In our third podcast, Yomi Ayeni talks to Arthur Mamou Mani, architect, artist, and lecturer about building the 2019 Temple of Galaxia at Burning Man, sustainability, and the science of art.
He gives the lowdown on Catharsis – the game changing modular art structure he planned for Burning Man 2020, which may now manifest in the virtual multiverse, and how he came to the conclusion that beauty can be generated, as opposed to created.
In our second podcast, Katie Eldridge talks to Rob Fyfe about transforming Point San Pablo Harbor from a rundown junkyard into a beautiful destination that now attracts hundreds of visitors every week.
Rob talks about his first encounter with big art at Burning Man, how he came to appreciate the creativity and passion at the core of the Burner community, and how a chance encounter at the Artumnal Gathering led to hosting We Are From Dust’s inaugural exhibition.
“Art Matters” with Paige Tashner
WAFDust Podcast #01
Welcome to WAFDust the official We Are From Dust podcast. A few years ago, a team of us decided that interactive and participatory art was a pillar in our community, so we formed our non-profit to showcase the transformative power of participatory art in public places and spaces.
In this our first podcast Paige Tashner, creator of Purr Pods, talks about her life as an artist, how creating a mobile cupcake for Burning Man led to winning two Honoraria Awards, her love of cats, the skill exchange associated with creating art in the burner community, and her work with We Are From Dust.
With the world being slapped sideways by the coronavirus pandemic, We Are From Dust is focusing on helping the people in our community who need it most. In our case, that’s working artists who, like so many of the self-employed, don’t necessarily enjoy the privilege of having a robust safety net beneath them when the bottom drops out.
We started a crowdfund campaign right before this virus started its temporary reign of terror, originally with the intent of mounting more art exhibitions beyond our inaugural Point San Pablo Harbor sculpture park. And while we considered canceling the nascent campaign out of respect for the world’s greater concern in this moment, we decided instead to continue, and give everything we raise to these artists, compensating them for the amazing work they’ve already created, and which we all get to enjoy (and will again).
So in this critical time, we’ll do what we can to take care of those in immediate need, and when the world is once again ready to connect in person, we’ll be ready too. We’ll keep our next five exhibitions in our back pocket, and we’ll be prepared to install them as soon as is reasonable, because gathering around participatory art will be a powerful psychic salve when that time comes. So yes, even in the face of a global pandemic, we believe our mission is more important than ever. Any assistance you can offer is greatly appreciated.
Please consider a donation to our crowdfund campaign to support these artists. If you’re otherwise inclined, please consider a donation to support the most vulnerable in our community through other sustaining fundraising efforts. If you have some of those to suggest, please link them in the comments.
Be smart, be safe, and may you and yours be well. Thank you!
Every vision starts with an inspiration, which is often hastily condensed into a succinct message and eventually shared to test the waters of public opinion and involvement. For We Are From Dust, it was the difficult task of verbalising our beliefs that art has transformative powers, and engaging or interacting with art can lead to positive change within ourselves, our communities, and the world — and then sharing that vision with friends and family to see how it would resonate.
Now, we’re ready to take a leap of faith and present our vision to the world in the hope that it will touch, move, and inspire people to get involved, support, and amplify it.
So what have we got to offer, I hear you ask? Four amazing installations from trailblazing artists, all installed on a publicly-accessible private space for you to experience. And IF you aren’t close to Point San Pablo Harbor where we are hosting our inaugural exhibition, we have the next best thing – a limited edition of postcards featuring the work of our artists; Kate Raudenbush, Paige Tashner, Michael Christian, and Peter Hazel. There are five in total, and a donation of $20+ shipping will guarantee we get a pack in the post to you.
Help Create Change with Art – Donate, Support, Like
There are so many ways to get involved with We Are From Dust. You could also consider giving a one-time donation or, even better, a recurring donation — even if it’s just $15 or $20 a month*. Every little bit helps us support the artists who create this art and exhibit it in places for everyone to enjoy. Like/follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and forward this email to friends. Taking just one minute of your time to help us amplify our message makes a real difference.
We’re excited with what’s to come and we hope you are, too.
When we got started with We Are From Dust, we had a clear vision. We would mount exhibitions of participatory art in public spaces for people to enjoy. But beyond that, the specifics — what, where and how — were a bit to be determined, depending on how this whole thing rolled out.
