace is built by a bunch of loners and outcasts who just wanted to belong. I think we formed this group of artists that we have here because we wanted to create a place where anyone could come and belong and we could do something incredible and build something really fantastic. Embrace encompasses this bigger idea. Embrace is a project that at the end of the day is less about the final result and more about the process with the community, friends, neighbors, with new people from different countries, with men and women, children and the elderly. It’s this chance for all of us to come together and make something and smile and laugh and make new friends and share hugs and stare at this giant thing we’ve built at the end of the day. And smile and laugh and do it again.


The Interior of Embrace with Two Hearts

The Interior of Embrace with Two Hearts Sketch by Killbuck

And you are actually working with people in Vancouver and Portland – different groups working together. How does that work?

Matt: What we did with the ship, we tried to create more of an open collaboration and we created a loose framework of what we needed to populate the inside of it and we had our satellite crews populating it and that worked very well. What we are doing on Embrace is, we opened up the collaboration even more, so Kevan Christiaens and myself thought it would be an original idea for the project to be these two giant tree people in an embrace as cathedrals inside.

Kelsey Owens, a dear friend of ours, had a dream that they had giant hearts inside of them, so we integrated that. Another friend, Bernie Beauchamp, thought it would be a great to have a hole in the top, so you could see the stars. What we did and what we are continuing to do on this project is welcome feedback and integrate it. It has this chance to be the whole crew’s project; it’s not just my project.

We have two hearts. We already had this established crew in Vancouver – a bunch of dear friends who worked on multiple projects with us. We’ve had a small contingent of crew members in Portland, so we figured we’d have a Portland and Vancouver crew and they can build the hearts. The only guidance on the hearts was that I wanted them to be a human heart shape, not a cartoon shape and I would like them to be some kind of chandelier light-creating source that was about the size of a small car. They also had to be a certain weight. They’ve just developed from there independently. I have no idea what the hearts are going to look like. It’s really incredible seeing that kind of collaboration open up and to have three crews in different cities working on this project.

Can you tell me about the Generator, where you are building Embrace?

Matt: I’m the executive director of the Generator. We’ve got four board members and our funder. We wanted to create a space where all the tools and resources were accessible for anyone to use and anyone to create with. We wanted to carry the ethos of Burning Man, most importantly being open and inclusive and de-commodified to a real world space to see how it would work.

It’s been an absolutely incredible experiment. The number of projects and amazing pieces of art and the people that have come through here who have learned and done something new is absolutely phenomenal.


Embrace Sketch by Killbuck

You made your crowdfunding goal, but what do you need in the way of support or volunteers?


Matt: We need to raise another $60 thousand to fund this project. We’ve raised about $140 thousand, but the project cost is about $200 thousand. We are looking for volunteers. Embrace is not burning, so at this point, we need to find a place in northern Nevada or northern California that would be a good home for it. If someone is willing to donate a piece of property where we can create a sculpture park or if someone wants it on their private property, they should ask us about the prospects of doing that.

Read IgniteChannel’s full interview here.

The Poor Man’s Burning Man 3: ELECTRIC BAMBOOGALOO

by Whatsblem the Pro

Architect Ken Rose and IAM volunteers hard at work

Architect Ken Rose and IAM volunteers hard at work

[Whatsblem the Pro is embedded in the International Arts Megacrew for the building of THE CONTROL TOWER, a sixty-foot “cargo cult” version of an FAA control tower, equipped with lasers and flame effects and other interactive features. This series of articles begins with The Poor Man’s Burning Man: Part One, and shows you how you can attend Burning Man even if you don’t sleep on a giant pile of money at night.]

Work on the Control Tower continues to go smoothly as the necessary materials and tools show up. This last couple of weeks has seen the real work beginning with the arrival of the actual bamboo members that will make up the load-bearing part of the Tower.

Bamboo is incredibly strong, and can stand in for steel in many applications. It can splinter and break, though, especially at the ends of these long poles the crew is working with. They’ve been busy embedding steel joints into each piece to allow them to be joined together, and cementing them in place with an expanding foam poured into small holes in the shafts. The tendency to splinter is being dealt with by capping the ends of the thirty-foot segments with fiberglass.

Expert help with all of this has arrived in the person of Gerard Minakawa, an artist/designer from Southern California whose company, Bamboo DNA, specializes in sculpture and architecture built from bamboo. I asked Gerard to tell me about building with bamboo.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: So Gerard. . . what’s so great about bamboo?

GERARD MINAKAWA: Where do I start? There are so many amazing things. It’s so versatile, it’s had so many different uses since humans first started working with building materials. People in Asia and South America are pretty familiar with how useful it is.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: I was in China for five years and noticed that even on huge skyscrapers, when there’s a building project, they’re using bamboo scaffolding.

