Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (5 of 8)

DUST MITES by Bolivar

In keeping with my defeated ambitions, I’ve missed most of the shows, art and burnings I wanted to see. I’m no longer upset about that and have accepted my slackerdom.

But I did manage to come watch Burn Wall Street ignite. Too bad it’s not on fire. The mock-up of the New York Stock Exchange is full of people who won’t be evacuated anytime soon. Maybe it’s too dusty to burn right now. Unfortunately it’s too dusty to wait around for it.

It’s not that I’m full of anti-capitalistic sentiment. I just wanted to see something reminiscent of Burning Man ’96, when other corporate totems were burned in the event’s last true celebration of anarchy. At least that’s what I’ve gleaned from documentaries.

I head back to camp, nearly running over several darkwads to whom I bark curt suggestions of illumination. Attempting to sleep, I have a bad dream involving a floating zombie cat over a great gushing reservoir. I wake in a sweat around 2am to the painfully redundant song “Get Low” by Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz. It sounds like the final bars are being dragged out way too long, which was feeding my nightmare. I get dressed and venture back out.

It’s been a good week, but not phenomenal. One more thrill would make it complete. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Exploring the backroads, I find a nice mom-and-pop dive: a full-size, outdoor bar decorated from top to bottom with trinkets. It’s also literally run by a mom and pop. Their adult daughter is drunk and hilarious. In my opinion, the heart of Burning Man is in these out-of-the-way places. I hang out for a couple of hours and banter with a woman from San Diego who is friends with the family. It goes nowhere but I tell myself I’m okay with that.

I move on to another small bar surrounded by an arrangement of couches under a large festival tent. There are a handful of people still awake and socializing. I meet a stunning Swedish girl called Narnia and her American boyfriend, Randall. The three of us begin a riveting conversation about the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, but their drunken friend keeps interrupting us in an aggro-playful manner.

Let’s just call him “Brett.” Maybe 6’1″. 180 lbs. Class 3 fratboy. The first I’ve spotted the entire trip. He keeps interjecting things like “Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey… These were some fine-ass bitches running around today, right bro?”

And I keep deflecting with replies like “Absolutely! Nothing that puts pep in a gentleman’s step like top-shelf bitch! You look like a man who prefers the vintage. Am I right?”

Then I give him a bro-ish fist bump and he stumbles away for a few minutes.

Brett is precisely the sort of specimen that challenges “Radical Inclusion.” On a cynical note, I know a few women who would fuck him.

On one of his return visits, he suddenly barks at me, “What are you, a fag?!”

Well shit. A full-on Class 4. This is exactly the sort of person I say warrants a throat-punch regardless of the setting. I stare directly into his face as I make a mental inventory of my resources. The walking stick/flashlight in my right hand. My steel toe boots. Regardless, I’m already aiming directly for the groin. Nothing fancy.

(Fashion note: I removed the leather tip of my left boot to expose the actual steel toe underneath. Then I coated it with a clear, industrial-strength epoxy. It gives your footwear a nice, post-apocalyptic touch.)

Brett’s eyes are wild and unfocused. I realize how unsatisfying this would be; the fight equivalent of date rape. I’m irritated that this may be the highlight of my Burning Man: a braggart tale of kicking a drunk fratboy in the balls and watching him vomit on himself. No. I ignore the sterile little HAL 9000 voice telling me to punish him and opt for something stranger.

I answer, “One way to find out.” I grab him by the waist and begin a fast, furious dryhump. The thick, padded codpiece over my jeans bangs against his legs.

Amazingly, he flips back into party mode and begins wooting and humping back. He once again retreats to a couch. Time for a graceful exit.

Randall asks to see my walking stick. I oblige him but say I’m leaving soon. He inspects it for a moment and compliments me on the mounted lamp. Then Bretts asks for it and Randall hands it to him. What the fuck?

Brett starts swinging it around. He’s probably going to break it. I politely ask him to give it back. He doesn’t. Then I politely put my elbow over his wrist and twist the stick out of his hand. I spin around and throw a feigned elbow at his nose (which deliberately does not connect) and then gently use the stick to knock his trucker hat off his head.

Brett yells, “What you got, huh? What you got?!”

A scene from the movie Tombstone with Val Kilmer and a tin cup comes to mind. I swing the stick around like a sword in a playful series of martial art flourishes. I don’t like to show off, but this is my nonviolent solution. Silly enough to avoid engagement. Deft enough to show I can knock his molars out. I finish with a bow.

The fucker actually applauds and cheers.

Randall, however, looks pissed at me. Something is more wrong with this situation than I realized. I leave before it gets any worse.

