Art Bike Relief at Burning Man: Festival (3/3)
Published 9 September 2019 by Cécile Ravaux
This year Makery experienced Burning Man from the inside with Cécile Ravaux of French Burners and Art Bike Relief. The third and last part of this series looks back on the festivities on the playa.
Black Rock Desert (Nevada), words and photos
Back home after two weeks of Burning Man utopia, I’m still basking in the glow of gifting and the generosity of 80,000 explor’actors on the playa. I’m back in the “default world”, pumped up with positive energy from all the adventures and emotions we shared.
We arrived in Black Rock City four days before the official opening of Burning Man (read Part 1) and witnessed the playa taking form through its many installations (read Part 2). More than 300 artworks were presented, including our own “Prayer Wheels”.
Our Art Bike Relief camp welcomed over 1,200 people from around the world who had rented their metal steeds online to ride out their Burning Man adventure. Bicycles are essential to navigating through this giant maze of ever-emerging discoveries. Meeting, exchanging, sharing and experiencing activities from one camp to another, then going out to see the artworks exhibited around this ephemeral city can amount to riding more than 20km per day.
While part of our team stayed at the camp to deliver the bikes and help the desert adventurers to “pimp” them with personalized decoration, the build team went out to the heart of the playa to install our artwork.
It took two days of building under a scorching hot sun, along with a few dust tornadoes, to finish building The Prayer Wheels. Three bicycles were redesigned to turn a central wheel made of wood, representing a giant prayer wheel. Once someone sat on the bikes, the mechanics of the chains transferred the movement to the front wheels, which in turn rotated the centerpiece.
Each project exhibited on the playa must be perfect. We didn’t have enough time for prototyping, everything was built on site and as quickly as possible, because it will only be viewed for one week. The weight of our prayer wheel was definitely too heavy. After a few tests and a few rounds of pedaling, it collapsed. We had to go back and simplify the structure in order to make it safe and accessible to the public. These bumps in the road were all part of the game and the artistic process. The prayer wheel evolved into a piece on which each visitor could write their message, their thought. What mattered most was working together and interacting with our public. And we did it!
Pimp my bike
Mack Carter, Mike Brittan and Lilian Libre, three maker-artists specialized in the art of two wheels, didn’t stop there. As they wanted to gift their tall bike creations to the playa, with the help of our team of small supporting hands and advice contributed by various individuals, they managed to build fantastic tall bikes despite the challenging conditions (plugged into electric generators and solar panels that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t…). Thanks to this participation and collective intelligence, we successfully realized our gift: two- or three-wheeled artworks to delight passing burners who marveled at these unidentified art vehicles.
This week was just as magical within our own camp, where a team of people from different countries and backgrounds who barely knew each other gradually became a real family with strong and undefinable bonds. We learned to live together with each other’s personalities, to adapt, make do with one another’s technical knowledge, like a symphonic orchestra to survive and create together in the middle of the desert.
Our great pleasure was wandering out as a group, sharing newfound moments of leisure and relaxation on the playa. One morning, we were spontaneously invited by a neighboring camp to come inside and clean our faces with hydrating masks—pure bliss. At Burning Man, these instances of serendipity are called “Playa provides”. We always come across what we seek or need.
Sunday night, the Temple burn: a majestic artwork made of wood created for all, where people come to inscribe their intimate messages for departed loved ones, regrets or new challenges.
At the end of this crazy week, we collected the rented bikes along with more than a thousand donated cycles. Art Bike Relief became more well known, as many international burners preferred to donate their bikes rather than abandon them on the playa. Founder Matthew Rockwell was exausted but happy. The next step was to transport all the bikes to a nearby storage site about 27km outside Black Rock City.
Five days after the event, a team was still present on the playa to clean up the camp and send the bikes to the storage site. A few weeks later, Matt returns to Nepal, bringing new resources to the makerspace he co-founded in Kathmandu. As for me, I’m back in Paris full of new ideas, beginning with “Nothing is impossible!”