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

LEAVE by Damian

The sun isn’t up yet when Medium Tim sounds off “Woodstock is over, you dirty hippies! Escape from Black Rock City!”

I’m not quite coherent or cohesive when my body rises and begins stuffing things into a duffle bag. I don’t snap out of autopilot until Tim announces we should leave in 15 minutes.

God knows why I didn’t put more of my belongings in the truck yesterday. I’m taking apart my tent while brushing my teeth and getting dressed. There’s no way any of us are leaving in 15 minutes, but it is important we beat the Exodus. The line to leave Burning Man can be a brutal stretch of your sanity. I remember once being stuck in a car for 6 hours before even reaching the highway.

Of course, I also remember the time I got stranded here without a ride home.

And the year before that, a miserable few of us were left to breakdown the entire camp by ourselves. We didn’t finish until 4:30 am.

There are many terrible epilogues a burner can be dealt. If we can just dodge a few more bullets, we’ll have gotten away with murder.

I cram the last of my gear into the back of the truck and put the lock on. I’m climbing into the driver’s seat when I spot a familiar someone riding by on a bicycle.

Quick! What was her name?

“Francesca!” I call out. She glances back and skids to a stop.

“Gimme, like, 90 seconds,” I tell Tim.

“What the fuck, Damian,” he sighs. “You better make that shit count!”

Nearly falling out of the truck, I resist the urge to sprint to the black-haired girl in the road. She’s wearing a shaggy blue parka and has obviously been out all night. Still looking hot, though.

“You remembered me,” she croaks. Her voice is almost gone.  “Good eye and good memory.”

“You make an impression on both.” She smiles, happier to see me than expected. Great smile.

“How was your Burning Man?”

“Relaxing,” I say. “Stress-free. Exactly what I wanted.”

“Your camp doesn’t waste any time, does it?” she asks as she looks over at the few straggler tents that remain of the Duckpond.

“We’re not big on long goodbyes. How long are you here for?”

“Leaving after the Temple burn. Will you be around for that?”

“Naw. I’ll leave it for the people who need it. Let the shushers and the chatterboxes duke it out.”

“Very generalizing. And which category would you fall into?”

“That would be ‘truck driver’. We’re about to haul away the camp’s parts and pieces in about a minute.”

“42 seconds!” shouts Tim from the truck.

“Well that’s too bad,” Francesca says. “You never came back to dance. Guess you’ll never know if I’m any good.”

“Guess not. Just like you’ll never know if I’m a good kisser.”

“Ha! Well I guess we have a burning conundrum.”

“You have a fiery lexicon.”

“So you think you’ve earned a kiss?”

“Oh, absolutely not. But seeing as how I reached out and seized such an unlikely gem of synchronicity today, it would be a shame to let such a rare playa moment go to waste.”

I can’t believe I just said something that stupid, but I don’t flinch.

She squints her eyes at me and says, “Maybe you earned a peck.”

“A peck?”

“A little peck.”

Green light. I make this one count.

When I get back to the truck, the engine is on and Tim is scrolling through his phone for driving music.

Without looking up he says, “Nice to see you pull a rabbit out of a hat back there.”

“And for my next trick…” I say, shifting the gear into “D” and slowly rolling our asses out of the near-empty lot we called home for the past week.

The roads are so clear that staying under 5 mph is like a Zen exercise. I can’t believe there are no other cars. We’re actually beating the Exodus. I want to floor it so bad. I want to step on the gas before the Universe, the playa and God all change their minds. The entire way to the gate, we creep along like the Pink Panther behind the back of that guileless inspector.

And then, freedom. Open highway. I’ve never felt such triumph from something so unremarkable.

Leaving unscathed was our last stunt. We’ve had our fill. Next comes hot showers, warm beds and the glory of survivors mistaken for returning heroes.

Exit stage west. Restore default settings.

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.