And as things are becoming more clear, we could use your support. Here’s why …
As we’ve been working this last year on our inaugural exhibition at Point San Pablo Harbor — which has effectively become the testing ground for our venture — people have taken notice. We hadn’t quite expected it, but turns out lots of folks would love to have art in their backyard. And lots of people have art to offer up. So as the opportunities started piling up around our feet, we wrapped a strategy around the possibilities.
A 3-Pronged Plan
Here’s our plan, and how you can help.
Our next step, close on the heels of PSPH (a public/private location), is to mount exhibitions in a civic space and in a formal art space (museum or gallery). We believe having a 3-pronged exhibition strategy (public/private, civic, and professional spaces) makes good sense, because each has its challenges and opportunities to learn about, and a variety of exhibition types will demonstrate what we can do, and with whom.
We have been in ongoing discussions with the city of American Canyon, at the foot of Napa Valley, about putting art in a few different locations for public display. We hope that will be our first civic exhibition.
Simultaneously, we’re talking with folks to put some of Paige Tashner’s Purr Pods on an estate in Bristol, UK. And there’s a beautiful farm and distillery in Hudson Valley, New York that will be getting a stunning piece of art (no spoilers) this Spring. Those are the publicly-accessible private spaces we’re currently working on.
Each of these opportunities presents its own unique challenges, whether it’s working with government bureaucracy (bless its heart), handling liability of working in a public/private space, or the various logistical requirements of working in different environments. Those are manageable problems. But the most challenging thing is that our team is only so many people, living in only so many places.
To be able to share art as broadly as we want to, we needed a better way to go about it.
So while we continue to do our own exhibitions, we’re going to create playbooks describing in exhaustive detail how to create these kinds of exhibitions, and we’re going to delegate the installation and management of certain exhibitions to skilled local production teams. This will give us way more reach, and heck, taken together, WAFD’s team has over 100 years of accumulated experience doing this kind of work, so why not share the wisdom, right? We’re also going to work with local groups to activate community around the art at these sites, creating opportunities for people to engage and connect.
One thing’s for sure: the art’s not going to show itself! If you’d like to be part of our exhibition or activation team — no matter where you live, or your skill set — or would otherwise help us realize WAFD’s mission to get interactive art out into the world, do reach out to us. And of course, in lieu of sweat equity, we’ll always be happy to accept (tax-deductible!) financial and material donations that help our cause.
I first met two Burning Man living legends on the same night, when I mouthed off to one of them about art.
In 2007, legendary showman and Burning Man apostate (a man whose very name makes eyes roll at Burning Man headquarters) “Chicken John” Rinaldi was running for mayor of San Francisco. He was really running, but it was in many ways a stunt campaign – running for mayor as a work of interactive art – and so his campaign events tended towards the bizarre and outré. I was a political reporter back then, and it was the most fun I’d ever had in that job.
Since the incumbent mayor, Gavin Newsom, didn’t want to debate any of his challengers, they were left to debate each other, and the first night I ever saw Chicken John in person was at a debate, at his warehouse, against another mayoral candidate, a blogger named Josh Wolf. Since they both had animal names, the event was billed as “Chicken Vs. Wolf.” First they took questions from a moderator, and then they took questions from the audience.
They each had very simple messages. Wolf, who had spent a record breaking amount of time in jail for refusing to turn over materials to the police, was advocating for transparency: he promised that, if elected, he would wear a 24/7 webcam so that literally everything he did as mayor would be reviewable by the public. Chicken, who sometimes claims to have founded Burning Man’s Department of Public Works (he didn’t) but was an influential figure in its early days, wanted to talk about making art: weaving as many aspects of community life into making art as possible, looking to making art a first line of defense for social problems, and supporting local art and artists at every turn.
When it came time for the Q&A, I raised my hand. I was called on. I stood up. And I said words to this effect:
“Chicken, you’ve prioritized art as a solution to many problems, but it seems to me that in the decaying side-of-the-road carnival that our common culture has become, art is a warped funhouse mirror. That making art is as much as anything an excuse for narcissism and self-indulgence, rather than a real attempt to solve social problems or make a better world. That focusing on art can be an excuse not to meet your neighbors, not to engage in civic improvement, not to look beyond the self. That it prioritizes ‘how I feel’ about an issue over the issue itself, and that if anything what we really need in our culture is an anti-art movement, in which we are all told to shut up and stop making it about ourselves and to do something useful. How do you respond?”
