A Matter of Control

by Whatsblem the Pro

The International Arts Megacrew is a crew of builders that has earned a massive amount of respect from the citizens of Black Rock City, in particular with the success of their very ambitious and brilliantly executed Temple of Transition in 2011.

The IAM has announced their project for 2013, a mysterious structure called THE CONTROL TOWER. I met with Irish, one of the group’s leaders, to find out more.

Whatsblem the Pro: Welcome back to the States! Tell me about the IAM.

Irish: Thanks. IAM is a loose collective of people from over twenty countries, of which the core group is based in Reno. The crew initially grew from a group that knew each other from working together at the Black Rock International Burner Hostel (BRIBH) camp from around 2005 onwards, particularly members of the leadership team: Kiwi, a master carpenter and general contractor from New Zealand, myself, an artist from Dublin, and Beave, a notorious international man of mystery from England. IAM has since expanded to include many other people, including our architect Ken Rose and a wide diversity of crew from Reno and further afield.

The BRIBH was a camp that sought to provide burners from overseas a means to integrate faster at Burning Man by providing a surrounding community and a shared project – camp construction – for them to get involved in, even in their first year at Black Rock City. Attending Burning Man from overseas is a daunting task, both psychologically and logistically, and the role of the Burner Hostel was to make the journey easier, allowing international participants to spend more energy on really getting stuck into Burning Man while knowing they had a sweet home base to return to whenever they needed. . . and this philosophy of providing accessible experience to international burners continues in our art projects today.

IAM crew distribution -- Image: Josh Simmons/IAM media team

IAM crew distribution — Image: Josh Simmons/IAM media team

The first big project we did, Megatropolis, grew from a whiskey-sippin’ conversation at Kiwiburn 2010 between Kiwi and Otto Von Danger, there at the time to build his Cow with Gun project. Too late to apply for a grant that year, we hustled, begged and borrowed to raise the funds required and drove to the playa on fumes, where, over the course of twelve hotdog-eating days, twenty-five of us managed to pull off a pretty big and popular project. Black Rock FX came in at the end to help us with an epic, pyrotechnics-intensive burn.

Our crew that year included people from New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, Australia, the USA, Hong Kong, Canada and Germany.

Megatropolis went so well that at some point during cleanup, Kiwi jumped to the next logical conclusion: building a Temple.

Megatropolis burning -- Photo: Chris 'Kiwi' Hankins

Megatropolis burning — Photo: Chris ‘Kiwi’ Hankins

This was a very different project – much bigger, far more complex – and being the Temple, required a lot more sensitivity and thought. With a crew that topped out at just under 400 volunteers from over twenty countries at Hobson Square, an awesome warehouse complex on 4th Street in Reno, we spent an extremely intense four months pre-building, then had an even more intense time with the on-playa build. . . so intense that we needed a year off to recuperate in 2012.

The Temple of Transition appeared to be well-liked by the community; afterwards we heard estimates that there were around 45,000 people at the Temple burn, which hopefully means it was a special place for a lot of people and that it performed its intended function effectively. The Temple is a well-understood, well-developed concept that had been explored and clarified over the preceding decade by David Best and other Temple architects and crews, and we tried our best to create and honor that same experience and feeling on our watch.

The IAM's Temple of Transition, Burning Man 2011 -- Photo: Scott London

The IAM’s Temple of Transition, Burning Man 2011 — Photo: Scott London

Whatsblem the Pro: Well done, it was a great Temple.
What is the Control Tower? What does it signify artistically, and what do you hope to achieve with it?

Irish: Where the Temple was serious, the Control Tower is designed to be fun, both for participants to interact with and for us to build!

Sensible grown-ups that we are, we realized that the theme is likely to inspire all manner of bizarre air and space craft, no doubt operated by a babbling smorgasbord of unlicensed, cantankerous, and demented pilots, all buzzing around Spaceport BRC in the most uncontrolled, abstract, and fundamentally irresponsible manner. Very dangerous! Very haphazard! So we figured we’d step up to do our civic duty and provide some modicum of air traffic control, provide landing clearances, define flight paths and so on. . . all of which can only realistically be achieved from sixty feet above the playa, high atop a flaming, laser-shooting Control Tower.

