Art Bike Relief at Burning Man: Preparation (1/3)
Published 21 August 2019 by Cécile Ravaux
This year Makery experiences Burning Man from the inside with Cécile Ravaux of French Burners and Art Bike Relief. Part 1 is reported from Gerlach City, Nevada, where these modified bicycle specialists prepare their deployment on the playa.
Black Rock Desert (Nevada, USA)
Burning Man brings together some 80,000 people in the middle of the Nevada desert (read our previous articles) to celebrate a weeklong culture of possibilities, creativity, free expression and letting go. An inclusive and participatory event enabled by the personal and hedonistic investment of each explor’actor lucky enough to get a ticket. Follow the adventure of French Burners and Art Bike Relief into the Black Rock Desert.
Gerlach City, J-8
I’m Cécile, member of French Burners, a French association that offers tips for preparing your active journey into Burning Man. For my sixth burn, I decided to invest in a camp that’s 100% maker, 100% technological, 100% collaborative and 100% eco-friendly. After six months of telephone exchanges to discuss preparations, setting up a camp for 40 people and managing operations with the creator of this project, one week before the event I arrived in Gerlach, a small village of 200 residents just outside the Black Rock Desert.
For one week, I will join the other volunteers in setting up the Soup Kitchen Camp, dedicated to Art Bike Relief and its founder Matthew Rockwell, aka. ‘Wild Card’. I immediately fell in love with this organization, whose involvement in Burning Man comes in the form of humanitarian projects and one of the most eco-friendly modes of transportation.
Once upon a time, Art Bike Relief…
A survivor of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed more than 9,000 people, Matt Rockwell found himself leading a group of expats, tourists and warriors who made the courageous decision to donate their time and energy to emergency rescue efforts on the ground. Over the course of months and years, Matt settled in Nepal and founded the NGO Art Bike Relief. Its mission is to rebuild homes, develop useful innovations linked to invalidity or mobility “for and with” communities to make prostheses out of recycled materials or teach new apprentices how to use technological tools of fabrication: 3D printer, laser cutter, etc. A series of emergency fabrication projects followed, increasingly longer-term, such as designing locally sustainable construction bricks, with the goal of economic self-sufficiency and independence through art, technology and innovation.
Current Art Bike Relief members are activists, decision-makers and hackers, united by the Burning Man spirit and the desire to bring aid to disaster areas, as the organization continues to accompany projects in Nepal. Matt also helped set up the Ignition Lab makerspace on the campus of the Institute of Engineering at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, in order to foster the philosophies of Do-It-Together (DITO), sharing knowledge and know-how, learning by doing and collaborating. Over the past two years, the Ignition Lab has already 3D-printed forearm prostheses, given coding workshops in the villages and organized hackathons. The makerspace invites Nepalese artists, workers and students to develop projects, even introducing Burning Man culture through a collaborative artwork made from upcycled bicycles, just as Art Bike Relief does on the playa.
Last year, the NGO bought some 1,500 front bike lights made in China, as there is no local manufacturer of durable bike lights in Kathmandu. Considering the depressing absurdity of ordering this material from so far away, Art Bike Relief decided to make its own bike lights at the makerspace along with the residents of Thapathali, a slum located near the IOE campus. Besides providing equipment and training, Art Bike Relief made the first commission of 2,000 lights from the Ignition Lab. Thus, the project combines reinsertion, economic relocation, re-employment and reuse of plastic and durable bike lights.
Burning Man by bike
Every year after Burning Man, many bicycles are abandoned in the middle of the desert. Some are broken, others have simply been lost. The ephemeral city gives way to a sad bicycle cemetery.
Last year, the bikes were collected and sorted after the event, then stored in Gerlach. Our objective is to give a second life to these two-wheeled vehicles. Ten days before the event, I joined an international team of 15 people to recycle and repair bicycles in the desert, in a remote ranch lost in the hills, 10km away from the ephemeral site of Burning Man.
More than a thousand bicycles need to be refurbished! Here we make funky multicolor Art Bikes. I learn to clean off the bikes from dust, and hundreds of other unidentified objects that are stuck on them… At Burning Man, we talk about deMOOPing the bikes (MOOP = Matter Out Of Place). Then we repair them and finally PIMP them out with colored LEDs to make each one original and unique. We also make funny bicycles: tall-bikes, swing-bikes, side-cars… Some bikes are completely upcycled into rolling artworks by two exceptionally talented makers. (Stay tuned for more on them next week!)
Once the bikes are fixed, decorated and ready to roll, these metal desert steeds are rented out to burners on artbikerelief.org. The funds raised by Art Bikes are reinvested in its humanitarian projects.
We find ourselves in very particular conditions, cut off from the outside world, under the scorching hot sun, with no Internet access, and our neighbors are a few coyotes that try to join us at dinnertime. We have two windmills and sleep in three camping cars, all of us solidary and proud to be here. A good mood and everyone’s enthusiasm create positive energy for working together. Each day, a kitchen crew of three forms spontaneously to prepare the daily meals.
We are gradually getting into the Burning Man way of doing. We feel privileged to admire from afar on the playa the artworks being built progressively, before ending up as ashes at the end of the week.
Coming soon: part 2 of the series, reporting from the playa!
More information on Art Bike Relief