GERARD MINAKAWA: Yeah! It’s just so friendly and easy to work with. There’s so much you can do with it. It’s both very strong, and very flexible, which I’ve always regarded as its two most redeeming characteristics. That combination of strength and flexibility is hard to match.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: And it’s so light!

GERARD MINAKAWA: Yes, it can be very light, too. It’s a good thing these cylinders are hollow, though, because if they were solid they’d be extremely heavy.

The variety we’re using for the Control Tower is called Guadua angustifolia, commonly known as just ‘guadua.’ It’s native to South America, to the Amazon. Most people think that all bamboos of any significance come from Asia, but actually the one I’ve found to be the most useful, the best to work with in construction, art, and design is this species. Brazilians and Colombians work with it a lot; it’s my number-one choice.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: How does it compare with steel, structurally?

GERARD MINAKAWA: The five-inch poles we’re using here are comparable to two and three-eighths inch diameter tube steel, in terms of compression strength, with a lot smaller carbon footprint.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: You’re actually sequestering carbon by using bamboo, rather than releasing a ton of it into the atmosphere by manufacturing steel.

GERARD MINAKAWA: Right. . . and none of these poles are older than six years, from the time that they’re harvested, so from the time they start shooting to the time you turn it into something like a Control Tower, you’re looking at six years.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: These will shoot later?

GERARD MINAKAWA: It grows from a network of roots, called rhizomes, so cutting down a bamboo pole in the forest doesn’t mean you have to reseed it.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: I’ve heard that some species grow so fast you can hear them.

GERARD MINAKAWA: I’ve never heard it, but some species grow as much as a meter per day, so you can definitely watch it grow.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: But only if you’ve got plenty of Whip-Its handy, to get into that jaw-dropped state.

GERARD MINAKAWA: It would take quite a bit of patience. If you filmed a time-lapse, though, it would be really amazing.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: How long have you been doing this?

GERARD MINAKAWA: I’ve been building with bamboo for about twelve years now. It’s a lot of fun to build with. . . never a dull moment!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: So, today you’re filling it with polyurethane foam to anchor the steel joints inside each piece?

GERARD MINAKAWA: Yes. This is the trickiest part; we need to splice poles together to make sixty-foot members. You can’t import sixty-foot long poles; you just can’t ship them at that length. . . so to get the length we need, we’re putting in a steel ‘bone’ that’s held in place inside each pole with structural foam. The two halves of each resulting sixty-foot pole will come apart, to be locked together again later, so there’s a little bit of modularity in the structure. . . pre-fabrication, for ease of reassembly later on, when the Tower gets to the playa. After Burning Man they want to be able to dissassemble and reassemble this for other events, so we’re making a fairly large compromise by using steel and foam instead of just bamboo alone.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: I guess there must be some challenges whenever you start getting into any kind of composite construction.

GERARD MINAKAWA: Sure. The materials industry has a way to go. On the bright side, when we do the reinforcement lashings for this, we’ll be using a bio-resin that’s linseed based as a replacement for the typical polyester resin. That cures in the sun; it’s a biological resin and non-toxic. The finish will also be an atypically non-toxic finish, so I’m happy about all of that.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Tell me about Bamboo DNA.

GERARD MINAKAWA: Bamboo DNA is a company I started as an import and wholesale company; I guess I was trying to take the safe route and do what everyone else was doing, but I ended up getting mostly commissions, and asked to do festivals and design stuff. I was trained as a designer; I just wasn’t really seeing how it would be possible to create a business centered solely around bamboo design and building. . . but that’s how it’s ended up! Now that’s what Bamboo DNA does year-round, all the time: design and build bamboo structures. I tried to do something more generic, and a niche customer base found my niche business and turned it into something unique. I couldn’t be happier, and it gives me many chances to help awareness of bamboo and other ecologically-friendly materials grow.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Thanks, I’ll let you get back to it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying not to fall apart while fulfilling all my own commitments, getting some artwork done of my own, and suffering head colds in the recent heatwave. I’ve had a good bit of luck with getting all kinds of donations coming in from supportive local businesses, from a forklift to a fleet of bicycles to lumber to the gourmet beer the crew sold at one of their fundraisers. I feel a little like James Garner in THE GREAT ESCAPE: the Scrounger, pulling necessaries out of thin air so that we can all leave the Nazis and their shitty POW camp behind for a better life on our own. Hopefully the tunnel won’t collapse on us before we all get through!

Morale remains high, especially after hours when the overhead lights go down and the bold shirt-bearers of the IAM rise to meet it.