It’s been a while since I’ve updated you all on Zooplankton, and so much has happened in the last few months! We only have a month until Burning Man and we’re still trying to raise the last bit of funding we need, but we’re so close to being done. We’ve dealt with money being stolen, having to get part-time jobs to keep the project going, I’ve had multiple injuries and far too many 8-12 hour works days in 95+ degree heat, there’s been frustration with money, with getting help, with the rules that Burning Man has for art installations, but there have also been wonderful friendships built and strengthened, people who have come out of the woodwork to rescue us when things looked hopeless, the joy of creating (even if the creation isn’t quite what we’d planned at the outset), knowing that we made a thing, a real THING, even though we had so little money and, honestly, no idea what we were doing or what we were getting ourselves into. Becca and I are exhausted and broke and generally worse for wear, but we are SO glad we did this project, and I’m so grateful to all of my burner friends who have helped us again and again. We would never have come this far without them. Them and a whole boatload of stubborn determination 😉
Without further ado, the pics!
It took a few months but we finally found a home to build in: Ctrl-H, a hacker space/creator’s lab in North Portland. It has a full woodshop, electronics room, CNC, laser etcher, 3D printers, all kinds of goodies.
Becca and Heather work on the bottom rim of the roof
The framing for the roof and middle tier are slowly coming together
Becca and Tony, our Electronics Lead, go over the plans for the framing that our former Build Lead, Landon, drew up for us before he had to move away to pursue his degree
Some days working was a slow and painful process, especially when it was at or near 100 degrees with very little shade. Dehydration was a big problem.
The supports that will hold up (we hope) the dome and spire that go on the top of the structure
Becca and I had fun with the Panorama setting on my phone
As we were starting to build the middle section we suddenly got word from Burning Man that all structures that are meant to be burned HAVE to be covered with plywood that is no less than 5/8″ thick. This was almost a disaster for us. We’d planned on using 1/8″ or 1/4″ plywood since it’s light and easy to bend and we needed to make a lot of curves, but they wouldn’t allow it, and so we had to figure out how on earth to bend 5/8″ plywood.
I honestly didn’t think we were going to be able to do it, but after over a week of work we made it happen: Soak the wood in warm water, secure one end to the frame with screws, bend a little, wet it again (In the heat we had to wet the wood every 15-30 minutes all throughout the day), bend a bit more, repeat for about 10 hours straight every day.
Once we got some ratchet straps the bending was a lot easier, relatively. Wet the wood, crank the ratchet, secure with a few screws, repeat, repeat, repeat.
At least we got to work next to a really nice little vegetable garden 🙂 We ended up putting braces inside the structure because the frame had been designed to hold weight coming from above, but it was NOT designed to take pressure from the sides, and we were worried that the ratchet straps could potentially collapse the walls.
Once we finally got all 5 plywood sheets bent and attached it was time to cut the holes
Yay holes! These are an integral part of the design. We weren’t able to make nearly as many holes as appear in the Ernst Haeckel illustration that Becca based the idea on, it just wouldn’t work with the materials we had, or the skills we lacked, but we still love how it came out
A few times we had to put the call out for help lifting various parts of the structure, and every time we had a crew of burners show up for us. It’s always so wonderful to see people coming to help you, not for pay or fame, but just because they want to help make art happen, and many of them have built their own art and know how hard it is and how none of it can happen without teamwork
Once we had the frame for the roof made we needed to weight-test it. I scientifically verified that it can easily hold the weight of at least one middle-aged hippie
Tony and his girlfriend Nasim were working on the lighting on the spire. Tony is currently finishing up the custom-designed, programmable lighting and electronics that will go into the structure when it reaches Burning Man. We haven’t even seen the final results yet, but I know it’ll be beautiful. He’s even gotten a heat-sensitive camera so that the more people are inside, the more active the light display will become. Squeeee!
Real sweat. Real sunburn. Real exhausted-but-happy smile
Safety Child has become our unofficial mascot
After we got all of the framing covered it was time to call in reinforcements again and do a practice run so we could see how it all fit together.
At this point we had signed up to take the structure to a regional Burning Man event up in Washington, called Critical NW. We had a deadline, so the work schedule was pretty rough at this point, but we got it done.
As you can see it was NOT light. It took that many people just to lift it, and the fact that it was top-heavy made it even more challenging, but we had a great crew and they made it work
We ended up doing some semi-scientific experimenting and managed to estimate the weight of the entire structure: Somewhere in the vicinity of 1700 pounds. It would have been much lighter if we’d been able to use 1/4″ ply, but we made it work and that’s all that matters.
Being heavier it will be harder to put together and harder to transport to Nevada, but there is always a way, and burners are nothing if not resourceful
Happy project leads. It was so good to see it coming together after so much hard work and stress and injury and frustration. WE MADE A THING! 😀
Happy and exhausted
The LED strips on the spire. Tony is finishing up the programming now, and I hope to have some video to show you before it leaves for the burn
In order to fit it all into the truck to take it to Critical NW, we had to cut the middle tier and the roof in half. it was a little scary, but it worked, and it all fits back together just fine
Loading up to go to Critical NW. I wasn’t able to go, but Becca and one crew member went and it was challenging, they had trouble finding help unloading the truck and getting it all put back together, but they did it and everyone who saw it loved it. A couple of event staff even asked to put their hammocks inside 🙂
Yep, it’s heavy. Maybe not as heavy as it would be if it were metal, but heavy enough. Fortunately they have heavy machinery at Burning Man to help with issues like this.
And a little peek at what’s in store once all of the lights and rods are installed.
If you check out our Indiegogo (there’s a highlighted link in my opening paragraph at the top of the post) you can see a few glimpses of the installation at Critical NW with lights and rods, and if I can’t get any pictures before the burn, there will definitely be pics galore after
On a less-happy note, I recently decided that I won’t be able to go to Burning Man with the crew this year. Partly because of money issues, it’s just not a cheap event to go to, but mostly because of how drastically this project has affected my health. I actually worked too hard for too long to the point where I almost landed in the hospital, and so I’ve decided that trying to go work in the desert when I’m already exhausted and injured, in that awful heat, is just asking for trouble. If I had to do it all over again I absolutely would, but I’m still kind of sad and disappointed that I can’t be there to see our creation on the playa, or talk to people about it, or sit with my friends and watch it finally burn. It makes me sad, but this is how things go, and I’m so happy I was able to be a part of this project. it’s not the biggest or fanciest or shiniest art, but it’s ours, and considering that we are a first-time build crew who had very little money and very little clue and a whole lot of challenges, we didn’t do half bad 🙂
See you soon, friends.