The room was suddenly divided. Half of it was booing me, half of it was applauding. A man with a beard stood up and clapped forcefully, giving me a standing ovation: I would later learn that he was John Law, one of Burning Man’s key founders and its leading apostate. Much later, he and I would become friends.
But right now he was the leader of a cheering section in a fairly hostile room, as Chicken stared daggers at me from the stage and finally, when all the noise had subsided, said: “you’ve been waiting all night to ask that question haven’t you?”
He couldn’t have been more wrong: it was honestly what had occurred to me, listening to him talk about “art” as the solution to what I thought of as municipal policy problems. Much later, he and I would become close friends.
I’m telling you all this because I imagine the main objection that comes up to a project like We Are From Dust is more or less what I told Chicken. An eye-rolling “Is Art really worth the time?”
And I’d like to take this moment to officially apologize: I was so wrong. My question had it exactly backwards.
At the time I asked that question, I thought that “Art” was what I had been taught in schools: a mostly solitary pursuit in which each of us picks a medium and tries to be a genius, to stun people into thinking and feeling through the singular force of our vision. Art without a lone genius at its center was hardly worth doing – practically failure by definition – and to pursue it without such an inspired vision was tantamount to self-indulgence.
Art can, of course, be self-indulgent – but it is when art is the avocation of people trying to be lone visionaries, desperately trying to tell the world something important, that it is at its most likely to be narcissistic. Some lone visionaries do good work, to be sure, but they are much more likely to be the problem rather than the solution.
I learned this, over the years, by experiencing participatory art. By realizing it was changing my life. By realizing that the healthiest communities, the most fun communities, the communities that did the most for each other, had this kind of art at their center.
Far from getting us to focus on our own experiences in an isolating way, community art projects – especially interactive ones – most often get us to focus on our own experience in a relational way. They get us to imagine new ways in which our own experience impacts others; new ways of being in the world; to imagine new approaches and capacities, to envision ourselves mastering skills we’d never realized existed before. And to do it not just as solitary individuals, but as communities. To follow our own unique visions together.
The reductive term for this is “innovation,” the darling virtue of Silicon Valley and disruptive industries. And it absolutely is true that stirring the imagination the way community and participatory art does is a way of generating innovative ideas. But “innovation” is a limited term for the experience that happens when people get together and engage in art. Participate actively in art. The experience is far more personal, and connective, than “coming up with new ideas” suggests.
I don’t know how to explain this except perhaps to say, as an artist once told me about her work, that we focus too much on the physical product or the moment of performance. Such things are not the “art” itself, but a demonstration that art has happened. Community art, participatory art, is as much the process that you go through to get to that point. The moments of inspiration followed by the negotiations between inspirations bouncing off one another and then the decisions about how to make these ideas real, and then the unpredictable – even serendipitous – interactions that happen once they are. These activities change you, together, and your experiences, making them richer and deeper and more alive. The real value of the art is not the thing you see or touch, but the process that gets you there, and that people who experience it then take with them. And that can be shared with others in a way that even the object itself cannot. “Hey, let’s do something together” is a far more profound act of sharing and connection than “hey, come look at this.”
It’s astonishing how many good things come out of that. It helps you meet your neighbors, find joy in civic improvement, and look beyond the self. It’s enough to change a city. Enough to change the world.
But we need to stop appreciating it abstractly and get our hands dirty doing it.
Frommer’s: This Harbor Is a Refuge for Burning Man Artwork—Without Burning Man Crowds
When each summer’s Burning Man ends, artists burn most installations, including the iconic 75-foot-tall “the Man” sculpture that gives the event its name, to leave no trace of the party in the desert. Other pieces are moved into storage.
One California harbor is giving Burning Man’s large-scale art a second, longer-term home—and you can see it without being hot, naked, and caked in dust.
The Point San Pablo Harbor in Richmond, California—20 miles from downtown San Francisco—was in disarray before a new co-owner, Rob Fyfe, took over. After cleanups, Fyfe collaborated with non-profit We Are From Dust to give the art of Burning Man a second life on his revitalized waterfront.