06 December 2004

I'll need those desert goggles after all

I didn't go this year, and I was starting to think that I probably wouldn't again next year. But it seems I must make the trek to the playa for Burning Man, for I have received news as mind-boggling as Burning Man itself.

It begins with Chicken John (impressario of San Francisco weirdness and proprietor of the notorious Odeon Bar) and Jim Mason (hardworking artist). Frustrated with the state of art at Burning Man — and attributing this to the process by which the Burning Man organization sponsors and organizes art, they composed the We Have A Dream Petition.

We are the artists. We feel that this event which we made great has gotten away from us and we would like it back. We want the art to be spectacular again and we are willing to step forward to do the work to make it so. But for this to happen, we think the "art curation" should be put in the hands of rotating “Guest Curators” and funding decisions should be made through “Direct Vote” by the community of participants.

We petitioners require action on these very reasonable proposals or we commit to STOP CONTRIBUTING our art to Burning Man. Repeated discussions over many years have failed to result in meaningful change, so now we are resorting to more extreme measures. TOGETHER we can change things.

The petition garnered about a thousand signatures. Famed Burning Man founder Larry Harvey was impressed by the energy behind the petition, but publicly expressed his skepticism — at length — about the pragmatics of the petitioners' agenda, detailing the problems he perceived in their petition.

I see no evidence that the authors of this manifesto have imagined any of these problems. This is because they are accustomed to receiving grants from Burning Man, not giving them. I apologize for dwelling at such length upon these details, but even the writers of the manifesto seem to sense some details are important. I suspect that this is why they have done me the honor of appointing me to the Art Council that is proposed in their plan. This council would deal with “the details of funding decisions and general art logistics.” Other unspecified artists, I am informed, are to be appointed to this council (by whom, I'm not entirely sure). Since the group that has drafted this plan hasn't yet talked to me, I'm left to assume that the basic principle of radical democracy would require that these offices be filled through popular election. Which brings me to a broader and more fundamental point. I don't know how many people notice this, but as we pile vote upon vote and plebiscite upon plebiscite we are wading very deep into the world of election politics.

Chicken John, undaunted, wrote a bold response.

I feel so strongly about this that I would like to propose a small bet, Mr. Harvey. When Gentleman see no other way to settle a difference, a wager is what is in order.

I bet you that the people of the petition can make a system of MASSIVELY COLLABORATIVE RADICAL DEMOCRACY, with guest curators and voting and all that, and in the process inspire a volume and quality of creative work that you will envy and wish you were responsible for yourself. In fact, I find these ideas so strong, so self-evidently true, so INVINCIBLE TO STUPIDITY, that no one alive could mess up an experiment based on these ideas. The ideas are THAT strong.

I am so confident in these ideas, that I Chicken John (idiot) challenge you, Larry Harvey (leader of humanity) to a contest of curatorial methods. A bet of art facilitation and inspiration if you will.


I bet you that these ideas will work and the 1000+ petitioners will be successful in their designs. And when they are, I only ask that you CONSIDER changing the current Burning Man art system to better reflect the ideas and methods they used to achieve their success.

If I am wrong and the petitioners are unsuccessful, I hereby commit to sit in a dunk booth at next years Burning Man Decompression Party and let everyone soak my ass, all day long. And yes, I will sit there all day long- throw, after throw, after throw. Wearing a sarong.

Larry Harvey, I bet you my COMPLETE and UTTER HUMILIATION against your mild consideration; that is how confident I am that these ideas will work.

And Larry Harvey ... took the bet.

Dear Chicken, Jim and the other participants of the BORG2,

On behalf of BORG1, I, Larry Harvey, accept your bet. What is more is truly more. Let a hundred flowers bloom! Let a thousand schools contend!

To enter more fully into the sporting spirit of this contest, please let me rehearse the terms of the wager. You pledge to create a “massively collaborative” art installation achieved through "radically democratic means" in an allotted district of Black Rock City, and you will accomplish this feat entirely with your own funding. The art that you produce will then be matched against our own poor efforts at supporting and creating art. Should your woo woo trump our hoo ha on the playa, I pledge to reconsider my opposition to your radically democratic curatorial methods. Should our hoo ha make your woo woo look ho hum, you commit to sit all day in a dunking booth at next year's Decompression. Let Chaos Provide!

As to those things Chaos probably won't provide, I'll mention fire safety, camp placement, burn scar protection, clean up and any number of other small details, including the requirements of the BLM. BORG 1 and 2 will parlay to resolve these issues. In order to assure a level playing field, both parties must agree to honor all the rules of Black Rock City (Chaos also won't provide immunity from local, State, and Federal criminal laws ...

I predict a dazzling, gorgeous, epic failure. But I have to know how it all comes out. So I'm giving Jim and Chicken John a few shekels today, and scheduling my Burning Man vacation time at the office tomorrow.

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