Burning Man 2013 Honorarium Project / Impossible Triangle Now Made Possible

Load ‘em Out

The main difficulty with big art is moving it around.  Surly and Jesse’s forklifts are handy in the shop, but they can only get us so far.  It became clear that we would need a shipping container to get our piece to the playa, and Peter Durand added us as a forth community container from the Boston area with its own separate logistics.   The Penrose project would manage the container.  Last Friday, Freddy from Manchester Freight rolled in with this beauty:

The Penrose project only needed about a third of the container.  The remainder of it went to the community, many of whom were also working out of Surly’s shop.  Packing everyone in would take more planing than usual:

On the left are the Kaos maze frames, on top of which there are bikes and other oddly shaped things.  Then we had two sets of 4′x8′ shelves, using the Boston containers’ shelf design as a template.  Next came the arms, which would get screwed into plywood.  Finally, Blakes art cars, with a shelf and the arm cubes on top.

Shelf building is a de rigueur part of container loading, and the shareholders couldn’t resist coming early to move, saw, and screw wood:

Kaos loaded in the maze frames on Friday, so packing on Saturday went quickly.  We saved some time at the end and scheduled the container for a 6:00AM pickup Tuesday morning, which meant we got to pull an all nighter packing until then.

Kendra celebrates having finished tetrising the Penrose arms, all three of which are packed here:


I left at 5:00, when all that was left was Surly’s crap.



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:

Lighting and Infrastructure Into the Wee Hours

At this late hour, the Penrose Triangle team is hard at work on a number of infrastructure needs.  Previously, the work on the base was in full swing. With most of the main components of the base worked out, the base arm of the triangle sits bolted into place. The two side arms are resting on the side, waiting to get fit with lighting track and wiring.


Each section needs special attention with respect to the kind of wiring that needs to take place. With the bottom/base arm and one of the cubes in place, the team makes sure that the transition between the track on the cube and the arm are smooth.


Here you get a good look at the base and see how exactly the triangle will stay vertical and stable. The sculpture could stand on it’s own  given it’s geometry and foot print, but the playa conditions, wind and climbing participants require a far more stable footing. The white line you see scribbled on the steel base in the photo below is the level at which the playa will be. The rest will be buried underground for added stability. Note also that the beams on the floor only follow the form of the base but do not include all the cross beams as indicated on the foot layout plan. That is part of the work going on right now. Much grinding, much welding…


You’ll also notice (apart from that beautiful white powder coat!!) the aluminum track in the side. All of the lighting strips will rest in this track. IT COVERS EVERY SURFACE! Seriously there is a lot of lighting on this thing and as such, the track is set on most surfaces at specific angles to maximize the lighting effects.  Those strips of white material in the background is just some of the heat shrink that will be needed to reseal every LED strip once it’s been cut to the appropriate size. There are a lot of ends to tie up.


Here is the site of one of the junction boxes that will live in the corner of each of the three cubes.  There are so many details on this sculpture that will go unnoticed because of the way it’s designed.  This spider web of cable will be hidden within seamlessly constructed junction boxes. Delivering programming and power to every light is going to take a lot of wire:


Steel tubing does not come with neat little holes for wires. Every place where a plate hits the pipe has to be drilled out to allow the wiring to go through. Here are we see a section of plate welded and powder coated, the hole is then drilled and deburred. Finally, wiring is fed through:


Here’s a strip of lighting attached to one of the custom circuit boards detailed in my Light Hardware post.  Right now there is extensive testing on the wiring and power strategy on the structure. After every member section is wired up, it has to be tested before replicating on all other analogous parts. This is one of the strips getting ready to be hooked up.


A closer look at one of those custom circuit boards in action.  That is a lot of soldering for what amounts to one the end of one lighting strip among so many.


As the wiring and testing continues, problems arise. Strips don’t work as expected, don’t work to satisfaction or just don’t work period. Everything has to be tested and corrected before it can be implemented throughout. One cube receives a massive amount of attention and testing before the team can move on. A cube sits in the back, waiting for the Ok while Dewb works out the kinks with Drew’s helpful advice:


Meanwhile,  Surly addresses the power situation. All those lights are not going to light themselves. Making do what is available. If it doesn’t work, figure it out, make it work:


As I was walking out the door, I was working out some details of our camping situation with Blake Courtney (OH YEAH, EVERYONE HAS TO FIGURE OUT HOW THEY ARE GOING TO LIVE OUT THERE) . I have the luxury of getting to step back and work out my personal situation while the rest of the team continues to work on this. While chatting with Blake, testing continues  in the background. Suddenly one of the strips that is half draped along the top of a corner of the cube fully lights up. Blake gets a big smile on his face and exclaims “There’s lights on it!” I started laughing loudly. I thought I was laughing with him, but he wasn’t joking.  He says “No seriously, after all this time, I can finally see some light on that thing. I don’t care that it’s just sitting there.”  That sort of snapped me back to the reality of this project. It’s been a long time and taken a lot of effort to go from a small plastic sculpture to an idea to a large, hand made steel sculpture. Every new milestone is an achievement. Lately, the pace has picked up as the base is built out, the structure is powder coated, lighting is independently tested and finally mounted to the sculpture. It’s good to see it happen step by step and I am very excited to see the vision realized in such grand detail.  I get the sense that this will be my favorite art project on the playa. I hope and I am sorta banking on the idea that I won’t be the only one to feel that way.  A lot of people at home and abroad have contributed with advice, kickstarter donations and nose-to-the-grind-stone labor. I can’t help but think, personally, that this thing will not let them down.


Like every other night as of late, the work continues. There is a lot going on at this moment and the work continues as more people from the community and assorted friends and family show up to help. Tonight’s going to be a(nother) long night…

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.

Steel Footer

The containers need to load in nine days, and we are sprinting.  No major impediments, but there’s a lot of execution left.

One critical part of the design is the base.  We didn’t want to have dangerous guy wires interfering with the piece, so we designed a heavy-ass base for it.  Actually, “we” designed a reasonably lightweight base, but Surly just fell in love with those chunks of ’93.  Once he had them where he wanted them, he turned the over to Shop Monkey for cleanup.

It’s coming together pretty will.  The vertices are made out of an old gas tank, a larger version of the kind used to make the bells you ring when you enter the event.  There should be some good hippie BS there.  ”The bell I ran as a virgin has been symbolically cut into pieces and made the foundation of this work.”

The tank’s wall is only about 5/16, and the flanges are 3/8 and 1/2″, which makes them considerably beefier.  We’ll reinfoce the tops to stiffen them up, but I also like that they will bend first, letting the base move and settle  We’ll still have 3800 lbf anchors on each part of the long extensions.

That lower arm is looking pretty good all powder coated, isn’t it?

Here’s the layout: