“Why aren’t the walls burning?”

We’d hear this comment a dozen times a night during Burning Man, while doing fire safety inside Big Stumpy. The wood grain paint on the sheet metal interior was so spectacularly eye-fooling that people kept expecting it to burst into flame, not realizing that it was all steel. The wood benches inside the piece supported this illusion.


You really couldn’t help but touch these walls.

FLG rockstar and professional painter Robin Hoodlum designed the finish for the interior. Each panel had physical texture, primer, three colors of base paint, a glaze of wood grain and a urethane protective coating. The physical texture was applied at the Box Shop by the delicate technique of running over each sheet of mild steel with the folk lift. The gravel, metal shards, and other detritus on the shop floor created bumps, wrinkles and bulges that turned a flat piece of material into an organic form. It also created a nightmare surface for the texture painting, which was done on playa.

Andrea, hiding from a dust storm in the container, painting sheets of bark.

Andrea, hiding from a dust storm in the container, painting sheets of bark.

Conditions for painting were extremely challenging – humidity under 10%, temperatures over 100°F, dust storms as well as the fact that the installation team was ready and waiting for the material. Robin and her core team — Andrea, Lauren, Lisa and Karen — finished the panels at the exact moment that Heavy Machinery came to take away their shelter: the onsite shipping containers.

The results speak for themselves.

Here are some more shots of how it all came to be, from back at the shop and on site…

The benches, before they were painted black, arranged inside Big Stumpy.

The benches and their carpenters, arranged inside Big Stumpy. 

vibrators in bench

If you sat on one of these bench on playa, you’d feel that they vibrated! This was part of the multi-sensory experience of Xylophage. This pic is the inside of a bench — the white objects are speakers mounted to the seat. They played a humming noise, which was generated on the fly by a synthesizer. The total experience made Big Stumpy feel more like a living organism.

button 2

Making the enclosures that housed the buttons for controlling the fire mushrooms.

A&A 1

Andrea and Anthony, testing the strength of a freshly-finished rack. When the sculpture’s in pieces, we load it all onto racks like this, and then fork them into the shipping container.

A&A 3

After a few minutes of gratuitous bouncing, we determined it was strong enough.

painting S&C

The Stumpy interior wasn’t the only thing that got painted. Here are the gills of the geek mushrooms getting some color…

geek mushroom in progress

… and here’s a completed ‘shroom on site, being set up. In the background are the fire mushrooms, before we put their caps on.

Meike slide

Meike, sliding down a fire mushroom cap.

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