I’m biking back to camp now, finally admitting that there’s nothing more for me tonight. Then, only a couple of blocks from the Duckpond, I spot a sign that I’ve somehow missed all week:

Swing City – Santa Monica Muscle Beach  

A sex camp? No. There’s a scaffolding rig maybe 30’ high suspending a consecutive row of 6 flying rings. Rings from which gymnasts perform aerial feats. I’ve never done anything like that before.

The lights are all on, but no one’s around. I climb the launching platform, which looks like a section of gym bleachers. I take off my hat, gloves and codpiece.

After a quick stretch, I hold the first ring with both hands and step off the platform. I swing out to the second and grab with my left hand. I pull back on the first ring to charge my momentum before releasing it to grab the third.

My feet are dangling 4 feet from the ground. I could let go if necessary, but it wouldn’t be pleasant. My boots feel like they’re made of lead. For some reason though, being improperly dressed makes this more fun.

Pull back and swing to the next.

Kicking my legs out helps, but only slightly. I’m relying almost entirely on arm strength but I understand the pendulum motion required. The proper technique is revealing itself. It’s like an isometric puzzle.

In the air, I feel heavy like a wrecking ball. The sensation is liberating. I swing out in a wide arc on the sixth and final ring. My legs flail out from under me as I spin around almost parallel to the ground.

Holy shit!

I focus on my grip lest I go flying into Swing City’s shade structure. The endorphin rush is electric. I catch the previous ring for the returning trip, which now seems twice as far.

I’m suddenly aware of how little sleep I’ve been functioning on all week. I can feel exactly which tendons will be the first to tear. They are taut like guitar strings. I just have to push myself. I’ve always been able to push myself.

The launching platform is only a few feet away now. There’s a purity in the exercise; a meditation.

My boots slam down on the dismount.

Rundown of the Burning Man Desert Arts Preview 2012

The event had the feel of an informal breakout room presentation. Though not a costume party, there were touches of playa chic in more than a few attendee’s attire. A table in the back served wine in clear plastic cups. As far as burners go, this was definitely not the sound camp club scene. It was an older crowd, many of whom I suspect were at Burning Man in the 90s pre-BRC. These were the people who invite you into their camp off the street to have some BBQ tri-tip.

The whole thing had a certain down-home respectability. If I walked away with anything, it was the understanding that the yearly themes are not for the casual partygoer to bitch about when they can’t “participate” with a cleverly purchased costume.

The themes, arbitrary as they might be, are for the architects who sculpt the skyline of our playground with the stuff of their dreams.

Anyway, here’s the rundown. Please pardon the switch to present tense. Just think of it as a flashback:

Neverwas Haul: Delightful couple Kathy O’Hare (aka Lady Impetuous) and Shannon O’Hare (aka Major Catastrophe) dish on improvements to the Burning Man staple, including an interior motorized lift, updated Camera Obscura, and some engine repair (thank God!)

In camp, they will have a steampunk forest consisting of metal trees with gears and a video of Jules Verne movies. It’s worth noting that Major Catastrophe is the best dressed person in attendance. His combination cap, epauletted coat and steampunk goggles make him look like a supporting character in Escape from New York (I just can’t think of which.)


Anubis: 50’ sculpture of the Jackal god, Anubis. A spiral staircase in the back will lead to the head, which will offer a panoramic view. Dan Fox (whose birthday is today) also worked on 2011’s Trojan Horse, which he praises as a great experience he wanted to repeat.



EGO: The word EGO in large letters. Laura Kimpton, creator of the Celtic Forest, also crafted the big words OINK, MOM  and the iconic LOVE (which will apparently be featured in a new Rolling Stone).

EGO will be 20’ x 16’ made out of wood and plaster molded trophies, animals and religious relics. 150 different molds were created. Kimpton emphasizes the creed “We are an animal, but we’re not the #1 animal on Earth.” She tells a nice anecdote about meeting someone who introduced herself as the “world Scrabble champion” who mistook her Celtic Forest for being anti-intellectual.

The word will burn at midnight after the Man. The trophy pieces that don’t burn will be free for people to pick up and take as souvenirs.


Zoa: Jessica Hobbs of the Flux Foundation impressively showcases her background as a marine biologist. All named after jazz greats, “Billie”, “Etta” and “Nina” will have sound-reactive lighting at night. The three, wooden seedpods will burn on Wednesday, undergoing a metamorphosis and revealing pedal-powered interactive fire sculptures.

(NOTE: Props to Hobbs for using the word “xenomorph” to describe her creations.)



