Tuesday, October 2, 2007

endings & beginings

The time has come for me to bid farewell to the development of tall grass and begin the exploration of a new project for Black Rock City sometime in the future.

More process here:


Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Its been one week since I returned from the playa and my mind is still spinning from the experience.

Here's a small collection of images showing the project's life span in Black Rock City.

In short, it was an awesome experience. My camp mates/crew really came through and provided the perfect amount of help needed through out the event. The tower broke during the big windstorm on Thursday - a bit of a disappointment to lose the beacon aspect of the project - but the shade structure portion held firm and provided a public shelter space that was utilized day and night by the city's citizens. Every evening at sunset I would create a new perimeter for the project using LED string lights arrayed in differing circular patterns. In addition to protecting the guy lines from errant art cars and bicycles the lights had the unexpected effect of creating an extremely chill and calm enclosure around the three benches surrounding the virtual fire pit of red and yellow LEDs at the tower's base. I really liked it!

I always seem to forget how difficult it is to work on the playa. It's hot, it's dry, it's dusty and it's windy. All at the same time. I brought 28 gallons of water to drink in the course of 12 days and ended up having to borrow another 5!

A brief timeline:

  • Thursday 1:30 a.m. - I arrive on the playa
  • Thursday daytime - set up camp and arrange for trenching power to the center of the plaza
  • Friday - project perimeter set and tower structure assembled
  • Saturday - tower lights installed, gin pole set up, guy lines rigged and lots of lights un-installed
  • Sunday - tower raised and shade structure set up
  • Monday - shade cloth installed
  • Tuesday - shade cloth struts and lighting completed

Once completed, I found it a little bit difficult to release the project to the city - eventually I was able to resign myself to the fact that the sculpture needed to stand on its own and trust that the people who passed by and through it would treat it with respect - which they did. The site stayed amazingly clean of MOOP and I only saw one person attempt to climb it.

Thursday afternoon we experienced and extremely powerful wind storm that swept directly up 3 o'clock toward the man - hitting the tower at its weakest point and ultimately breaking it at the midpoint of a three section span. We dis-assembled the top two sections during the storm and left the rest of the tower in place as a testament to the power of the playa. The shade performed extremely well in the wild weather - the articulating shade panels would automatically reconfigure themselves to create the least resistance to the wind.

This will probably be my last year working with bamboo on the playa. It cracks like mad in the dry environment and there's no way to predetermine the structural strength of a given pole other than bending it until it breaks. All in all I'm quite pleased with the way the project turned out. The biggest success I think was creating a habitable public space in the plaza. I've begun work on refining this idea for next year using wood and steel and adding an element of sound triggered by the wind.

More to come.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

the next phase of the journey

The light fixture is finished

The truck is packed

All that's left is a good night's sleep and a long drive to the playa

Next stop: Black Rock City

Monday, August 20, 2007


Sunday's big loading session was a great success - the tower and all the associated gear and supplies fit nicely in my big F250 with all the poles, wood and ladders completely filling the lumber rack. I still need to finish the CCFL light fixture and finish packing clothes and food - I'm almost there!

I'll post once more on Tuesday evening before I depart for the desert.

Monday, August 13, 2007


The last of the tower parts have been re-lashed and bundled for travel. The shade cloth is cut, folded and packed in a large duffel bag. The benches are neatly stacked. The lights have been organized and packed into bags according to their placement. Miles of rope and cable have been neatly wound and sorted. There are duplicates of everything, and with the exception of a few small details - mainly the cold-cathode light fixture and my personal camping gear - all is ready for the playa.

Things left to do:
  • finalize time lapse photography rig (computer, camera, mounting pole, shade and dust protection)
  • gather camping gear
  • clean camp carpets
  • burn edges of new carpet
  • prepare tower assembly diagrams with important dimensions
  • repair bike electronics
  • repair hat electronics
  • purchase playa food and drink (Saturday)
  • finish and test CC light fixture (waiting on toroid)
  • purchase extension cord for tower power
  • trim extra shade cloth for big tent shade
The list goes on - but it all seems doable in the time I have left. My truck is taking another trip to the repair shop for a just discovered water leak somewhere around the engine . . . I'm hoping this will prove to be a minor thing! If not, I'll have to really scramble for some alternative transportation - like a 20' Pensky box truck.

Monday, August 6, 2007


I brought the tower down this weekend. I suppose it's a milestone in that the next time it stands assembled it will be on the playa.

By its very definition, a temporary sculpture/installation is meant to exist for a specified period of time and then disappear. This allows for the use of materials and methods that ordinarily wouldn't make sense in a large scale outdoor sculpture. The bamboo drys and cracks, the rubber inner tube lashings break down and fall apart. These qualities dominate the temporary nature of the piece and are a big part of what make the tower so challenging in an engineering sense.

It's a matter of time and scale. A stone column may seem a fairly permanent piece of structure, but travel around the world and you'll see stone columns that have crumbled to dust, the centuries of sun and wind, heat and cold, water and ice all working their magic to return them to the earth as nothing more than their base elements. Were a stone column is concerned this could take thousands of years. Bamboo and rubber, on the other hand, have a much shorter cycle. Once cut from their source of nutrients, these materials immediately begin their march to decomposition. The cut bamboo poles that I'm using will be reduced to fibers after a few years exposure to the elements. The rubber inner tubes even quicker. Much, much quicker as it turns out. In the month that the tower has stood on my property, the lashings have deteriorated to such a degree that they will have to be re-wrapped before I leave for the playa.

My plan is to install the fresh lashing over the top of the existing - keeping them from unraveling and harvesting what compressive strength remains. They'll last through the event - but not much longer. More temporary than I imagined.

I also managed to contract some sort of cold/flu bug that had me on my back all day Thursday and Friday. It wasn't until late Saturday afternoon that I felt my physical energy return. I tend to take my good health for granted. All it takes is a small bout with the flu to remind me that my health and physical vigor are gifts of limited duration. I strive to make the best of my impermanent condition.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


The benches are done and ready for the trip to the playa! There will be three of these surrounding the base of the tower.