it’s so empty it’s full

“it’s so empty it’s full” by Kevin Evans

Labor Day weekend, 1989. I, with my roommates Miss P., Dawn & a mutual friend Cindy attended a wind sculpture event in the Black Rock desert sponsored by Planet X pottery in Gerlach Nevada. We hauled a lightweight mobile canopy bed (our sculpture) on top of a tiny sedan out to this remote, inhospitable area. The surreal local combined with mobile sculptures was both incredible and inspiring. That weekend was one that had a great & lasting impact on my life. I never wanted to leave. The desert attracted & stirred me, & I knew I had to go back.

Dawn once said “it’s so empty it’s full”.

When I returned to the Bay Area & started my final year in art school, I rallied a few friends & schoolmates around the idea of planning a Labor Day weekend trip to the Black Rock desert. I had been reading Hakim Bey’s “Temporary Autonomous Zone” & his ideas struck a chord. At that time I was into the youthful notion of destroying parts (if not all) of my artwork as a meditation on impermanence & the importance of flexibility. These concepts fused into a plan of generating a “creative incident” in the Black Rock desert with a central theme, the ritual destruction & immolation of both structures & artwork (a lager manifestation of the “meditation on impermanence & the importance of flexibility”). For an impoverished, young & naive art student, this vision seemed far too grand & expensive to accomplish alone. I decided to present the scheme to my good friend John Law (whom I had met through my involvement in The San Francisco Cacophony Society) and that was when the idea for “Zone trip 4, Bad day at Black Rock” was officially hatched as a cacophony event. I approached this individual because I sincerely considered he was (& is) person of great veracity & he would respect and lend a hand in my somewhat delusional concept. I was correct in my impulse & the event was to happen. Along the way, a few months from the target date of the Zone trip, I attended the Baker beach burn of the Burning man. Fortunately, (via the intervention of both the San Francisco police & fire departments) the monolithic figurine was not razed. Amidst chants of “burn it anyway!” and pagan-like drumming, a few of us cacophonist including Miss P. & Dawn thought it would be a great idea to invite Larry & his man along for our strange ride out to the Black Rock. If anything, he had the biggest, most expensive & elaborate piece of firewood that would make a glorious conflagration. It was a magnificent, awe-inspiring weekend. I would return and participate for the next 4 years, 1995 being my last year. (In all, 6 years every Labor day)

The event morphed from a Cacophony event into Burning man. In my opinion, it eventually got too big, supercilious & aloof. It had lost its soul (For me at least) & I felt a profound need to no longer contribute or attend. A year later, after the disastrous 1996 event, John and a few other key participants would renounce. In following years, other members of “the old guard” would trickle away for (I believe) similar reasons. This is not to diminish the importance of what others have contributed & experienced in the years since. The event is what one makes of it & I know countless have had their own, life changing occurrences in that desert. Since 1996 I’ve silently watched in admiration as numerous fresh & astonishing examples of creativity debut on the playa. I’m delighted to know that so many have had that same “feeling” I did Labor Day weekend so long ago.

This is severely circumcised history of my experience, but I feel I needed to regurgitate further the early conception of that desert “art” festival. A more concise history may be found in Brian Doherty’s “This is Burning Man”.