Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Back in September, I began a series of blogs about this year's Burning Man festival out in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

There were memoirs here, here and here. My car even had a say about its experience. If you were here, you may remember reading about the interesting weather and some of the mischief I got up to.

And then there was the art, including a few pieces I photographed and described here. There was the explosive notoriety of this project, for instance, and the pure fun of climbing around on this towering sculpture.

Well, there's more, and I don't want to let too much time go by without telling you about a few more pieces, and sharing some pictures. Today, let's have a look at Peter Hudson's Humouroboros. And remember to click on the pictures for a larger view.

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As a child, you may have played with a zoetrope. It sat on a table top, you lined the inside of the top part with a strip of paper with pictures on it, then you spun the top and peered through the slots to watch an animated image of horses running, or oil derricks davvening away, or whatever. The earliest animated cartoons came to us by way of zoetropes.

Humouroboros was placed way out on the playa, so that as you made the approach you were impressed by a free-standing metal tree, vaguely umbrella-shaped, whose "fruit" was a team of identical chimpanzees that clung to each branch.

This piece is really meant to be enjoyed at night, but by day you can enjoy the construction and design of the piece. Each monkey clung to a branch, and each branch had a green "snake" with a hand for a head, clinging to an apple. When viewed in zoetrope effect, the snakes wind progressively down the branches toward the chimps, crawl into the mouth of the chimp, and are swallowed.

At the base of the tree, there was a station of drums meant to be played. Late in the week, the drum heads had been smashed in, repaired with duct tape, and smashed in again. Here I am surveying the damage:

Suspended over each drum, hanging at eye level, were monkey masks for the drummers to wear while they banged away:

Finally, the tree was surrounded by several stationary bicycles:

This being Burning Man, when you see a bicycle on the playa, you are expected to get on and pedal, just to see what happens. When enough people got on the bicycles surrounding the Humouroboros, the tree began to rotate. As the rotation got up to a certain speed, strobe lights were activated. The motion and the strobe lighting created an animated scene of monkeys swinging from the trees as the serpents wound down the branches and down the chimps' throats. Ideally, while this happened people would be drumming furiously while wearing the monkey masks.

The video quality (which someone graciously posted on YouTube) cannot approach how much fun it was to view this scene in person, among the other revellers, but at least you get a sense of how it worked.

This piece was enormously popular, and there was often a party atmosphere hanging around the "monkey tree," as it was commonly known. Last I heard, Humouroboros was headed for the after-Burning-Man event known as Decompression, as it would be a serious contender for most popular piece of Burning Man 2007.

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