Aside from selflessly providing this vital public service, of course, we wanted to focus on two key principles this year: interactivity and collaboration. So every system on the tower – flames, lasers, lighting, sound – will all be interactive via a number of secret game-like methods which will have to be discovered upon visiting the installation. Many of these systems will be built by a rapidly expanding list of awesome collaborators including UV99, Mischief Lab, BambooDNA, Audiopixel, the Media Architecture Institute, Ideate, Play)a(skool, several 2012 CORE crews, and even some peaceful, softly glowing visitors from the Fractal Planet, so the project is shaping up to be a collaboration of epic proportions. We strongly believe that collaborations yield the best Burning Man projects, so we’re really excited about where the Control Tower project is going to end up by the time we actually get to playa!

The Control Tower. Not pictured: your mind exploding -- Image: IAM

The Control Tower. Not pictured: your mind exploding — Image: IAM

Whatsblem the Pro: What is the Org’s involvement in the project? Does it meet your expectations?

Irish: Sadly, we did not get a grant from Burning Man this year, which makes our lives a little more difficult. It’s hard to know exactly why they chose not to support a project that delivers so much interaction, collaboration, visual impact, and fire in a theme-appropriate way. The community as a whole clearly likes the idea very much, as shown by the massive wave of support we’ve experienced in just three short weeks since we launched on Facebook, and since we like those people so much, we HAVE to move ahead, grant or no grant! We built Megatropolis without a grant, so we know it can be done, especially with so much support gathering around the project already.

It’s also important to note that Burning Man supports its artists in more ways than just via grants, and this non-monetary support can be just as – if not more – critical to making a project happen successfully. Now that we have been given a very clear mandate by the community itself to build their Control Tower, it will be interesting to see how the Burning Man Org supports the project as it evolves. The fact of the matter is that we love building awesome projects at Black Rock City, and Burning Man loves awesome projects too, so I’m very hopeful they will work with us closely to ensure the whole community gets to enjoy the full, ridiculous magnificence of the Control Tower.

Whatsblem the Pro: What’s the plan for actually getting it built, and when and where will everything happen?

Irish: Well, we hope to start building in early May at the Generator, a new art space in Sparks, NV. Matt Schultz of the Pier project has very generously offered us space there, and we’re hoping the space will be quite the hive of Burn-related activity for the summer. We’re way into the family vibe that comes from working side-by-side with other projects, and it allows us to share our experience and infrastructure with smaller or less experienced crews. Our actual start date – indeed whether we start at all – will depend a great deal on how fundraising goes over the coming four to six weeks.

Whatsblem the Pro: What does the project need in order to succeed?

Irish: Like any other project, we need to assemble a mixture of four key resources to make the whole thing come to life: materials, funding, people, and clever ideas. We think it’s important to list materials ahead of funding because in the end, funds get used to buy materials anyway, and we really try to find free/cheap/donated material, equipment, and tools rather than spending on new stuff. However, even being super-proactive about using second-hand gear, we still think we need to raise just under $50,000, and we’re going to try to raise at least half of that on Indiegogo.

Equally, if we can come up with clever ways to avoid spending money by finding unexpected solutions to technical or organizational challenges, this helps reduce the fundraising load too, and that’s where the whole community comes in; we are always open to volunteers and new ideas. Across a community as big as Burning Man, we know there are people who have already developed a lot of the solutions we need to make this project go, and we’d love to hear from anyone who wants to get involved!

Whatsblem the Pro: How do people contact you to get involved, and how do they donate?

Irish: The easiest and fastest way to support the project is via our Indiegogo campaign.

We are fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, an umbrella 501(c)(3) that provides tax-deductible status to qualifying art projects. This means donations of money, materials or equipment to the project are all fully deductible to the extent permitted by law. A list of materials and equipment we need is available here, and we can pick stuff up in both Reno and the Bay Area. We will work with donors to determine a fair valuation of their donations for tax purposes.

To volunteer, collaborate, contribute ideas, or get more info about the project, just visit our Indiegogo page.

Black Rock, Red Earth: Burning Man in Australia

by Whatsblem the Pro

A typical Aussie, hanging onto the Earth by his toes

A typical Aussie, hanging onto the Earth by his toes

  In 2009, a small gathering of about thirty people came together in Bellingen, New South Wales, Australia, to have an informal burn of their own. It went so well that it became an actual event in 2010, with over four hundred in attendance. Burning Seed was born, and with it Red Earth City.

  The event was moved to Matong State Forest, NSW in 2011, and it just keeps getting bigger, with over 600 burners making the trek in 2012, and considerably more than that expected this year. The site lies nestled in a forest of Cyprus pine and gum trees in the middle of the Riverina District of New South Wales, a huge agricultural center featuring vast expanses of lightly rolling pasture.

