Choose ART: The adventure continues

For four years, Choose ART, the Burning Man installation I created with Philip “MacGyver” Wilson, languished in storage. His death left me unsure if I could handle the piece — it was heavy, as well as complicated to set up.

I decided to take a chance, because so many artists had put so much effort into it. With the help of a generous art grant from Burnt Oranges in Florida, I purchased a trailer and towed it over 3000 miles across the country.

In 2016, the piece was displayed at AfterBurn in Lakeland, Florida, with the original 16 pieces of art, music, and spoken word. Another grant, from Florida en Fuego, made it possible to replace the artwork and audio and take the piece to Monticello, Florida, for Incandescence.

Here are some photos showing the evolution of Choose ART.

Jack It Out: An original Burner hack by Huggable Meps

Meps, aka Huggable

Huggable Meps

Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen many storms at Burning Man that were powerful enough to launch tents. Seeing a tent flying above the city makes me sad. So, at the beginning of each Burn, I hammer rebar into the ground with a sledgehammer to secure my tent and monkey hut shade structure.

Getting those pieces of rebar back out of the ground used to be my least-favorite part of the Burn — worse than port-a-potties! Then I came up with Jack It Out, my personal technique for pulling rebar without damaging wrists and elbows that I’ve already damaged through other Burning Man-related activities. Now my least-favorite part of Burning Man is the potties, not the rebar.

My explanation of the technique follows. It requires two simple things you probably have with you, even if you travel in a small car, like I do. May it make your teardown a more pleasant experience and keep the playa free of abandoned rebar.


How to Jack It Out

  1. You need two items: A pair of Vise Grips (also known as locking pliers) and the scissors jack that comes with most passenger cars.
  2. Clamp the Vise Grips to the top of the rebar and wedge the scissors jack under them, right next to the rebar.
  3. Crank up the scissors jack.
  4. Watch your rebar magically come out of the playa.
4-part photo showing how to jack rebar out of the playa

Illustration of the Jack It Out process

Huggable Meps granted Larry Harvey his official artistic license in 2016. (It has since expired and he has not chosen to renew.) She leads the DMV Adornment and Beautification Team and can be found in the Happy Spot.

A girl jumps under my umbrella

On Monday, I returned from AfterBurn, a three-day event in Florida that’s similar to a small Burning Man. Here’s a little vignette from Sunday night. I didn’t have my camera at the time, but send me a message if you want to see the rest of the AfterBurn photographs!

Where it all happened

Where it all happened

At 9 pm, I’m holed up in a tiny tent, listening to the pouring rain and feeling sorry for myself. It’s the final evening of AfterBurn, and they are supposed to burn the temple at 9:30.

I doubt they’ll be burning anything in this downpour. But I hear music at the nearby Camp Funk Evolution, so people must still be having a good time.

“Hey!” I think. “I borrowed an umbrella!” I stick my big blue umbrella out through the rainfly and push the button. Shwoop! My head stays dry as I step out, right into a puddle the size of a small lake. Five seconds later, a lively woman I’ve never met before jumps under the umbrella and introduces herself as 9-Volt. “Where ya goin’?” I ask her. “Shangri La La. How about you?”

I tell her I’m going wherever she’s going, and we zig and zag across the property, find a tent with a DJ, and start dancing. A few minutes after we arrive, the DJ announces, “We’ve got a real treat for you tonight. Gather round here and watch this drummer.” Everybody crowds into the tent, but luck has placed me right in front.

What an experience! The drummer’s near-solo performance whips the crowd into an excited frenzy and leaves me shouting for more. Like Cinderella’s prince, I must find this man again! Luckily, with Facebook, it’s not hard: He’s Mike Gray, of the Screaming J‘s, and I’m his newest fan. That’s short for fanatic, you know.

Thank you, 9-Volt, for leading me there. Thank you, Jon Z, for posting your video of Mike’s performance. Thank you, Shangri La La, for creating the magical space. And thank you, Dad, for loaning me your blue umbrella.

Got a minute? Visit the Screaming J’s website, which has a couple of excellent videos and really captures the boogie-woogie piano. Then book your ticket to Vero Beach — they’re playing here on December 4!

Maddox Ranch, in Lakeland, Florida

Maddox Ranch, in Lakeland, Florida

Thought for the day

Art is not a thing. Art is a way.

Art is not a thing. Art is a way.

Art is not a thing. Art is a way: I painted this piece on the reverse side of the Choose ART console, almost as an afterthought. To my surprise, it had a cameo in the well-known Burning Man documentary, Spark.

