Burning Man 2015. Part 4 – City set up

In our last visits to this wonderful city, I somehow never thought to find out even the basics of how it appears in the desert, where it disappears to afterwards, and how much it all costs. And who has to pay for it.

Just imagine: 70,000 people come to a desolate location, build the third most-populated city in the state, hang out for a week, and then depart without leaving a trace. One of the wonders of Nevada. Or even of the world.

Photo by Duncan Pawlinson

2. The city, of course, is quite impressive when it comes to its size. But it also impresses with the number of people, vehicles, mobile-homes, and tents that neatly fill out the relatively small space.

3. Then you begin to think about the fact that somebody organized the whole thing, to the every last detail. Who coordinated everything with the state, the police, medics, and rangers. Corresponded with artists, musicians, builders, drivers and volunteers. You realize that everything you see was purchased, loaded with the help of a rented or owned forklift, driven to the playa on a rented truck, unloaded with said crane (which was also brought along on the truck), and then installed. Only so that one week later it could be taken apart, loaded back up, driven, unloaded, and put into storage. Which is also rented and paid for by somebody. Every last detail is meticulously calculated, thought through, and executed. By these people. On the very left – Larry Harvey, the father of Burning Man. The rest – ‘ministers’ of city-building, culture, marketing, fire, and administrative resources.

4. Take, for example, this trash-catching fence around the perimeter of the city.

It’s length is about 15km. So first, everything is measured out and marked on the ground. Then you need the posts. If you install a post every seven meters, you’ll need 2140 of them. Let’s say each one is about three and a half kg, which comes out to about seven and a half tons of weight – just for the fence posts. Each of which needs to be carried to its designated spot and beat into the ground with a special tool (basically a pipe that’s closed at one end and has two handles to hold on to). At least ten ringing hits per post to drive it into the ground, with your arms always around the level of your head. I got to try this a bit on a farm in Hawaii, and I am very aware that after post number 20 there comes a strong feeling of never wanting to do anything remotely similar to this action ever again. There are over 2000 posts in this fence alone, and it’s not the only fence on the playa.

Next, there are 15 km of plastic mesh to unroll and then fasten to each post in three different spots. If one roll can cover about 30 meters, we have about 500 rolls. Pick one up from the pallet, carry it to the correct spot, drop it on the ground, start unrolling, bending over the whole time. Finished unrolling? Go grab the next one. And then repeat 498 more times. Then pick each of them up, lean them against the posts, and tie 6500 little stings.

Then, once the festival is over, it’s the same exact routine, just backwards: cut the strings, roll up the mesh into 500 rolls, pull out the posts with a lever, throw them into a pile, tie up the pile, set it next to the other piles until you have 2000+ posts on a pallet, load the pallet into a truck, drive to a warehouse, and unload the seven tons of fence posts and one and a half tons of rolled up plastic. Until next year.

All this work, effort, and resources, all for a fence that most people won’t really even see. But it’s there.

5. This is what happens everywhere. I mean, just think about the restrooms – it’s the place where we go first thing after waking, where we stop by several times throughout the day, and where we leave from as we head to bed. There are about 35 spots in the city where these are set up. According to my own modest calculations, there are about a thousand honey-buckets in Black Rock.

6. And all of these were brought here from somewhere, by someone. And it all needs to be serviced daily. An army of workers on special cars pump out tons of waste left by seventy thousand people and drive them away in an unknown direction. Speaking of toilers, they are the first thing to arrive on the playa and the last thing to leave.

7. If I had not walked around the “industrial” area of the city, I would never have seen all the things without which there would be no city, and no inhabitants to populate it. Here are some garbage containers, which, I assume, carry not only trash, but also some of the city’s ‘parts’.

8. In these spots the party atmosphere is no longer present. No bright costumes, beautiful sculptures, and funky mutants with music. The uniformed workers look as festive as they would on a construction site, instead of art there are stacks of pallets, containers and random metal things, and instead of mutants and music you hear the warning beeps of a backing-up truck.

9. Bright lights on portable generators, chain-link fence, tanks full of propane, traffic cones, portable little homes, more containers. Quiet and windy. Exactly like the time in my childhood when my dad took me with him to his job at the Zuivska TES.

10. Trailers, refrigerated and normal.

11. The refrigerated trailers bring ice to our desert, one of the two (the second is coffee) things that can be purchased with money. Without this ice, all of the edible supplies brought here by the city population for the week will go bad on day 2.

12. Sometimes you’ll find lines of people waiting for ice in the “Arctic”. You can get in front if you have a government ID or on Welfare. Kidding. There’s only one way to get your ice without waiting in the line – getting up on the table and dancing. This is perfect for those who, during those especially hot days (or the slightly hungover mornings), are not in the mood to be standing under the scorching sun. Or for those who just like to entertain the public.

13. Containers and forklifts are used not only by the builders, but by the art contributors, who bring their creations or set up theme camps out of different constructions.