  I was privileged to work with some of Burning Seed’s prime movers on an art project in Reno back in 2012, so when the shadowy cabal of grossly amoral alien oligarchs that controls Burners.me from behind the scenes (exposé coming soon!) commanded me to investigate this new wonder down under or suffer their reptilian wrath, I cowered and tugged my forelock respectfully. . . and then I got in touch with Bradley “Big Deal” Ogden, head of Burning Seed’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI).

Bradley "Big Deal" Ogden, head of the down-under DPW

Bradley “Big Deal” Ogden, head of the down-under DPW


So tell me: what’s your role with Burning Seed, and how did you discover Burning Man?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN I run the DPI (Department of Planning and Infrastructure), which is our version of Black Rock’s DPW. I work with different teams to deliver the town plan (we’re still a town, not a city yet), and all of the town’s infrastructure – marquees, generators, toilets, etc. – everything that’s not the Temple or the Effigy.

I was planning a trip to America in 2009, and a friend told me to go to Burning Man. “Trust me,” she said, “you’ll love it!” I trusted her, and I loved it.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How big is your DPI crew?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN The DPI is just four people pre-event, and two during the event.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Aside from being that much smaller and on different terrain, how does Burning Seed differ from Burning Man?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN There are lots of the same things going on, but as you say: on a much smaller scale. It’s a lot more tight-knit than Burning Man. . . you can really feel the community. We have all types there, with healthy participation of locals from the immediate surrounding area, along with the people who show up from all over Australia, New Zealand, and the world.

I must say, the quality of what is going on, for a small event, is just amazing. . . slick theme camps, great art, and this year we’ll see our first fleet of art cars!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How do you apply the ten principles differently?

Burning Seed's Effigy loves you this much

Burning Seed’s Effigy loves you this much



BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN We try to apply them in much the same way, actually.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO What kind of arrangements do you have to make with the authorities? Are you harassed by law enforcement? Do they even have a presence at your event?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Arrangements are made with the New South Wales State Forestry Department for use of the land. They’ve been hugely supportive of the event over the last three years, as has the local community.

Being in a State Forest and surrounded by farmland poses a few problems for us, namely fire hazards. Australia is very prone to bush fires; in fact, a lot of our native flora relies on it to reproduce. . . so we’re lighting up a 12.5-meter effigy in the middle of a tinder box. We work closely with the RFS (Rural Fire Service) and State Forestry to keep the risk down. I bought a fire truck this year, which will act as Red Earth Fire and Rescue’s first unit.

As for law enforcement, we have a minor police presence; two or three officers who just pop in and out over the course of the weekend. They also are supportive of the event!

All the burn, none of the dust

All the burn, none of the dust

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Who handles the money, and where does it go?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Phil Smart and Jodi Rivet handle the money, which all goes back into the festival. The financial info is made public everywhere; we donate some money to the local school every year, as well.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How have things changed at your event since you began? What are the goals for the future?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Our internal organizational structure and processes have evolved remarkably quickly, and by leaps and bounds; our overall group of Team Leads has grown, in people and experience; event attendance has blossomed and continues to grow rapidly.

For the future, we’d simply like to stay on the track we’re on, and get bigger and better. Personally, I’d like to see this become one of the world’s great burns in the next five years. I think we have the right ingredients here, and more and more people come out of the woodwork to join us every year. It’s exciting times; we’re expecting 800 or more this year.

Seeing more collaboration in future between burner groups in Australia and New Zealand would be awesome too, both at our respective burns and in Nevada. That’s already starting to happen; I went over for KiwiBurn to work last year, and we had three of them over for Burning Seed in 2012. Two of us went back for KiwiBurn 2013.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Tell me about the differences between Burning Seed and Kiwiburn

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN The differences between Burning Seed and KiwiBurn? [laughs]

Do I have to answer that one?


Dance party with Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce

Dance party with Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce

FACT: Australians also have asses, much like our own

FACT: Australians also have asses, much like our own

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN They’re two entirely different festivals, almost. Not totally, but the vibe is a lot different. There are lots more student/hippie types at KiwiBurn, and we’re a bit more Mad Max. I think our theme camps are better. . . much better, in fact. The crew on both sides of the ditch are awesome, though. So basically, we have fewer hippies here in Australia, although they’re still there.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO I wish I could make it! Maybe I could sell a kidney or kidnap an heiress or something for the airfare.

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Yeah, who needs two? You’d be welcome, mate, come on down and we’ll find something for you to do.

Burning Seed 2013 will be taking place October 2nd to October 8th this year. First-tier tickets are going for AU$125, and full-priced tickets for AU$165 ($131.81 and $174 in U.S. dollars, respectively).