Behind the Build of Burning Man's Largest Art Car in a Boeing 747

"We wanted to do something that was so big it would be community owned. Something everybody can get involved in."

by Ziad Ramley at Thump
24 February 2015, 9:00pm

Image by Sean Zaccheo

This article originally appeared on Thump.

Burning Man is no stranger to outlandish projects. The annual gathering in Black Rock City is equal parts music festival, art exhibition, and expressionistic utopia, attracting attendees (also known as "Burners") from all walks of life and playing host to their creative visions. Art cars, the multi-purpose visual centers of Burning Man's many camps, are the extravagant final say in performance art at the festival. Ranging from the modest to the obscene, the art cars take on on Burning Man's principle of radical expression. The only limit is the creativity of the Burners themselves.

This year, deep in the Mojave Desert, a team of a thousand volunteers working with Big Imagination Foundation is building a car of even grander scale. The 747 Project will be Burning Man's largest ever art car and as the name suggests, makes use of the flagship Boeing plane's chassis. Its lead, Ken Feldman, connected with us to shed light on the build.

Optimistic, soft spoken, and yet curiously extroverted, Ken tells us how the project was born out of crude diagrams etched into the dust his second year as a Burner in 2009. Though the idea, like so many dreamt up during Burning Man, would eventually be shelved, it left behind a the desire to create something for the community. In the coming months, Charlie The Unicorn was born

Charlie the Unicorn. Image courtesy of Big Imagination Foundation

Ken sheepishly tells me that Charlie was "not the best art car," but its construction taught him (and his friends) the necessary skills to build something much bigger. "The biggest challenge was just getting people to help," Ken explains. "Finding the correct skillsets that we needed to execute the project-and on a volunteer basis-was a real challenge." Electric purple, thirty feet tall, and spitting flames, patience and determination eventually took Charlie from from concept to reality

Returning to Burning Man in 2014 as a tourist, Ken admits that the experience, free from responsibility, finally gave him the opportunity to revisit his old idea to repurpose a Boeing 747. Charlie had taught him how to make an art car possible, and with experience under his belt, the seemingly outlandish idea suddenly appeared that much more possible. On Burning Man's final day, Ken drove Charlie The Unicorn back from Burning Man (a feat in itself) with one of its caretakers, Will. Slowly slicing a path through the desert road at twenty miles an hour, the two discussed the 747 project and Will suggested contacting the bone yard in the Mojave Desert. After arriving back in Venice, California, Ken did just that.

Image by Sean Zaccheo
Ken recounts his first phonecall with the bone yard to me: "Do you have 747s?" "Yeah! You want one?" After getting a price (he refused to share an exact figure, but it's in the 'lots of dollars' range) and drawing up plans, Ken took his design to a decompression party and shared it with friend and Big Imagination Foundation co-founder, Jonathan Teo, who was taken aback by the idea.

Read the rest and see more images only on Thump.

A render of the completed art car. Image by Lance Powell


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