GrendelFish (gfish) wrote,

Harmonic Fire Pendula on the playa

Harmonic Fire Pendula: 95% success. I'm still editing together all the video, but I figured I should post my pictures and writeup of the HFP/Burning Man trip here.

This was a very different Burn for me. For one, I went in on Thursday, four days before the gates opened to the public. We were there for 11 days, far longer than I've ever been before. It was pretty amazing, to watch the city being built around us (as we were toiling away, building our small corner of it). But the contrast between the focused, serious work before Sunday and the party atmosphere after was hard to take. Normally I don't get annoyed by the useless party people until the weekend, this time there was an element of that the entire week. We were also just busy. We ran it 4 hours every night, Tuesday-Friday, and most days there were some maintenance tasks during the day as well. We were exhausted and filthy pretty much all the time. So I didn't get out much. It was amazing and I'm so very glad I did it, but I think something like this will be an every-other year thing at best.

The installation wasn't without problems, but it really went very, very smoothly for the first run of something of this scale. The pivot springs turned out to be a very bad idea -- a pain to install and then surprisingly fragile. We broke at least a dozen of them over the course of the week. Luckily I had brought 40 when only needing 16, but still. I'll have to replace those with normal bearings should I even take this out again. There was also a surprising build-up of friction in the release mechanism, due to the metal-on-metal bearing surfaces. This will be easy fixed bolting on some plastic strips, but it was quite the shock at the time. We hacked around it by zip-tying on some wood molding we happened to have a surplus of. That worked for a bit, and was improved when neuro42 became a hero of the revolution by flying in corner molding from Reno.

Audience response was quite good. We ran it every 30 minutes from 21:00 to 1:00, and we definitely got people coming out of their way to make a show. As we were taking it down on Sunday, multiple people passing by thanked us for the piece by name. That was quite amazing, actually. I will say I'm a bit disappointed that I've only found 2 pictures of it on Flickr in the month since. Oh well.

The HFP unloaded on the playa, with 3 days of heavy labor ahead of us. It was a bit daunting, particularly since I'd never been able to fully assemble it, lacking the time, space or heavy equipment needed to make that happen.

So, the big complication for assembly is that the upper beam section could be fairly easily put together on its 6 foot long legs on the ground. Except that then all ~250 pounds had to be lifted 8 feet straight up so the lower leg sections could be bolted on. So I needed some heavy equipment. Luckily, as a placed art installation and particularly as an art grant recipient, I could call for such equipment as needed. Which was super stressful, having no idea if the thing would lift properly or collapse into a heap of twisted steel. (My plan B in that case was to rechristen it a static sculpture to humanity's hubris.) But it worked, in one of those crystal clear moments of panicked elation I'm honored to experience every 5 years or so. Plus, directing heavy equipment wearing a hard hat in the desert just felt awesome.

The dust was particularly bad this year, more so when we were out putting things together. Shortly before this picture was taken, the long strip of flashing I'm working on had wrapped itself around me in the high winds, blasting enough grit into my face that I could no nothing but sit there and meditate, waiting for it to pass. One of those sublimely miserable moments.

This is what I looked (and felt) like most all the time.

And there it all is. Not small! There was still several hours of tuning left after this picture was taken -- letting each pendulum swing 25 times, timed by two people and averaged, trying to get the error down to around 5 milliseconds/swing.

I've never been so playafied. As if the normal combination of dust and sweat wasn't enough, we had the oil and soot of the HFP to deal with as well. We became true desert rats -- I even stopped wearing sunscreen towards the end of the week, I'd tanned enough not to bother.

I was utterly in love with the silhouette of the device. It really stood out as a much more "engineered" structure than most of the art. The crispness and the enigmatic purposefulness to it really got me. (Though I suppose 8+ months of Stockholm Syndrome didn't hurt either.)

We managed fuel by keeping our drum of kerosene on a trailer which we took out each night, and then brought it back to camp to keep it safe. The hand pump was $30 off ebay and worked surprisingly well. I was pretty pleased with our entire fuel management process. We didn't have a single major spill, and what we did spill we were careful to clean up.

Sometimes the pivot springs broke while the pendulum was on fire and swinging. In that case the spherical torch at the tip ended up crushed, having been softened by the heat. This happened often enough that we couldn't keep the device fully in tune by the end of the week. The center of gravity had shifted too far.

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