Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Burning Man 2007: Crude Awakening

The piece was called Crude Awakening and was created by Bay Area artists Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito. In its creation it utilized the talents of 8 different artists and enlisted the help of 180 different people. The image was quite striking. Set against the desolate space of the playa, you saw 8 metal sculptured human figures all made with a twisted mesh of scrap metal. Each sculpture had their own different participant-activated fire effects which I luckily got to play with. The statues were about 540 percent of the size of a normal human and were essentially praying to a 90 foot tall oil derrick. Some stood arms outstretched as if adoring their golden calf, some kneeling or crouched on the ground. All of the poses were based on the prayer posture of different religious traditions.

When I first saw the original sketch for this piece I was kind of underwhelmed, but that was because there was no concept of scale till I got to see it firsthand. Walking through the various figures, the statement was unmistakable and quite powerful. The world's worship of oil needs to stop, before it is too late. Adoring something and raising it to the level of a god is always the beginning of the end, and this was made perfectly clear at the burning of the piece on Saturday night.

We left the burning of the man as soon as his fiery corpse hit the ground and huffed it out to the oil derrick to get a good place to watch from. We were 3 people from the very front edge of the perimiter... we were as close as you could get. We were instructed to sit if we were in the first few rows since when the "big blast" went off, they didn't want us pannicking and causing a stampede. Later I could see why, a giant burst of flames turned into a mushroom cloud over our heads several hundred feet into the sky. It was probably the largest fireball I've ever seen and maybe ever will... unless I stand too close to a fuel tanker while smoking. The spectacle began with a big truck circling the piece and burning a thick cloud of fuel that created a toxic fog at ground level. That's when the WWII air raid sirens started to wail, and all I could see were the statue's arms reaching for the top of the oil derrick. After five minutes the haze started to clear and the most amazing fireworks show started. The plumes of sparks looked like giant oil spurts from the ground. The fireball and plume of fuel being shot into the center of the derrick burned it to the ground. It was absolutely stunning. The artists said the detonation of the piece apparently created 2.4 gigawatts of energy, which is enough to "power the entire Bay Area for one minute." Various figures have been claimed when it comes to how much fuel was used in the burn, the two most popular being 10,000 gallons of gasoline in 26 seconds, or 900 gallons of jet fuel and 2,000 gallons of liquid propane (I think that's the real amount myself) in about a minute and a half. Many have asked how this piece can be so anti-oil and utilize so much fuel to make its statement, but the artists received all the fuel from NASA as it was what they had deemed waste fuel. When it comes down to the figures, it was actually only a few ounces of fuel per person who attended the event. We as a group used more fuel getting to and from the event than this piece could ever burn if it had gone off hundreds of times.

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