By Tony Tohono
Wednesday night I was invited on an art appreciation walk. I arrived at my friend Tracy’s camp sometime after dark, and she introduced me to most of her friends as they congregated in the main camp area. 20 names I knew were going to be difficult, if not impossible to remember. When we finally got off the corner of Fetish and hit the road there were 22 of us; 21 Canadians and one Californian; We made a quick stop at the porta potties and one dude, I can’t remember his name, but he insisted it was something Greek God-like, possibly Narcissist suggested we all pick a partner to be responsible for. I clung to the hand of the beautiful woman who had pressed me into the fold.
Walking down 5:30 one rule was made: “Stay off the Esplanade”. I felt strange as we crossed it, and I made a point to tread lightly on the hard-packed surface. Off to one side I looked over to where I knew Mardi Storm’s Twilight Amina Rising, was located. I wanted to suggest we stop and look at the unicorn climbing out of the playa, at the bright and shiny psychedelic eyes that were watching us pass, but I was in fear of its proximity to the Esplanade. I kept looking back over my shoulder, wanting to go back, wanting to peer up at that translucent horn, wanting to slip between those clawing hooves.
At the head of our group, Greek God-dude turned around and started walking backwards, all the while rambling on. Mildly entertained, I laughed when he said, “When I say Shit, everyone must reply Show.Â” He paused and then shouted, “Shit!” The entire group replied with “Show.” From that moment on, at the oddest of intervals, someone would shout, “Shit,” and the group would reply “SHOW” through fits of laughter. After it got out of hand (probably five or ten minutes later) we agreed to do it only when we were ready to move away from whatever piece of art we were observing.
After crossing the Esplanade the group walked in a cockeyed line and rambled out onto the Playa. We avoided whatever felt like touristy spots, the Dicky Box and so forth, and a drew a wide berth around the Man at the protest of a few of our members, who wanted to enter the Maze at his base. The consensus was that we would be lost one from another in a matter of minutes. The protests were silenced. By that point, we were spread out over the course of about 50 yards. I kept glancing forward and back, wondering how long the entire group could possibly manage to stay intact. I was taking bets with myself and the odds were on Not Long.
I gaped in awe at Angel of the Apocalypse by the Flaming Lotus Girls. I watched as our group threaded around the steel wings, convulsing when periodic bursts of fire shot above their heads; their faces ignited with colorful tendrils of light, and their shadows jilted at their feet. The spectacle was as beautiful as the art, and I soon accepted it as an extension of the art itself. As we were leaving there was a bus nearby trying to entice members of our group with free drinks. Some contemplated the bartender as he leaned out over the bar, trying to seduce us with his glowing concoctions and the trickery of his tongue; others walked away without hesitation and soon the group was again moving en masse.
At the Dreamer the group peered at the darkened face, parting and quietly strafing the head, as if he might gather our sound with his giant pinnae. We gathered in back, cautiously peeking into the opening. There was a claustrophobic feeling analyzing the size of that doorway and the small crowd scattered within. I visualized the back of my head being open and all of the different personalities darting in and out like so many lifetime experiences. Time stood still for what could have been eons, but dreams be damned, we were again on the move.
There were times when Tracy wandered off to visit with the groups of her other friends, and I was left walking alone. It was dark and cold, and I felt like an outsider to those I was with, but I felt an utmost acceptance by the Playa, as if we were both sequestered and being so we had an understanding between us. I even considered going off on my own, but always, just in the nick of time, I was drawn back when my fingers were again laced within Tracy’s.
We stopped on the outskirts of the Temple, waiting to become acclimated to the sensational aura that floated within the perimeter. Others of our group branched out and were absorbed into the surroundings. We eventually found our way up onto one of the platforms and things became introspective. Even though it was populated by countless people, it was still quiet with an uncanny reverence. Everywhere I looked I saw a person, a pair, or three people writing, or reading some message that was condemned to be burned, cleansed by flames. I came across a binder, and my hands jerked away as I realized the countless pages of unique names and messages scrawled within were bound together with one thing in common: suicide.
I stood off to the side and tried to accept that for some, the will to carry on is far weaker than in most. I flashed on a girl I knew in high school who I used to flirt with in class, how she had a penchant for always making me laugh. I thought of the lethal sound of those two words whispered together. Leanne… suicide. I wanted to add her name to that book, but I couldn’t. So I kept her to myself, tucked away in my heart. That place where I can tell her each and every day that she made my days much brighter with all of her smiles. I wondered if it would have tipped the scales in the favor of life . . .
if only . . .
I was certain the group was separated beyond repair as I glanced around the Temple and saw few I recognized, but then somewhere off in the distance I heard the shout, “SHIT!” A smattering of ‘shows’ answered and soon we were reunited off to one side. Several of our members were locked in debate on whether we should board the Nautilus and go for a ride. ‘Ping’. It looked vicarious, vicious, and inescapable, and in the end we decided against it.
