Starting in San Fracisco, USA, a convoy of two cars and a truck heads towards Nevada.
Mountains roll past us. The sun sculpts itself behind the horizon. The atmosphere in the car is tensed. The trunk is packed with building materials, camping gear and food for the upcoming 16 days in the desert. Will everything work as planned? What extreme environmental conditions do we have to face? How will our days in the desert be? What to expect from Burning Man, the craziest and most unusual art festival in the world? These are a few of the thousands of question that go through our minds.
The surroundings become increasingly bleak. Just a few plants can be seen in the dark. We approach Black Rock Desert. An illuminated shop stand appears on the road side. We get a glimpse on blinking leopard coats, colorful light strings and unusual latex fashion. A foretaste of what to expect from the upcoming days.
We turn right into a small road. The cracked ground of the former salt desert extends on both sides. Colorful small flags guide the way. We arrive at the check-in gate. In the next days, 64,000 visitors will pick up their ticket here. After we sign in, we can drive on the Playa at a painstaking slow pace of 10 miles per hour. It takes us a while to get our bearings and find our way in the sectors, arranged like a clock. 2:45, Dance. Our address for the next weeks.
We arrive at our marked out camp. It is pitch-dark and there is a chill in the air. Tents are hastily erected, sleeping bags are rolled out and the day ends as abruptly as it started.
It is hard do describe, how fast the temperature increases as soon as the sun rises above the desert. A few team members slip out of their tents half asleep. The view is overwhelming. The hard desert ground spreads for miles. A few camps, cars and heavy construction equipment can be seen in the distance. In the background raises the Black Rock Mountain to give this surreal landscape its final touch.
We cannot enjoy this view any longer. There is a lot to do.
After a healthy canned breakfast, we are on the way to find our spot for Desert Eyes. In 15 minutes walking distance from our camp in direction of the Burning Man statue, which defines the centre of the festival, there is a small tuft of pink bristles on the ground. This is the place where we realise our project, that we have worked on for months. We unload the materials and set up the generator. We notice very fast that it is nearly impossible to work under the midday sun. Back to the camp. A schedule for the upcoming days is developed and we take our time to get used to our new environment.
Towards the evening we continue to arrange the materials, install a lighting system to work during the night and at the same time, the day comes to and end.
We got up early in the morning and realized just how much energy is required for the body to deal with the intense sun and 42 degrees. We feel tired and exhausted.
Time is short, so we fill up our camel bags, cover our faces with sunglasses and dust masks and walk to the site. During the night, many other camps have arrived and slowly, we start to get a feel for the huge scale of Burning Man. Today we start building the wooden structure. All our effort and power is needed to slot the different pieces together, prop and then drill them into place. The recommendation to drink 5 liters of water a day becomes less exaggerated and absurd to us.
Lunch break. Everybody is slumped in camping chairs as we try to deal with the heat.
The construction team return to the dome to finish the structure as the sun slowly goes down behind the mountains.
In the middle of the night, the last screw is fixed.
Radical self-expression. One of the mysterious 10 principles of the Burning Man appears for the first time in the form of a naked cyclist with a hat and a cape, who is waving friendly at us at breakfast. The mood gradually loosens up a bit. The “sleeping time” could be extended by 30 minutes with the help of silver rescue foil, which was attached to the sides of our tents. The construction continues. Today, holes are drilled in the tubes. It takes time and concentration to anchor the tubes in the wood structure. On the wobbly ladders, three people work at the same time to be as effective and as fast as possible. In the evening, it becomes clear that due to the heat at noon and general exhaustion, the original schedule can not be met. At least in the camp, a provisional shade protection in the form of a large, taut tarp was built.
The insertion of the pipes continues. The Electric Engineering Team installs the Current Mirrors, the control units of the lighting system while the dome is taking shape. On the horizon a small cyclone sweeps through some camps, in the other direction sounds music. Today is the first day that shows the mentality of the festival visitors. As the sun slowly disappears, cheers are heard from everywhere. Today, many Burners came by to ask about our project and to get to know us. In addition to countless hugs there were homemade chocolates and cold beer for us. We are all realising that any social convention and rule is no longer valid.
Daily summary: First friendships are made, the tubes are in place, three days until the festival begins.
“I need the camera out of the car!”, “Who has the car key?”, “…” After we started installing the panels, we face the first problem for today. Our rental car from San Francisco parks in the middle of the Playa and both keys are in the back seat. Keeping a cool head in the sun is like a miracle. With time-pressure sitting in our neck, the regulation that cars have to leave the Playa at a certain time and the fact that the car rental is 318 miles away, we try to come up with a solution. There is another principle of the Burning Man, “The Playa provides”. We ask for help and just half an hour later, a black SUV drives up. The bearded driver gets out, reaches under the body of his car to bring up tools that open the car within minutes. Stunned, we thank him, bring the extra key into safety and feel for the first time that help comes to those who ask for it. Confidently, we continue the assembly. The LEDs are glued into the tubes, the next panels are embedded and fastened. After the sun went down, we face another problem. Our generator ran out of gas. However, since we need the night match our schedule, waiting until the next day is not an option. Without any hesitation, we go to the nearest artwork, the “Big Cheese”. We meet a man who introduces himself as Robert Stack. After explaining our problem, he tells us to get our car. A few minutes later, we drive together with Robert through the flashing camps and endless streets. We stop in front of a caravan and Robert tells us he has a supply of gas for his camp. He hands us the jerry can immediately saying that he would be happy if we bring the filled canister back tomorrow and that he is here to help. With a full canister and a new, wonderful friend, we make our way back to the rest of the team. Working until late night on the dome. At 3 AM, our last tents close at the camp.
The last day before the official festival start! Meanwhile, you can hear music during the day and night and the unobstructed view of the desert is hidden by thousands of tents. We do not have much time to explore. We get up to work early in the morning. Once the electronics are wired, everyone helps installing the last panels on the dome. Due to the weight that acts on the dome through the tubes and the wood, the precisely cut hexagons don’t fit into the framework anymore. After many tedious attempts to squeeze the panel into the appropriate gaps, we decide to cut the panels with the rule of thumb and cut them on the back to make them more flexible. Dizzy from exhaustion and tension, we put the last pieces together.
Long after darkness, we start the first test.
On the night of the sixth day, the interior of the cathedral is flooded with light for the first time. 129 LEDs send their rays into the sky and the project’s own music sounds from the center of Desert Eyes.
We are powerless, exhausted, tensed but at the same time incredibly proud and happy.