The Circle of Regional Effigies

34 wooden effigies from around the world will be burned Thursday at 9pm:

  • Arboria (Sacramento)
  • Baby Bon Temps Brûlée (New Orleans)
  • Blukis (Lithuania) – negativity-absorbing stump
  • The Boston Cod Piece (Boston)
  • Cargo Train (Great Lakes)
  • CarouShell (San Diego) – a working carousel of sea creatures
  • Chords of Wood (Orange County) – a fire-spewing guitar
  • CowFed (Houston) – giant bull
  • Dragon Lotus (Colorado)– will contain giant moving leaves
  • Fertilitree (East Bay)
  • The Gateway (Reno)
  • Grow Fourth (Portland) – I’ll be honest. I don’t remember seeing this at the presentation, and I already deleted my recording. It’s still on the official page, so I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and list it anyway.
  • Growing Pains (Midwest)
  • Happy as a Clam (Maine) – giant clam
  • The Hatchery (Dallas)
  • Jozi (South Africa) – 20’ fertility doll
  • Kokopelli Rising (New Mexico)
  • Le Portage (Montreal) – two small versions of the Man holding a canoe
  • Life Tree – (Vancouver) – climbable double helix
  • Missed Conceptions (Tallgrass)
  • Naglfar (Sweden/Denmark) – Viking ship
  • National Treasure (DC Metro) – 20’ graffiti decorated Washington Memorial
  • The Nowhere Bell Tower (UK)
  • opalEssence (Idaho) – aka the Space Potato
  • PsychoPhilia (Victoria, BC)
  • Rise of the Planet of the Moose (Toronto) – version of the Moose Man from the regional burn
  • The Roeblingagon (NY) – a climbable interpretation of the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Secret of the Bees (Utah)
  • Seraphim (LA)
  • Stella Octangula (Mid-Atlantic/Philadelphia)
  • Tendrillar Woods (Seattle)
  • The Twisted Upright House (SF/North Bay) – a climbable lighthouse sitting on a bed of driftwood
  • Valley of Heart’s Delight (South Bay) – a climbable water tower “harkening back to the days of farm country”

Some of these will be featured at Precompression on June 30th.


The Burning Man Project – Harley Dubois of the Borg explains the timing of Burning Man’s move from LLC to nonprofit. She gives a very succinct Powerpoint presentation listing their ambitions outside of the playa:

  • -Support the regional burns
  • -Contribute to SF by helping local artists, engaging communities and partnering with the Black Rock Arts Foundation and others
  • -Big art for small towns – namely Reno, Fernley and Gerlach
  • -Commissioning Fly Ranch as an art park, nature park and/or a possible location for a regional burn.



Otic Oasis 2.0 – Melissa Barron and Gregg Fleishman. Fleishman, who has an obvious love of geometry, is a man of few words tonight. Barron, also known as Syn, more than makes up this. Otic Oasis is a 38-ft, climbable, honey comb-like structure made of interlocking pieces of wood. It will be removed on Friday, not burned.



Burn Wall Street – Otto Von Danger, a creator of 2010’s Megatropolis, completely steals the show. He promises that we will feel we are in physical danger when his structures burn on Friday night. Von Danger recommends we all wear astronaut pants.

I had heard of the Burn Wall Street project before, but I’m genuinely awed by the levels upon levels of satire and symbolism that’s going into this endeavor. It’s obviously politically charged and a somewhat devisive work. The creativity behind the sentiment is what makes it a searing message (no pun intended) beyond most Burning Man art and political statements that I’ve seen. Make no mistake: Otto Von Danger is not a rabid, confused hippie. He’s a mastermind.

Some basics include:

  • The oversized Bill of Rights on the ground that will be donated to an Oakland school if it doesn’t get ruined by visitors trampling on it.
  • The Bank of UnAmerica – you can bring your real-life foreclosure notices to post on the wall and see burned with everything.
  • Goldman Sucks – contains a giant jungle gym where you can climb the corporate ladder for the highest view of the playa.
  • Merrill Lynched –  will house 4 large murals and screen projections of riot footage at night.
  • Chaos Manhattan – bank tellers will charge you gift schwag for walking, breathing, etc.

Von Danger is obviously very passionate about the piece and doesn’t hesitate to use the podium as a call for socioeconomic change. The entire project will cost $100,000.



Temple of Juno – David Best, the man who needs no introduction, throws out a few specs about this year’s Temple: 75% recycled wood. A 100-ft “or maybe 200-ft” wall with benches on the inside. He doesn’t say much about the inspiration behind the design to us, but I imagine that’s been documented elsewhere.

David Best a soulful man who doesn’t seem too comfortable explaining his work to an audience tonight. I don’t blame him. He truly speaks through his work.

Apparently, Best is also a grief magnet. I swear he has more stories about people who’ve lost loved ones to suicide than anyone outside of the mental health sector.



***UPDATE*** – Burn Wall Street was pretty disappointing. It looked and sounded great on paper, but  up close it was bland and seemingly unfinished. It also burned a day late, which I didn’t get to see. I’ll more into it when I finish my BM retrospective. I just feel like I should at least address it here because I spoke so highly of the piece.