As we took off in the direction of the trash fence I expected we would run into the Rubber Horses, but I believe we drifted like a scimitar to the north. Something silver and shiny stuck out ahead of us. A large set of uniform figures stood all pointing toward the bright flood lights that were some distance ahead. The piece was called MOB, and it was created by Mark Woloschuk and the Mob collective. Something about our group filtering through the row upon row of two dimensional figures I found intriguing in its simplicity, yet fascinating by its complexity. So much we all have in common, yet so much that sets us apart as individuals. The scene was intoxicating.
We followed the light and as we came closer realized there was a massive ladder. The Ladder was created by Mark Griffin. I wanted to climb it, but my arm was dragged backward and I was denied, even if the man sitting on guard would have permitted it. It was frightening in its utilitarian design, and although I was later told it was only 108 feet high, it seemed exponentially taller as I stared upward into the darkness that swallowed the rungs long before they disappeared. I felt the same sense of awe I felt standing between the Twin Towers one night 15 years ago at 3 a.m.. I stared in wonder beneath a canopy of countless stars until the guy wires led me back down to Earth.
It was cold and we decided to try to find somewhere warm, someplace with fire. We wandered across the Playa in the only direction we had not yet been; South. Occasionally, we stopped to make certain the entire group was still together. Other times we passed small installations with little fanfare, mostly due to darkness; a ring of shoes and boots, an eye shaped tower with a hole punched blindly through the middle, other things mostly indiscernible. Some of those things I wanted to see by daylight, but later, when I would look for them, it would be as if they had existed only in my mind.
There was something significant and mighty appealing about open space; 22 people require a lot of real estate. At the far reaches the Playa it felt as if it was entirely our own, and the others who passed were there only because we allowed them to be.
Suddenly, there was an asterisk of white lights spilled before us. As we stepped gingerly and gathered around it we noticed that there were six larger disks, disks that resembled transporters… like those things on the Starship Enterprise. Beam me up Scotty, I thought. Obviously, someone had inadvertently stepped upon one of these disks and lit the grid. “That’s not art,” someone shouted in a voice cut from the shell of cynicism. Several people laughed. I tilted my head, wondering if a simple pattern of lights should be called art. There didn’t appear to be much to it. At least, not at first.
“Wait!” Someone gasped as they placed a foot on one of the circles. The light beneath reverberated with color and a sequence of lights pulsed away from it. We moved around motioning light, some of us gravitating toward those larger disks. As I moved toward the one closest one to me, someone else met me there, the disk like a flagstone between us. I traded glances with the man in our group known as Baz, both of us not wanting to deny the other the opportunity to occupy the space, and then quietly, he whispered, “Let’s get on it together.Â” I nodded. We were relatively sizable men and the disk, probably only 18 inches in diameter, was too small to hold us both without sharing personal space. We faced each other and stood up on the disk, body to body, appendages softly bumping, hands circling our waists for balance.
Trying to rotate was awkward, but also entirely satisfying. There was an intimacy I would have expected only to share with a best friend, or a brother. Those around us were ew-ing and ah-ing, and cooperating together we made every attempt to see what they were seeing. “Clockwise,” Baz hissed, and then at the sound of “Whoa lookie!” he said, “Wait, go the other way,” and we were instantly shuffling counter clockwise. On the verge of laughter the entire time, yet we never laughed. We did trade quite a few pleasant sighs and smiles. It was beautiful, and serene. And from that moment onward I felt accepted by this group of people, who were mostly strangers only hours before.
The light sculpture was called Sola, and it was made by Sage Kochavi, Carl Gruesz, Ryan Wartena, and Cris Wagner. And it was indeed art. I was given something by it, and then to learn later it was based on the Seed of Life, an ancient image of six interlocking circles that induces the Alpha State. It certainly induced the Alpha State in me. The light sculpture was called Sola, and it was made by Sage Kochavi, Carl Gruesz, Ryan Wartena, and Cris Wagner (for the entire team, see www.growingarchitecture.org/SoLA.html). And it was indeed art. I was given something by it, and then to learn later it was based on the Seed of Life, an ancient image of six interlocking circles that induces the Alpha State. It certainly induced the Alpha State in me.
Most of the group continued to complain of being too cold as we walked away from the lights. I glanced back and watched as they blinked in patterns and disappeared into darkness as if we had never been there. “Over there,” a voice shouted from ahead.
Off in the distance I saw David Best’s fire sculpture, Tower of Memory, which resembled the main tower of the Temple of Stars, from 2004, except it was made out of stenciled steel and lit from within by several urns of fire. We made a beeline for the crowd gathered around and threaded through the openings drawn toward its warm fiery glow.
The chill was peeled away layer by layer and in a matter of moments I was overwhelmed and high. Around me everything seemed to go silent. People fell into their own secreted worlds. Gradually, I backed away and peered into the darkness beyond. I felt a gentle tug at my arm. I looked over to see Tracy, half hidden by darkness, half bathed by the light of the fire.
“How are you?” she asked.
“I’m out there,” I said to the darkness. I smiled and then I kissed her. Her lips were cool and soft. “Wow,” I whispered. I wanted to be alone with her.
“Me too,” she said.
“So can we go?”
“Yes,” she said. “We can.”
We disappeared into the night.