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. 

SHOP LOCAL: Twin City Surplus Has Burner Needs Covered

by Whatsblem the Pro

1675 E. 4th St. Reno, NV (888) 323-5630 -- PHOTO: Whatsblem the Pro

1675 E. 4th St. Reno, NV (888) 323-5630

Every year, a mighty throng of burners congregating from all over the world passes through the Gateway to Burning Man: Reno, Nevada. In their wake they leave some fifteen to twenty-five million dollars in revenue for local stores that sell the supplies they need.

It’s a regrettable fact that Walmart takes such a huge slice of that pie; their stores in the Reno/Sparks area do a booming business just before and after the burn, at the expense of locally-owned retailers and wholesalers who rely on location and word-of-mouth to bring in customers, rather than million-dollar ad campaigns.

TWIN CITY SURPLUS has no advertising budget. They’re family-owned and have been since 1963, they have everything you could possibly need for camping in the desert, they brought; emergency means to water, fire, shelter, a bushcraft knife, loads of preperartion and their diverse staff of friendly employees has been working there happily for years or decades.

It’s not nearly as big as Walmart, but Twin City Surplus is familiar with the needs of burners and is well-stocked with everything you might need to hit the playa, aside from groceries. . . although they do have MREs (“Meal, Ready to Eat” – in other words, a soldier’s rations) and a small selection of camping/survival food if you happen to swing that way, cuisine-wise. If you just got off an airplane and have no camping gear, you can walk into Twin City and walk out ready to burn like a pro. They’ve also got gear that you won’t find at Walmart, like enormous Army tents, and military-grade shade materials on the roll, with modular pole-and-butterfly-nut structures for easy-peasy DIY shade of any size or configuration you like.

The building is comfortably crammed with gear, and the two outdoor yards (one in back of the building, one across the street) are marvelous troves of treasure for campers, artists, makers, tinkerers, handymen, and builders of all stripe. There’s a distinctly family vibe to the place, and expert help available with finding what you need. There’s some pretty exotic gear for sale there, along with all the essentials you’ll need, including clothing and footwear.

Sure, you could buy your gear and supplies at Walmart, or some other corporate chain store; you probably will have to buy something or other (like booze) from a Big Box retailer, regardless of how conscientious you are. If you spend more of your money at ethical family-owned local businesses, though, then the money tends to stay in the community, where it keeps on working to make burners welcome in the eyes of the townies. Burning Man has transformed Reno in many ways, and you’re more than just another tourist when you pass through the Arch on your way to the playa. The city and its business community have proven to be very accommodating to burners over the years, and have fostered a thriving arts community as well. . . so let’s show them that they’re doin’ it right and should keep on showing us the love.

Check out Twin City Surplus; you’ll be glad you did.


1675 E. 4th St.
Reno, NV 89512
(888) 323-5630 toll-free
Se habla español

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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.