I photographed it today at Marlene and Steve’s house, where Choose ART has been living for a couple of years. It’s time to dust it off, change the art and music, and let people play with it at local festivals and regional Burns.

Art is a way. Let it be your way.

Art needs friends, too

Artists at Burning Man are beloved celebrities. They are fed, feted and flaunted at the best parties. They have lots of friends.

But what about the art itself? It sits, alone, on the playa, enduring broiling heat and choking dust. It gets broken, damaged, and worn. Often, art gets abused, or worse, ignored.

Please NO sticker

Anti-graffiti sticker

All Write OK

Pro-expression sticker

A well-known Burner, Sunshine (of Playatech fame), gave those last two items some thought. How could artists explicitly let people know whether or not to write on a given piece of art? How could artists “tag” their own art?

Sunshine imagined a couple of stickers, one encouraging radical self-expression and one discouraging graffiti. He cast about for an artist to design them.

“…the nature of experiments at Black Rock City is that the doers get to do them no matter how crazy, unworkable, or challenging they might seem.” I read Sunshine’s statement and raised my hand. I’m a doer, and I love a design challenge.

The illustrations and type had to be clear, bold, and not boring. They had to be worthy of gracing other art. That was a tall order, but the feedback from the artists was overwhelmingly positive. They loved the flaming “All Write OK” and the technicolor “Please NO.”

This year, I came up with a name for our movement: F.O.T.A., or Friends Of The Art. I created a super-hot golden-dragon logo to go with it.

It’s time to print hundreds of “All Write OK” and “Please NO” stickers to give away to artists, with better adhesives and reflective ink this year. Both ARTery and Meals on Wheels will be handing them out, so they’ll reach even more installations. We also want to print some posters and signs.

Are you a Friend Of The Art? You can help! Just order one or more Dragon stickers for $10. We’ll use almost all of that to print “All Write OK” and “Please No” stickers for the artists, and the rest to send you a super-hot sticker that says “Art has powerful friends. I am one of them.”

Dragon stickers are available directly from me (Meps, aka Huggable) at https://squareup.com/market/margaret-meps-schulte/fota-dragon-sticker. Put them on anything — your car, your water bottle, your front door, your forehead. Please note: Friends Of The Art does not recommend putting Dragon stickers on cats or live chickens.

 

The Official Happy Spot Video

I had so much fun writing about Happy Spots last week, I decided to make a video slideshow. I used a format I recently learned about called “Pecha Kucha”: 20 slides, each displayed for 20 seconds. It keeps the presentation moving along in a snappy fashion!

Feel free to share this with your friends — it’s on YouTube. You can download free Happy Spots over at 1meps.com.

Choose ART, or how I got my fluffy

This is my third blog entry about Choose ART. You might also enjoy the gallery itself, and the entry about the construction of the piece entitled, “Grabbing a Tiger by the Tail.”

In 2012, for the first time, I got a “fluffy.” It was a proud moment for me, and I felt more validated as an artist than when I received my B.F.A. in painting and sculpture.

Meps installs the fluffy

With the help of her Winnie-the-Pooh backpack, Meps drives the fluffy into the ground, showing where CHOOSE ART will be installed at Burning Man 2012.

The “fluffy” is nothing more than a silver disk, actually a CD, with a construction nail and a tuft of pink plastic whiskers. On the disk are written, in black magic marker, the name and number of your art piece. On the vast surface of the desert at Burning Man, the fluffy’s importance is to show where your art goes.

By the time you’ve gotten your fluffy, you’ve not only created a large piece of art, you’ve documented that art. You’ve made sketches and submitted a written description of it to the Burning Man organization. You’ve told them how you plan to light your art and keep it safe, and how you will make sure it doesn’t leave “moop,” or trash, behind on the surface of the playa.

Based on your written submission, the art team has decided where to situate your piece. That way, the city is totally full of art, without it being concentrated in one place. They also give a map to every person who comes through the gate, showing where all the art is.

To get our fluffy, my artistic partner, MacGyver (aka Philip), and I went to a place called “The ARTery.” Like a real artery, this place is the lifeblood of the event, yet we take it for granted. We were greeted by volunteers who treated us like royalty, who made it clear that our title is Artist. They reviewed our submission and showed us where they’d placed us on a large map. “Is this OK?” they asked. After we asked to be moved further away from the loud sound stages, a couple of field operatives armed with a GPS took us out in a golf cart.

