This page provides a bit more in-depth information about how exactly this project is going to get done, the inspiration behind the piece, and what the next steps might be.
I think about Bison and pickup trucks because they're around me. Sometimes right in my own backyard (the Bison at least.) I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and we have our own herd of about 400 animals that live within a few miles of my home. I think about the fact that 150 years ago the Great Plains used to be grassland from horizon to horizon, home to millions of these magnificent wild creatures. It's not anymore. I think about the fact that almost an entire species was eradicated from this environment, along with the native populations that depended on this resource for just about everything in their lives. A symbiosis disrupted, an human rights travesty initiated. By our government, and the business interests that ran it.
This piece is for those who don't think about these things in their daily lives as I do. The skull form is interesting to look at, the hermit crab analogy is plain enough, and the suspended skull plate between the horns invites you to occupy the space below, maybe just for a bit of shade on a hot summer day, When you look up, however, the texture you're confronted with is that of a smooth, convoluted landscape shaped by the memory of the brain that used to live here, just as the inside of an actual skull is.
The message is clear...you're invited to think. Think about the Bison, think about the pickup truck masquerading as a farm-crustacean, think about absence. Perhaps thinking about these things will open the door to other thoughts. Perhaps about Why. My goal is just to start the process.
This piece is being built using the resources of my design and construction firm, HandsOn Design. You can find a ink to our website here: https://www.hands-on-design.com. We mainly provide architectural design services and custom cabinetry. This is our first large scale sculpture installation.
Phase One - 2018
This project has enough inherent flexibility in it that a few options are available for the finished Scope of Work based on how much funding is available and how much time needs to be spent on each item to be fabricated. We brought just the first step in the process to Blackrock City last year, largely due to to a serious shoulder injury suffered by me, the primary fabricator (torn rotator cuff.) I was sidelined for several months, and could only devote 3 weeks to the project before bringing it to the city, but brought it we did! With a small crew of 6 people, we transported the piece by U-Haul truck and trailer, and finished the canvas wrap on site over 4 days and unveiled it on the playa. We refer to it's current incarnation as a full scale "sketch model" of the finished piece. We secured permits for both a Mutant Vehicle and a Stationary Art Installation, and our goal was to use it as both. Art Installation by day, Mutant Vehicle by night. Sadly, we never did quite get it running (though back home she ran like a champ) due to what we thought were carburetor problems. We even went as far as to pick up a brand new carburetor ( a Holley Street Warrior) in Sparks NV, but all she could do was sit out on the playa in her sedentary unfinished glory.
Below is a a gallery/ slideshow of last year's "full scale sketch model" construction process:
if you hover over each photo a little, some explanatory text will pop up.
Phase Two - 2019
THIS YEAR however, the shoulder is all healed up, we've got an indoor space to work on her over the winter, and we have BIG plans for the project. We're even applying for grant funding to complete and expand the piece specifically for Burning Man 2019. The establishment of a transcontinental railroad was maybe THE most significant contributing factor in the decimation of the wild bison and indigenous nations of the great plains, as well as the expansion of mining operations, timber harvesting, real estate speculation and every other large scale industry in the nation at the turn of the last century. We very much want to include this driver of American history in our narrative, and have developed an inclusive participatory ritual element to enhance our proposed installation for 2019. We have submitted an Honorarium application to the Burning Man Arts organization which would enable us to bring a set of stylized railroad tracks to the playa this year. The Hermit Crab Skull Truck would travel along these tracks on bare rims pulled along slowly by an electric winch fastened to single driven stake 100 feet ahead or so. We would only bring about 80' of track with us, in 20' increments (that's 8 sections.) The track sections would have to be moved from behind the piece to in front of the piece, one at a time by participants as depicted in the drawing above. The stake would also need to be pulled, moved forward and driven into the ground again with sledgehammers. In a recurring ritual intended to reference the work of thousands of mostly Chinese immigrant laborers and freed slaves, the citizens of Blackrock City will be called on to labor alongside our campmates to move the piece across the open playa to its final destination. The stake holes from which the anchor stakes have been pulled will be filled with photovoltaic landscape lights to mark its path as it moves slowly across the open landscape. At the end of the line (literally) a small canopy is waiting. The canopy, original envisioned as part of the Electric Slide (see below) has been constructed to resemble the top of the Hermit Crab Skull Truck as if it were sawed off at the line of the upper guard rail and suspended between two log "buckrail" supports as in the drawing below. The top of the Skull Plate Canopy will match the canvas duck fabric covering of the Skull Truck, but the underside will be smooth convoluted plastic with integral lighting, fabricated to resemble the underside of an actual skull, which is precisely shaped according to the exterior contours of the brain that resides within it. Bet you didn't know that. The whole idea is that participants occupying the space below this canopy are actually occupying the space of the brain that used to live there. They are the brain.
Perhaps it will make them think.
Once the piece arrives at this location, a grand celebration is planned. Live music, modern dance, theatrical performance, DJ dance party. That will mark the transition of the piece to a Mutant Vehicle. Amplified music is only allowed on playa in collaboration with a Mutant Vehicle. As depicted in the drawing above, the tracks will be installed slightly staggered, which will allow one bare rim at a time to be removed and replaced with a full wheel. The final stake will be pulled and a Mutant Vehicle will drive away at the conclusion of the performance, leaving just the canopy and a straight lighted track, a trace of what has occurred over the last few days.
Phase 3, maybe 4.
The Electric Slide
These drawings represent the further development of the performance stage idea. It is our intention to fund and construct this structure as well as to complete the entirety of the Skull on Wheels.
The design of the pavilion is derived from the iconic western hay stacking device known as the Beaver Slide - a wooden inclined plane structure made of logs and planks which features a moveable rake onto which loose hay is deposited, then pulled up the slope and dumped into a loose pile. We have appropriated the imagery of the Beaver Slide to create an angled roof structure used to harvest a different agricultural resource –the energy of the sun. The major portion of the sloped roof is blanketed by a south facing photovoltaic array, The area below the roof is intended for live performances which can use the electricity generated for lighting, sound amplification or kinetic sculpture. The energy generated is stored in a battery array located at the base of a portable stage fabricated from a utility trailer. Above this equipment another platform is constructed, which features a switchable privacy glass topped stage platform. The glass in the stage platform changes from opaque frosted glass to clear transparent glass when an electric current is applied. It is also lighted from below by a strip of LED lighting along the perimeter.
During the day, a small portion of the energy collected renders the stage platform transparent, exposing the battery array, controls, dormant lighting and switching mechanisms contained within the platform assembly for all to see. At night, when the photovoltaic cells are no longer collecting electricity, the current through the glass stops and it becomes opaque frosted glass. At this point the dormant lighting below the platform and above the battery array turns on and it becomes a light source in itself – a lighted rectangular platform that can act as a stage. Above this lighted rectangle hangs the Skull Plate Canopy, transferred from the Skull on Wheels. The upper surface of this skull is rough canvas, but the underside is a much smoother and more reflective fabric shaped to mimic the folds of a brain, just as would be found on the underside of an actual skull. When one ascends the lighted platform in the evening, they occupy the physical space of the brain below the skull cap, whether it’s a group of performers or a solitary individual, and just perhaps put the message together.
Think about solar energy in the agricultural West.