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These 4 Massive Art Pieces Will be at Burning Man 2016

by Emily Ward | @_drawylime Mon June 13, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Ah, Burning Man . You dusty, steamy, life-changing, oversized playground, you. Land of first-rate entertainment, birthplace of steel/wood dreams and home to some of the craziest ephemera you'll ever see, Black Rock City is the annual gathering spot for some of the world’s most wild and eager creatives. 2016's " Da Vinci's Workshop " theme calls on Renaissance all-star Leonardo da Vinci to inspire legions of Burners to bring their most epic art to the playa. We found 4 projects that have broken away from the pack and crossed into BIG ASS ART™ territory.

Below is a distinctive collection of the most epic f-ing art coming to the playa this August. We caught up with the creators and artists of The 747 Project , The Black Rock Lighthouse Service , Catacomb of Veils and The Space Whale  to peek at their progress and the mind-blowing stats emerging as they race to the finish line.

The 747 Project

Boeing747 Big Imagination Exterior

Photo by: Big Imagination

(I'm avoiding the temptation of introducing this project with just EPIC EPIC EPIC EPIC). This is a plane. A double decker Boeing 747 plane. At one point, it flew 40,000 feet above us. It’s half a frickin football field long, five school buses wide and three stories tall. And it will make its debut at Burning Man 2016. This is the definition of BIG ASS ART™.

The costs and manpower needs to bring make this 747 playa-ready are staggering. Apart from the sheer visual ginormity of the whole thing, nearly 2,000 volunteers around the world are lending a hand to The 747 Project . After a snafu last year with the plane’s acquisition and hangar storage, the project has been cruising at high speed towards Black Rock City. 

What makes this piece more interesting than being just a big-ass plane on the playa is the emotionally engaging journey Big Imagination Foundation founders Ken Feldman, Jonathan Teo and their team, have facilitated. The team brought a smaller dome version of this installation to the playa in 2015, and Feldman recalled several participants coming up to speak with the crew and share the emotional impact the experience had on them. The experiment is being replicated for this year, and visitors will have the chance to pass through the “Insecurity Checkpoint,” and “drop off emotional baggage” before boarding. The Plane will also host workshops and talks from thought leaders around the world.

Big Imagination IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Campaign Video from Big Imagination on Vimeo.

Feldman originally came up with the idea to bring a 747 to Burning Man while camping with Robot Heart back in 2009. Five years and one Charlie the Unicorn art car later, Feldman shared his idea with Teo on the beach in Marina del Ray, CA. One enthusiastic “FUCK YEAH!” from Teo was all it took, and the pair set off to buy a big ass plane. Teo recounts, “The whole idea really was born out of this notion that we all like to push the whole human experience forward with stuff that’s never been tried before. When we look at what can be done and what actually is done, you realize what "can't be done" hasn't yet been done only because it requires effort to communicate and bring people together."

The highway between the Mojave desert and Black Rock City will need to be shut down for five highway patrol officers to oversee the slow crawl of “a semi with 12 axle trailer, two bucket trucks, two pilot vehicles” and more. Exceedingly complicated to move, the project qualifies to CA transit officials as a “superload” (um, yeah) and can only move around 30 miles per hour. The normally ten hour trip will take two to three days for the 747 crew.

The entire top half of the plane will make it to the playa, and if the team can raise a lofty $240K by 2017, the next iteration will see the 747 return to the playa on wheels. That will be one mighty, lusty, dusty jumbo jet. 

And because you're wondering, no, you can't climb on it. Only in it.

The Black Rock Lighthouse Service

Brls Afrika Burn 1

The 30ft. Lighthouse the team built at AfrikaBurn 2016. Photo by: Claudia Kaufmann

You're lost in deep playa. El-wire batteries dead, headlamp dropped in the porta potty, no art car coming to give you a ride. Just when you couldn't possibly take another step, you see it. A beacon of light, gently rotating atop a 60 foot wooden tower. The Black Rock Lighthouse Service has found you, a dusty desert wanderer, to guide your way home.

In Oakland, California, rows upon rows upon rows of lumber (20,000 lbs total) are stacked at American Steel Studios. Recycling buckets stuffed with sawdust, wood scraps, and empty Racer 5 bottles welcome you in. A project in the works for over five years, one lighthouse is just the beginning. The plan is to bring a multitude of wooden towers, "a cluster of lighthouses jutting out from the ground like a growth of crystals," connected together in the middle of the playa. 

Max Poynton, the son half of the father-son art team leading the charge, has always been fascinated by the idea "of a structure that’s typically associated with the coastline being transplanted on the desert with the same functionality purposes." Along with his father Jonny, the Poynton pair have had their hands in notable BM projects like The Bottlecap Gazebo , The Temple of Whollyness in 2013, and 2015's gorgeous Totem of Confessions The gang successfully completed a 30 foot lighthouse experiment at  AfrikaBurn  in April , and their 60-foot-tall lighthouse is complete.

Black Rock LIghthouse Service from notthisbody on Vimeo.

The 60-foot-high wooden lighthouse is the anchor, flanked on both sides by angular lighthouses ranging from 40-50 feet in height and connected by rope bridges. Coiling patterns made from scrap shingles and moulding will wrap around the lighthouses’ lumber exterior; a steel spiral staircase is centered inside to aid your ascension. For Burners who love fire and THINGS THAT GO BOOM, don’t miss this one meet the ground late in the week. 20, 000 pounds of wood will become feathery piles of ashes.