14. Such as this, for example.

Speaking of art, or rather the back stage of the art. Burning man presents so many impressive and breathtaking things that after a certain point, it all starts to be taken for granted. Pretty, yes, very interesting. A really big thing, okay. One of the tens of others like it. Roll up on your bike, hop off, sit down next to it. Take a photo, then continue on your way. And sometimes, you start to get into the details of it, and your mind is properly blown.

15. For example, the art installation “Love” by Alexandr Milov. I’ll be honest: with all the other creations on the playa, it did not look that extremely special. Well, the idea – yes, but size/features – nothing out of the ordinary.

However, if you leave the playa and look at it with clear, ‘dust-free’ eyes, and then get into the process of its creation, follow its path and estimate the cost, then the reaction of “yeah, that’s pretty cool” switches to “oh my goodness, this is freaking incredible!”. The following is copy-pasted from different sources.

“I always followed the festival, and I had wanted to go there and see how everything is done. To be honest, I was planning to go to the desert as an observer, but the issue was that all the tickets were purchased within only a few hours, and me and my friends just did not purchase them in time. The only option left was to submit a creation to a contest. If the art installation is chosen, then everyone on the team gets a ticket.”

16. Alexander Milov.

“So I, without even thinking about my chances of winning, sent them one of my old sketches, which I thought would be worthy of becoming a full-sized creation. Actually, I first got the idea for this work nine years ago. But back then, I made the sculptures out of tape for a Ukranian-Japanese festival, and the installation, then a completely different size, went unnoticed. After a little while we received the official reply that our submission got some recognition, and we’re welcome to continue on with the process of getting a grant. There was a big stack of papers to be filled out: four or five documents, 40 pages each, with yes/no questions, a detailed plan of how we planned to build, service, and clean up – basically, a huge hassle. Finally, we got the “Congratulations! You won!”

17. A model made from polyethylene, the cage sketched on the surface.

The work on bringing this project into existence began four months ago, but due to several setbacks caused by the difficult situation happening in our country, physically getting the grant was not something that Milov could do: the funds could only be picked up in the USA. Unfortunately, the money was needed in Ukraine – here and now.

18. The welding of the silhouettes over the model.

“I had to sell my apartment. Well, not sell, but decide against purchasing it. Me and my wife decided to forget about the money we gave for the down payment, and used all the rest for the project. That amount is running out right around now. Everything is coming together to the penny – all the way to packing it all up in a container, and shipping it over to the USA. Once we’re there, though, it still needs to be transported to the desert, and then put together.”

19. A model of the cages.

“I offered the coverage of the creation to a whole bunch of TV channels – I’ve been documenting everything happening in the workshop each day. (Aside from sculpture art, Milov has been working creating commercials, films, and animation). I also spoke with printing companies, offering them to create a catalogue later on. Everyone says “Sure, great,” but everything moves at a snail’s pace.

20. Cutting into segments for a packing test run (it needs to fit into a 40-foot, or 12 meter, container).

This year the guys got some help from their Russian counterparts, who have gone to the festival a few times already and have some experience in the matter. When they found out that Ukraine is going to Burning Man too, they decided to aid in organizing the trip itself, and the Ukranians, in turn, would live in the same camp with them.

21. A model of the child. It’s the little black cutie on the bottom.

“I spent half a year on the project. If you count the creation, transporting, and installation at the festival, then the total expenses would amount to around $65,000. In the USA, the grant funds await us, although they make up for a small percent of what was spent.”

22. Close up.

23. “This metallic construction is 17.5 meters long, 5.5 wide, and 7.5 tall. It’s made of generic metal piping and polyester resin. The installation can be taken apart, and consists of small pieces weighing up to 80kg, fixed together with steal bolts. The cages are covered with anticorrosive primer and painted to look rusty. The sculptures of the children are made from steel rods and a matte, translucent plastic, bent into shape with the help of a vacuum moulding.”

24. Correspondent.net: “soon, on June 15th, leading from Odessa’s port and heading towards San Fransisco is a cargo ship, carrying on board, alongside the standard containers, one special one. On the outside it is just like all the others, but its contents are very unusual – a whole bunch of funnily-welded steel beams, fragments of some sorts of interesting shapes.”

25. In two months, when all of this will arrive in the USA, it will be transported into a desolate desert known as Black Rock, located in the north-east of Nevada, where a team of seven people will put together this puzzle into what it was created to be – the giant sculpture “Love”.

Photos by Alexandr Milov

“After the festival, we want to drive around the country with our project in an attempt to show that, aside from the war, Ukraine possesses other things. Of course, after all these events it will return back to Odessa. And we’ll find a perfect spot for it in the city”.

26. And there you have it. There’s really not much to say about it all – before our eyes, two gentlemen spent two and a half days taking apart this seemingly simple construction, from which I used to take photos of the city. When we were leaving, the bottom level was still intact. There is a whole lot of work that goes into this festival.

27. Since I’m already on an elevated spot, let’s take a look around. This is Jolly street, between 2:45 and 3:00. Our tent and the yurt are at the bottom of the photo. It was quite a comfortable spot – not a lot of dust, almost no noise (in this situation, ‘almost’ means that as you lay down on your pillow, the hubcaps, suspension, mattress, and the pillow you still hear even though a soft, but still constant rhythm of the subwoofers that are gently bumping into your head from the nearest club).

