BurningMan 2015 (The Quantum Observer)

by | Oct 25, 2015 | 0 comments

Burning Man planning was a kind of fiasco this year.  At the end of summer last year, we formed a team and started working out the design for a new installation that would lead people into an interior area surrounded by cloth, flags, and paintings.  In the middle, raised on a dias, I would be casting a human figure in glass.  The team included Bella, Phillip, Kathy, Liz, and me.

That was great planning, but as it happens each year, we didn’t get tickets.  None of us.  This was just to much for me, I’m so tired of this, so I gave up and decided not to go.  I would do no planning, no thinking, no worrying.  Forget about it, I was done.


So I was free!  As it happens, Kathy was still super committed to attending, and she was scouring Craig’s list, posting on Burner lists, trying to get tickets for our team.  Eventually, a long time into, in July, she began to get some bites.  First there was a woman in Oakland who wasn’t able to make it (two tickets).  Then there was a long-time burner who wouldn’t be able to make it, but was looking for ways to help the event, and he wanted to help an art project.  Then there was …

So we had six tickets!  And no art project.  And unfortunately, none of these tickets came with vehicle passes, so 1) we could attend the event, but 2) we did not have permission to transport any art to the event.  That’s another long, tense, story that was solved by rallying our forces for the OMG sale in August.


By late July, we had 5 weeks to go, and no art project.  I can’t imagine going without art, and I began to plan something “simple.”  I thought about taking the idea for Planck’s spectacles, and doing in in Burning style.  Big steel and glass.

The idea behind Planck’s Spectacles is the observer effect, where the universe exists in a superposition of states until it is observed, forcing it to settle into one of the possible outcomes.  For example, suppose your Aunt Bessie can’t decide whether to go to church or to skip church and go to Burning Man instead.  Both universes are possible and consistent; in one case you will observe your Aunt at Burning Man, and in the other you won’t (because she is at church).  Your observation is key to telling you which universe you are part of.

Ok, this is really a kind of cliché, but there is some truth to it.  Now, my idea for making this Burning-Man-style is to make it big, really big.  This is a pair of spectacles 20 feet across, with lenses 7 feet in diameter.  The eyes are cast in glass, and the frames are all steel.  Hanging from the frames are 100 wind chimes, ranging from 2′ to 5′ long.  The title is the Quantum Observer.

The Man

Depression / construction

Now, the idea here was to keep it simple.  The team would help with setup and teardown at Burning Man, but the design and construction was a solo effort.  Furthermore, Kathy would be away most weekends to attend Alex’s soccer games.  I had just five weekends to go.

For the first part, I worked on the glass.  The eyes would be cast in glass.  I settled on a design where the iris of each eye would be cast in three colors and 15 parts.  The pupil would be cast in black glass.  The total cost for glass would come to about $1000.  I had about 28 days to do the casting, and 32 pieces of glass to cast.

I chose Uroburos System 96 glass cullet, mainly due to availability and price.  Kathy scrambled, and we were able to purchase it from Phil at Franciscan Glass in Albany, CA who had it shipped from Portland, OR within a few days.  Phil went above and beyond the call of duty.

For the casting, I first welded a steel mold so that I could get several exact copies in sculpting wax.  I cast four pieces of glass at a time (the kiln dimensions are 22″ x 24″, so 4 pieces just fit).  The image below shows the wax blanks placed in casting position, the four colors of glass, and a several of the resulting castings in position.

The next part was the steel, and this took most of the weekend time.  For bending, I purchased a tubing roller from Harbor Freight.  This was a great deal, but the main shift stripped immediately.  For the real deal, I was able to get a new shaft and dies from Swag Offroad, and that worked incredibly well. I’m really satisfied with the results.


As always, I start out planning small, but I always underestimate.  It took me every weekend for the five weeks before Burning Man, and by the end I was completely burned out.  I didn’t get to spend time with the kids, Kathy had been away most of the weekends, and I was exhausted every night.  Every year I promise myself I won’t do this again.


Despite the trials and tribulations leading here, I’m really happy with the results.  Unfortunately, I was so burnt out, I didn’t even want to take any photos.  The photos below are mostly iPhone photos Kathy took as we were doing the construction.  This really amazes me about Kathy.  I go through these big highs and lows, love and hate, energy and exhaustion, and Kathy is always there.  She is always even, doing the right thing for me, and for everyone.  I love her so much.

I had designed it for quick setup, and it went up fast.  The hardest part was threading the cable through the chimes, but the rest of it was pretty much bolted together.  I had thought to make it strong enough to withstand some climbing, but I didn’t actually expect people to climb it.  Was I wrong!  People were climbing all the time.  Next time I’ll have to take that more into account.

Below, you can see some of the photos of the installation.  We set the glasses up facing the Man, at about 10:00pm (meaning, past the Man, to the left).  The placement was really great, and we had a lot of people come by.

The Event

Burning Man was awesome, as usual.  The installation was quick to set up and take down, so we had a lot of time to be part of the event.  And we did.  Some of the photos are below.

One of the best parts is the Jazz Café, it is like a home base, and amazing place.

That’s enough for me now.  Is there a lesson here?  That’s to come.  Time to plan next year.