The Lighthousers are working 'round the clock until August. Check their Facebook page for more details if you'd like to volunteer.

And because you’re wondering, yes, you can climb on it.

Catacomb of Veils 

Catacombs Aerial Render

Photo by: Dan Sullivan

At 220 feet across and covering 17,000 square feet of playa area, Catacomb of Veils  will be the largest art piece at Burning Man 2016 and, according to Burning Man’s Fire Art Support Team, “the single largest thing we've ever burned.” It will take nearly ½ a MILLION pounds of fuel to burn this one, which tops off at 50 feet high. Deep Playa is getting just a wee bit smaller this year.

San Francisco-based architect and creator Dan Sullivan has created the structure to go "downward and inward" in the hopes that participants will have an emotionally parallel experience. The physical setup is “born from the idea that the act of descending downward into something is not a common experience on the playa. It brings about a more introspective and internalized kind of journey.” For the unfamiliar, catacombs were ornate underground cemeteries built by ancient Romans to house their dead. A literal journey inward and downward, sloping wooden stairs lead visitors onto a plateau where they then descend down ramps into a basement full of "ancient relics... [which] adorn the walls as shafts of light illuminate effigies and offerings.”

Catacomb of Veils from Catacomb of Veils on Vimeo.

It will take 12 tractor trailers to even get this piece from Pier 70 in San Francisco to the Black Rock Desert. Sullivan says, “The most difficult part of the process has been trying to schedule the on-playa construction sequence. We have 15 days to assemble 17,000 square feet of structure made of hundreds of wall sections and about 30,000 square feet of cladding material. It requires scheduling down to the hour to open on time.”

As is customary at Burning Man, this piece will go up in flames. Setting fire to art you poured time, money and salty tears into may seem strange to the uninitiated, but such is transitory art. The experience is the takeaway, not the physical structure. Sullivan says, "Saturday morning’s sunrise burn perimeter alone is two thirds of a mile, requiring 200+ (sober) people to hold it."

And because you're wondering, yes, you can climb on it.

The Space Whale

Space Whale Render Burning Man Schultz

Photo by: Matt Schultz

Unless we’re counting narwhals or mermaids now, marine life is not a playa staple. This year, however, that will change. Built from over 35,000 lbs of steel, artists Andy Tibbetts, Matthew Schultz and The Pier Group (creators of "Embrace" 2014; "The Ship," 2011; "Pier 2 with La Llarona," 2012) are bringing The Space Whale : two full-scale "steel superstructure" humpback whales enveloped in stained glass panels, to the Black Rock Desert. Whale mother and child will “look as though they are floating above our heads, with the entire support structure hidden in the mother’s fin and the body of the calf.” 1400 steel balls are being made on site at The Generator in Sparks, Nevada, with over one mile of welds. Featuring 200,000 individual, hand-cut pieces of glass, topping off at 50 feet tall and weighing ~50,000 lbs, the juxtaposition of the arid desert with this massive, oceanic artwork will be striking.

Digital artist Android Jones is currently designing the stained glass panel coverings. If you’re wondering, “Isn’t Burning Man kinda windy? Don’t Burners like to climb on shit? Won’t the glass break?", your answers are yes, yes and hell no. These painstakingly crafted panels will have major backup. Everything’s reinforced with steel. No gale force playa wind will be a match for The Space Whale. Schultz tells us, “the glass will be hand cut based on [Android Jones’] pattern by a team of between 10-20 volunteers over the entirety of July. We will take the glass and affix it to the steel sheets using 100% silicone caulk and affix the 2 sheets of steel together using bolts at the corners. The bolts will also connect each of the stained glass composition to small gussets on the whale. We only need to repeat that process 1800 times and we will have a whale covered in glass!”

Schultz notes, "Fuck, you already need to be insane to consider this a reasonable thing to do. Some days are easier than others… And it's true, these projects hurt (I am writing this with a torn calf), they push yourself and your relationships to the brink. Lots of people love them, but so few people support them and well, with all of that, with all of the tears, it is all worth it. Why? ...When the moment comes and you see the smile that your art can create on a person’s face… to share a smile, a deep thought, a reflection on the nature of our animals, our environment, or to inspire just one person to study the nature of time and space... that is worth it!!!”

In addition to the visual splendor, the whales will sing whale songs behind physics lectures from the likes of Einstein, Feynman and Hawking. If you'd like to volunteer, check out their Facebook page.

And because you’re wondering, no, you can't climb on it.

Think of it this way: Burning Man and these BIG ASS ART™ projects are like the cake at your kid’s birthday party. You’re exhausted, covered in frosting and shaking glitter from dark places, yet your mind’s already on how this party will better next year. The big day rolls around again and you’ve put lots of love into this party, planned for details big and small, and dreamt up an f-ing awesome cake. You spend hours frosting it, perfecting every letter and zigzag... only to light it on fire and watch it demolished by hungry kids five minutes later. But it makes you happy, because your kid loves it. It looks amazing. People talk about it, and you’ve inspired other parents for their own kids' birthday parties.

To sum up these BIG ASS ART™ projects, we’ll have lighthouses guiding your way home, a plane with ample room for you to drop off emotional baggage, whale songs between a mother and child at the same frequency and decibel level as real whales, and the most incendiary inferno the playa has ever seen. See what we have to look forward to?

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