Black Rock City, Nev. — The rumor at this year’s Burning Man Festival was spreading. Was that 40-foot-tall rocket ship hailing from a West Oakland warehouse planted in the harsh desert soil going to launch?
Some said it wasn’t possible, but most wanted to believe.
As participants at this year’s festival rode up to the rocket in a car converted into a pirate ship blasting electronic music or on a glowing bicycle — or even nude on a Segway Personal Transporter — the members of the Raygun Gothic Rocketship camp were happy to accommodate the imaginations of the visitors.
David Shulman, one of the three lead artists, had his story nailed. The rocket would launch one to three feet because of a “constricted high-energy plasma flow engine,” thanks to collaboration with researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. The whole playa was waiting for the Friday night launch.
The rocket team
Back at the rocket camp, which consisted of 85 people, the community displayed back at Louise Street Studios in Oakland was in full swing. In the middle of one of the harshest natural environments in the U.S., the crew had constructed a camp with a lounge area, wireless Internet, solar showers and a full kitchen catered by good friends Kim Morabito and Andy Tannehill, who run an Oakland-based organic catering company appropriately called Table Nectar.
“Having friends cook in the kitchen,… it feels like you are having a family gathering every night,” said Natalia Villalabos, a dedicated volunteer.
Brunches included meals such as banana-blueberry pancakes, bacon and fresh fruit. Dinners ranged from Indian to Cuban. The meals were a time of relaxation and camaraderie for the group, when one could partially shield oneself from the whiteouts that were a common occurrence and connect with friends and family.
“If you are having a bad day, you have multiple pairs of arms that will give you a big hug and a kiss,” Villalabos continued. “You feel really solid in this community. … We spend so much time being caring to one another.”
The more time one spends with the Raygun Gothic Rocketship artists, the more one realizes this journey was about more than building a retro rocket. It was about the bond created when creative minds share skills and personalities.
“The driving force for me is to create in this type of environment and to be able to create collaboratively,” said lead artist Sean Orlando. “We’ve been able to assemble engineers, scientists, structural engineers, computer programmers, people with no skills whatsoever, and they can come in and work together to create something.”
The rocket became the shared common goal for the industrial artists, who are part of the growing arts movement in West Oakland that is one of its kind.
An estimated 30,000 visitors made their way to the rocket for the Sept. 4 night launch as the rocketeers held a 500-foot perimeter to avoid any fiery accidents. A rough dust storm rolled through the Black Rock Desert, whipping dust into every crack and crevice of the rocketeers’ playa-damaged bodies and delaying the show for close to two hours.
The crowd grew impatient, but when the countdown began, the masses chanted with enthusiasm. The next few minutes resulted in a dazzling display of pyrotechnics.
Jack Schroll was the leading man in the team that created blue fireballs and a massive showcase of fireworks, which consisted of 100 gallons of methanol and 55 gallons of gasoline. The preparation back in Oakland took “one hour per second of display,” plus the nine hours it took to install the day of the launch.
While the rocket didn’t actually get airborne, the fireworks were so dazzling that many watching still weren’t sure if that plasma achieved its goal.
“I can’t even fathom how many stories there are about what actually happened …,” Orlando said. “It’s really exhilarating to think something that we created sparked enough interest with people that they would want to come and see what we’ve done.”
As the exodus of Black Rock City took place, the team began to remove the scaffolding of their installation.
“I felt a little sad today,” Orlando said. “I’ve strengthened a lot of my friendships with people. I think it will be really exciting to see where the rocket ship goes.”
For now, it is back in seven pieces and in storage in West Oakland. In one sense, the journey is complete for the 60-plus team of artists, scientists, engineers and builders.
But there is always something to add to the rocket, and while the crew is still getting dust out of their bike chains and healing cracked skin, one can sense a project is right around the corner.
“Based on everything we have accomplished, we can pretty much do anything we set our minds to,” Orlando said.
By Sean Donnelly
For the Oakland Tribune
Posted: 09/16/2009 06:01:12 PM PDT
Article Source: http://www.contracostatimes.com/top-stories/ci_13352246