Burning Man 2013 Honorarium Project / Impossible Triangle Now Made Possible

The Floof

All placed art at Burning Man starts with a floof.  I think they called it a floof.  The floofs are constructed out of some sort of old CD or DVD (this, IIRC, is a Microsoft Developer kit of some sort), along with a long (roofing?) nail, some pink plastic filament, and a special clip that holds the filament to the nail.  I haven’t been able to determine the normal use of either the filament or the clip is, which is kind of exciting.

For Honorarium projects, the artist must hammer in their own floof.  I can’t immediately recall the name of our placer and her friend, but here we are, placing the floof.  The floof isn’t just a practical way to mark a location; it’s also the groundbreaking moment on the construction of the piece.  It’s good that you see me working so hard to hammer it in in this clip, as the team will tell you that this is the most work I did on the project.  Ah hahahah.

Notice how empty the playa is!


Well, everybody, we made it.

I’m still coming to terms with what has been an incredibly moving and humbling experience.  We came together as a team and completed the project on time with great camaraderie.  Not everything worked out perfectly, but we plowed through the issues with a resolve I’ve never seen in an all-volunteer art project.  The piece was incredibly well-received, and we were flooded with positive feedback.  Thank you everybody who supported us in so many ways.

Here are five of the core crew, clockwise from left: Dorothy Bassett, Surly Blake Courtney, Jacob Fenwick, and Michael Dewberry, with me in the center.  Jesse Campbell, Ronny Preciado, Ben Lewry, Dan Strange, and Nathan Lachenmyer we also invaluable on early crew.

Photos courtesy Jacob Fenwick (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=937162716743&set=t.688015566&type=3&theater)


Props to the Lighting Crew

The lighting team pulled off a heck of a feat, getting the entire work wired in about of a week.  It was the first time we could have jobs occurring in parallel, so the team grew greatly.  Dewb and Jacob, who had initially produced the lighting plan, now found themselves leading the electrical crew.  Over a dozen friends came by to help with the tedious work.

Here’s John Dill, Jeff Hamm, Ecco Piece, Dorothy Bassett, and Jacob Fenwick looking pretty while having a snack.

Dewb provides instruction to Jim Ankrom and Jessica Markus.

Nick Greggo goes a little kooky from hole drilling:

Jacob, Zippie Dew, and Shop Monkey looking serious for once:

Sometimes things light up:

The Chinatown Exit

For some reason I’m a little too excited about the fact that our base is made out of I-93.  I was getting worried that there might be a bridge out there missing a cross beam or two, but we noticed today that there’s an exit number on here.

According to Wikipedia, Exit 22 is the old Chinatown exit, now, post-big dig, named exit 20.  As we all know, the big dig was largely funded by federal taxpayers, and it is clear that the big dig paid for this beam’s removal.  The way I see it, this art project is the west coast’s cut of the big dig action.

Taking I-93 to Burning Man

Yesterday, a flatbed arrived with some I-beams for our base.  Although the upper part of the design needed to be made from new materials, we wanted to reclaim materials for the base.  Fortunately, the junkyard around the corner had a few old pieces of I-93 we could use.  They were a little heavier than anticipated, but we are buying them at scrap rates, and we can sell them back if we ever get this thing permanently installed someplace.  Here, Leonid inspects the delivery with glee.

Surly does things with a forklift you wouldn’t imagine.  It’s kind of like his hydraulic left hand.  Once again, Google automatically made made a little ditty of the procedure for attaching a horizontal band saw to one of these with the forklift.

Have you every seen this guy any happier?

When it all goes together, it’s supposed to look something like this:

The cylinders in the vertices will be made from a old welding gas cylinder.


Climbing the Penrose Triangle

The third arm is in place and the structure has been assembled for the first time. It is now a (nearly) freestanding object. You’ll note the stands holding the base of the cubes in this shot. The floor of the shop is not perfect so it still requires some custom stands to secure it while it’s being worked on and actually CLIMBED!


Part of what makes this project interesting for me is the ability to interact the piece in a physical way. I’m pretty excited to be one of the first few people that have gotten to go up and into the Penrose Triangle. It’s a very cool concept and design but there’s only so much you can really get by looking at scale replicas and exploring the 3D models.  You get a real sense of it’s gorgeous lines when you start walking around it for the first time.


Predictably, my first question when I walk into the shop and see it standing is “Can I climb it!?” With the all clear I start going up. It’s amazing to feel the strength and stability of the triangle while being surrounded by such smooth, winding  curves that one doesn’t normally associate with words like “rigid” or “safe.” The multiple foot holds and places to lean provide assurances all the way up.


The cube at the apex of the structure is held by arms coming from both sides. It’s a bit unnerving at first to see one side of the support twist out from under you on one side, but that’s part of the fun. You come to have a quick understanding of the structure by devising climbing strategies along the way.


I really enjoy seeing the way the arms go out in one direction and then wind down and back in towards the cube at the bottom. It has a crazy roller coaster kind of character from certain angles. It appears as though the arm is leading you up, down and around a bend as you follow it’s curves. Very cool to climb up and look around to find those odd Seussian lines.


Having looked at the renderings and the models since the beginning of the project, it’s rewarding to actually get to replicate some view that you could only get from the small scale renderings. A top-down view of the 3D print:


The same view from atop the structure:


As a side note, the precision of Penrose Triangle’s construction is evident all around at every weld and every beam’s curve. That said, nowhere did it come into such focus for me as it did in seeing how close the very top of it is from the ceiling of the shop. That is a tight fit!


So there you have it. The project has reached an important milestone but there is still a lot of work to do. The smooth shape and solid renderings make it easy to forget that it takes a lot of little details and printouts (2D and 3D!) to go from a model to a standing structure. A print out on the floor of the shop laying out beam members: 


So far the team has gone from an object in modeling software to the 8″ 3D print:


Into this 17′ climbable physical THING. Here, Blake and Josh talk about the project’s needs and the welding that needs to take place:


So much welding


That’s it for now. It’s been great watching the progress of the full structure’s build. There’s still a base that needs to be made and lighting and electronics and and and….  The ability to touch, interact or climb art is what sets Burning Man apart from a typical experience with sculpture and art in general. This particular piece is beautiful in it’s own right but the prospect of climbing and observing the Penrose Triangle from all sides is going to be a special experience for anyone who dares scale it. It is very friendly and easy to climb so it will be great to see so many people being able to enjoy that aspect of it as well.