Or my adventure in creating art installations
If you had told me when I was 16 years old that when I was 50 years old, I would be attending Burning Man, and at 52, be a part of creating a two-story version of the Brooklyn Bridge, at 53, be inspired to make my own wooden version of a checker cab and at 54 turn that cab into an art installation of six taxis, I would have called you crazy.
My teenage vision of my mid-life years probably would have been more along the lines of traveling to a vacation time-share with my husband and children if I even bothered to think of getting older. But it’s true. My sense of Adventure has taken me to lots of fun places and events. And going to Burning Man for the first time at 50 years old may be up there as “craziest” as well as most impactful.
The Brooklyn Bridge project
The group I camp with is New York-based. It’s a large camp – it’s been around almost 18 years and receives prominent placement within Burning Man (when it’s on, the area is called Black Rock City, with the main street being called Esplanade.) Each year the frontage of my camp (Kostume Kult, our main gift to the event is handing out costumes) sports a New York City theme, which gets better every year. Two years ago, the group decided to create a version of the Brooklyn Bridge to decorate the top of the three shipping containers we use as storage. My Adventure Partner stepped up to be in charge of building this structure. And thus, the art adventure begins.
A camper from Denver, Tracy, dreamed up the concept. Her husband drew it on a napkin. From that, Ken took the next steps. One of the steps included building one of the towers in my backyard. I adored this – it felt like having a treehouse. It was so high up! We could climb to the top and look over all my neighbors’ backyards! (Yes, they all wondered what the heck was this thing!) I made Ken keep it up a few extra days as I enjoyed having Happy Hour after work sitting on the top.
The bridge was painted with help from other campers- using colors Ken carefully researched to correlate to the real Brooklyn Bridge. Ken constructed all the parts in such a way that it could be built and deconstructed to be built again in future years. Everything was shipped out to playa (the name used for the desert area where Black Rock City resides). As life goes, this was the summer I was gifted being downsized from my corporate sales job (of the 110 people downsized, I was probably the happiest!) I was able to go out to Burning Man early, for what is called “Build Week.” (The week prior, when the city is constructed from flat nothing lakebed to a thriving city of 70,000.) It took most of that week to build the Brooklyn Bridge and the other structures that made up our camp’s frontage skyline. My favorite spot in all of Burning Man is the top of the towers! I am really proud of my Adventure Partner for building this art installation, and admire the adventures he went through to get it created. But those adventures are his stories to tell.
The Taxi Cab project’s beginnings
The following Fall a few friends and I attended the Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo, NY. They had a pirate ship swing that we thought would be fun to recreate for Burning Man. When you have an adventure attitude, you follow what makes you feel passionate or excited. I explored this idea. Eventually I tracked down the builder of the swing and found it cost him around $20,000 to make those swings. If we were to build our own, smaller one, it could cost $5,000 +. That’s a little pricey for a swing set!
The following December I started an adventure freelancing for a start-up magazine. While consulting for them I was able to explore neighborhoods in NYC in a new way. I came across a gallery for Marc Tetro. I adored his style. While his dog paintings are fun, I mostly enjoyed his interpretation of the iconic New York City checkered cabs.
Since I had become part of my camp’s management team, that winter we started discussing what was needed for the next summer’s Burning Man camp structure. The previous summer I had noticed that the “buddy seat” that had been made out of wood was worn out. (Look closely at the daytime photo of the BB above – you can see it there.) Since I couldn’t build a taxi swing, I decided that building a “buddy seat” that looked like a taxi would be not only fun, but also relevant to the New York theme. The management team approved, and I was off on a new creative adventure! Have you ever had that excitement of making something from a lightbulb moment idea? It was scary (as I had never approached this on my own before) and thrilling to be creating what I saw in my mind’s eye.
The Taxi Cab building process
This was the challenging part for me. I knew what I wanted, but wasn’t sure how to get to the end product. Fortunately I found an excellent prop using the artist’s pop-up cardboard taxi (about 3” tall). I also knew the building technique called “playa tech” (basically building furniture with plywood using no nails and inserting parts into slots to connect). Since my Adventure Partner had experience building playa tech benches in previous years, I relied on his help for the configuration of the boards. I drew the outline freehand, using the Marc Tetro taxis as inspiration.
The great thing about this building method is that the pieces come apart and can be shipped flat. While all the big building was going on, with teams doing their stuff to get camp built, I was able to take a few minutes and carry the pieces to where I wanted the cab, and put it together all by myself. After a long, hot day (temps were easily 100 degrees + regularly last summer, hottest in years) it was nice to relax with Ken and enjoy the views.
The Future of the Taxi Cab
The last night of the event, the night the Man burns, apparently someone (not from our camp) was really angry and taking it out on things around him. He was busy stomping my art, trying to break it into pieces. A good friend & camper saw him and managed to get him to stop (without risking herself!). While it is sad that someone thinks it’s okay to break art, I understood these things could happen. A lesson Burning Man teaches is to let go of expectations, of outcomes. Helps in real life too. I also learned from experience that the thickness of the side pieces should be sturdier, so one can lean against while sitting on the platform. I had planned on rebuilding it anyway, and somehow the playa (or in another term, the Universe) confirmed it would be rebuilt.
One adventure leads to another! Over the past six months friends have convinced me that I should not only build the taxi again, but create a fleet and have it as registered art at Burning Man 2018. Suggestions included adding a black one to represent town cars (Burning Man believes in decommodification, so no using the word Uber); holding a drive-in theatre one night showing movies or TV shows about taxis; adding a spaceship taxi (the theme this year is iRobot, or rather the many forms of artificial intelligence that permeate our lives and the true impact). What do you think of this idea – of painting one red, adding a mannequin with a helmet (a la the Tesla in space!)
It’s Adventure Wednesday. I’ve bought my ticket to participate in my fifth Burning Man event. I’m also submitting the 2018 Art Installation Form. If accepted, I’ll be considered an official Burning Man artist (listed online, in the event booklet, and on the big map of art installations). If you had told me when I was 16 years old, and failing at making a paper mache lion, that I would be doing this…maybe I would have dreamed of being so ‘crazy’ it could be true!
Great to read the story.
Good luck with your nomad-ing
Thanks Pat! It’s going to be interesting for sure!
Even better to read the 2nd time around 🙂
Thanks!! I’ve been having issues with updating, once I get that fixed, I will add the latest and greatest! (Including one Adventure Taxi being on the National Mall in DC!)