When we arrived at our spot, they again asked, “Is this OK?” We nodded, and then they handed me the fluffy. I personally drove the nail into the ground with a mallet, and when I stood up, we had a little ceremony of congratulation, with hugs all around.

Of course, this simple, exhilarating moment was followed by three days of exhausting setup in driving dust storms.

It was worth it, because I like art. I like it a lot. I like to make it, and talk about it, and look at it, and play with it. I like to encourage people to think about it. I love to inspire it. I’d worked hard to inspire this art — it wasn’t just mine.

Many artists listen to music while they work. In 2011, I had an idea to take that one step further. Just as we convert music into dance through our bodies, I wanted to convert music to art, and then take that art to Burning Man.

The progression goes like this: An artist chooses a song that inspires them to create a piece of art. A passer-by chooses that piece of art, which starts the music playing. That music, combined with some intriguing lights, inspires them to dance. Now we’ve merged music, art, and dance into one experience. What will come from that merged experience?

With this in mind, I created a list of 30 eclectic songs, ranging from the Weiner Blut waltz to the Hokey Pokey. I sent them to artists and photographers, and eight people began creating art for the installation.

For myself, it was exciting, as well as completely intimidating, to sit down and make “real” art on paper. Despite having a degree in painting, I haven’t given myself permission to do this in many years. But Burning Man is about giving ourselves permission to try all kinds of things. I even gave myself permission to fail, knowing that I might have to tear something up and start over.

As I was finishing up my last painting, the other pieces of art began to arrive, and I was completely awed. Wow! I wanted everyone in the world to know about the incredible artists I had discovered, who had been inspired to make beautiful pieces simply by sounds. I was the proudest curator on the planet.

We sent the art out for high-quality scanning and had it reproduced on special material used in the sign industry, so that it could be backlit at night. To my surprise, when it came back, the images were vivid both ways, with or without the backlighting. Now, instead of a nighttime-only installation, we had art that could be enjoyed 24 hours a day.

The problem was, playing music without the dancing lights didn’t make sense. So I contacted the artists and asked them to record an artist’s statement that we could play during the day. The recordings I received were not only thoughtful and interesting; some were theatrical and others poetic or lyrical. In them, I heard the same creative spirit that inspired the art.

In August, I turned my attention to signage and final painting of the installation. I needed something that would draw people’s attention and give them some instructions, but I didn’t want to upstage the art itself.

I’d originally envisioned a big sign at the top that said “Mating Shadows,” but as the time came to create it, I dragged my feet. I later ran across this quote, by Tom Price of Burners Without Borders, that explains exactly what I was struggling with:

“(Burning Man) is the epitome of an unbranded event. It is the anti-brand.”

How could I make a sign to attract people without branding the art? That’s when a bolt of inspiration struck me:

CHOOSE ART

It was so simple! In just two words, I could provide the instruction: “Come over here and choose a piece of art” as well as deeper meaning: “Choose art as a way of life.”

The CHOOSE ART sign at night

Barry and I designed and created the CHOOSE ART sign together. It was one of our most satisfying collaborations.

To avoid creating a brand, I accidentally created a movement.

As I designed the lettering and did the woodworking on the sign, something inside me was changing. I gave myself permission to play the piano every day. I gave myself permission to sing. I got up and sang a solo, a capella, in front of 50 people. I wrote poems. I made theatrical recordings layered with music. I danced. I didn’t just appreciate the creativity of others, I reveled in it. I was the poster child of Choose ART.

Once the art was installed at Burning Man, I went to visit it every day. It was far out in the desert, but it was never lonely. Every time I went out there, people on foot, bicycles, and art-cars came to look at the pictures and talk. Often, they snapped a picture of the Choose ART sign.

We’d had some t-shirts made, and I noticed thoughtful smiles and nods when people read the words on the front: “Choose ART.” We began to talk about where we could set the installation up after Burning Man. We began to talk about how to improve it, keep it new and fresh. We began to call it “Choose ART,” instead of “Mating Shadows.”

The movement was taking on momentum.

Today, it is still gathering inertia. We’ve modified the design to make it easier to set up in a variety of environments, and tweaked the electronics to make the lights work better. You can sit at home, view the art, and listen to the artists’ statements right here on mepsnbarry.com.. I even made a CafePress store where you can buy a shirt or a canvas bag to show off your favorite piece of art and spread the Choose ART message.

How do you Choose ART? Do you make it, talk about it, look at it, play with it? Let yourself be inspired by our project. Give yourself permission to create, and watch what happens.