28. The view of 3:00 leading up to The Man and central playa. Remembering that it took us two days to set up and furnish our micro-camp, you get a general idea how much time it took to set up all of this.

29. There’s the temple itself, surrounded by a constant crowd.

30. The main parts of the living areas are made up of mobile homes, large canopies, marquees and tents. A popular practice: setting up normal, little tents under a large tarp or canopy, to try and keep them protected from the morning sun as long as possible. The downside is that every last one will be full of the playa dust.

31. Street corners, as a rule, are marked by something interesting-social, rather than someone’s private camp. This particular street sports the sunscreen-application-station.

32. The view towards 6:00. Apparently this is the tenth largest city in Nevada.

33. Of course, mobile homes just rock. Everything is there, even a canopy. Many are rented out, although it’s hard to understand how. Here’s the thing – most mobile home lenders understood a long time ago that it’s better not to rent out their vehicles at all than to give it to Burners – what you’ll get back is something that’s completely trashed by the powdery dust of the playa, which is a whole ordeal to clean off. Some companies just raise the prices during this season, while others have Burning Man specifically addressed in their terms and conditions. But the population still manages to come here in these funky little houses on wheels.

34. An instrument is something sacred. There will always be a spot for it, even in the most crowded part of town.

35. Because the closer you are to the center, the more cramped it becomes. This kind of party is for certain kind of people, of course: although there’s an unspoken rule about no noise after 11, it isn’t necessarily followed by everyone all the time.

36. In the city there is a small paradise for those who value relative silence and clean air – the Walk-In Camp, a territory which can only be accessed by foot, after leaving your vehicle behind its border. I think next time, we should try stopping here.

37. What do we hear in Black Rock City, other than ourselves? First of all, of course, is music. In our own camp, from the neighbors, at the end of the street, from a passing mutant, from the playa, from a far away corner where they’re bumping so hard at a club that the ground is shaking, everywhere, during the day, at night, and even in the early morning, a constant stream of the most different musical sounds. In second place, after the music, we hear the different pitched hums coming from all sorts of generators.

38. And in the evening we hear the loud exhales of propane exhaust coming from the mutants and different installations. Which need to be filled up again every morning.

39. Near the central camp is the post office.

40. There is even a library.

41. A bike-repair shop. Many burners mistakenly assume that because of the all-consuming dust (the playa isn’t sand, but rather the bottom of a lake that’s been ground into powder), it’s better to bring your old bike here and have it live out the last days of its life. Which is what happens, as the owners ride around on their terribly squeaky vehicles. Of course, you can do that, but then you have a chance of ending up in this line. However, if you want to ride around and know no worries, you need to bring a normal bike and a lot of lubricant: the chain starts to squeak and the pedals get harder to turn within one day. “No lube – no ride” is the unofficial Burning Man slogan.

42. The urgent care center. There’s a few of them on the playa. A necessity, of course, considering the climatic (and conceptual) specifics of the event.

43. We heard the sirens more than once: some people do get sick. Most likely from not being used to these kind of conditions.

44. The Bureau of Statistics. Here you can find all kinds of information concerning the event: the different age categories (mostly between 30 and 39), religions (70% non-religious, the rest is mostly catholic and jewish, and the least muslim), the number of ‘virgins’ (first-timers make up the largest portion – 35%), and languages spoken other than english (last year Russian took third place after French and Spanish – 2%).

45. Nature defenders, specifically the playa. The invisible heroes who will be coordinating the city clean-up and playa restoration.

46. Not good at all!

47. The outcome of the clean up will be graded by people from the state department, who have a big say when it comes to getting permission for next year’s event. Also, after each of these clean-ups, the Burning Man website posts a map that shows the cleanest and dirtiest spots in the city, yellow and red representing the worst spots left by the more careless Burners. The after-burn of 2013.

48. Facility buildings near the central camp.

49. Each year there are more and more police in Black Rock City. The reason eludes me.

50. To take a photo of the exit gates we drove a bit outside the borders of the fence, instantly met with “Stop right there or we’ll open fire!”. Or at least that’s what the officer’s dog was threatening from the back of the car, according to her menacing barking.

51. There’s also a small airfield. Some of the fly-ins live right next to their planes.

52. It wasn’t as busy as, say, Chicago, but going by small-city standards it was pretty tight.

53. If you get in line early in the morning, you could get a free ride and take some photos from the air. Unfortunately, I found out about this way too late.

54. It’s already day 4 of the festival, and people are still coming and coming. It’s worth getting here even if it’s only for the weekend.

55. An “Emergency Hugger” welcomes everyone returning home.

56. Meanwhile, evening descends onto the city. Tested and filled up in the morning, the kerosine lamps are ready for their honored mission.

57. The lamp lighters come into the city streets.

58. A beautiful tradition.

59. Someone, unfortunately, has to leave. Just when the most interesting part is about to begin.

Because tomorrow The Man burns.

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