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.