Behind the Scenes of Burning Man

Burning Man is still a couple weeks away, but that means it's crunch time for Black Rock artists.

On a San Francisco street in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, where the air once filled with the rattling of maritime industry, ship repair and Navy yards, sits an unremarkable fence.

From outside the fence came the sound of grinders, metallic clanging and a huddle of voices harkening back to the area’s industrial past. But once inside, it was immediately clear the workers were turning out strange creations the world had never seen.

This industrial oasis is an arts space called The Box Shop, where more than 40 artists rent space. This week, it’s buzzing with activity as dozens of Burning Man artists put the finishing touches on installations for the week-long arts festival.

"People are just focused on finishing their artwork," said Box Shop founder Charles Gadeken. "They’ve thrown their heart and their soul into this project over the summer and now it’s crunch time to make it reality."

"Reality" might not be exactly the right word. Gadeken shows off a model of his creation called "Aurora."

He said he wanted to make something his 3-year-old daughter would love. Once finished, it will become a 30-foot metal tree bearing 200 branches covered with 4,000 metal leaves and 4,500 lights he can control with an iPhone app.  

In another corner of a dark warehouse cluttered with bits of metal, artists from the group Flaming Lotus Girls welded pieces onto what will eventually become a massive flaming sculpture resembling an inner ear.

A group of first-time Burners from Hungary were hammering away at a large wooden structure resembling a big glowing onion. Visitors will step inside wearing special sensors that will trigger lights to match their heart beats.

"I’ve never been to the Burning Man," said Hungarian artist Peter Debreczeni. "We heard this is the first Hungarian installation at the Burning Man so it’s kind of an experience."
This year’s Burning Man will have a slightly different experience than years past. The event sold out for the first time in its history leaving many artists without tickets. But Gadeken theorizes much of the thrill of Burning Man isn’t so much the event itself, as the thrill of creation.   

"For most of these people, what is really fun and amazing -- it’s not going to Burning Man," said Gadeken. "It’s not standing in the heat and dust, it’s coming here all summer long and making these projects happen."
The work space had all the energy of a bunch of students cramming for a test. A woman walked through the space carrying load of empty pizza boxes.  In just a few days, the artists will begin packing their creations -- some finished, some not -- and head out to the desert.

Once the event is over, some of these creations will end-up as public art in cities and festivals. Much of it will end up in storage. But for many working way in a marathon of all-nighters, the memories created in this alt-community, will become as durable and lasting as steel and iron could ever create.

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