Burningman 1999
[burning man 1998] [BM99a] [BM99b] [BM99c] [BM99d] [BM99e]

The Monolith framework

The 9 foot tall Monolith is a bit too tall to stand up in my front room.

I really had a ball at burning man last year (BM98) because the place felt like home. My house is a museum of the remains of my artistic explorations, and BM is one of the most creative places I've ever seen. Since night is the time the city comes alive, many of the creative adventures contain lights of one sort or another. The whole time I was there, I was thinking that I needed to make something really cool for BM99 because lighting has been part of so many of my favorite projects.

Some months after BM98, I came up with what is turning into a major sculpture. My stream of conscousness went something like this.

I wanted something that I could leave out on the desert playa, relatively unattended. I wanted it to be something that would be visible from a distance and appealing to the curious. I somehow thought of the classic movie '2001: A Space Odyssey' and the Monolith. It was built with side lengths in a ratio of 1:4:9 which is (1:2:3) squared to signify the likelihood that the object was made by an intelligent race that was trying to send a hello to creatures on the edge of sentience.

That defined the basic framework for the project. 1 foot deep, 4 feet wide and 9 feet high. Black. Flat Black. "It's full of stars!"

I made the structure out of angle iron that I welded together. I then added some thin plate steel sheets to make the bottom and top of the mono lith into open ended boxes.

The original mold was made pure mortar and took hours to dry so my hand was pretty 'prune-y' by the end. I then made a positive mold out of plaster.

The second and final version of the hand/switch with all 14 swiches visible.

Among the best images from the film is when the monkey or man reach to touch the edge of the monolith. That gave me the idea of making a mold of my hand to use as a switch to activate a bunch of contact switches. The switches would light up some thing.

The positive mold was used to make the final switch/hand made of several layers of fiberglass. First one layer was put on the mold, I then cut out for the buttons on the contact switches and used fiberglass cloth soaked with fiberglass resin to glue the switches in place. (The first version of the hand was made from latex rubber and then fiberglass. It didn't feel right and I glued a couple of the swtches shut. It taught me to use the latex as a barrier away from the moving parts to keep out the fiberglass resin that was to follow.)

But what should the switches light up?

I work on the web, and I often dither images using palettes with a small number of colors. I also use a lot of xmas tree lights. The though was to make some lights into a grid pattern to make a picture. The trick was to think of the image that would be the most recognizable to the most people.

It didn't take me long to decide that the Mona Lisa is probably the best choice. Art is surely a sign of intelligence, The Mona Lisa is probably one of the most famous pieces of art, and I've always had a thing for da Vinci.