The man at the center of Burning Man this year is not just any man.
Crews this year are building a 43-foot tall spinning effigy inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s "Vitruvian Man," which illustrates human proportion at the center of both a perfect square and perfect circle in da Vinci’s original drawing from circa 1490. The man, which crews began building after the first week in August, will rotate on a center axis and will rotate in such a way that he will appear to be tilting and sometimes be completely inverted.
The theme of this year’s Burning Man is “da Vinci’s Workshop,” the first theme to ever honor a single person. Da Vinci, a master of both the arts and sciences, was also known for his paintings, “The Last Supper” and the portrait of “Mona Lisa.” He also had sketches in his notebooks of inventions that far preceded his time, during the Italian Renaissance.
The man this year is designed by Andrew Johnstone, an Oakland-based Scottish artist who has designed a handful of the Burning Man effigies over the past decade, including the man atop the UFO in 2013.
“When I got the theme from Larry (this year), I was actually in Florence, so I went from being a tourist to a researcher in the drop of a hat,” said Johnstone. “I actually went to da Vinci’s birthplace, and to a museum where they built all of da Vinci’s inventions in miniature.”
After his trip to Florence, Johnstone decided that the man should stand upon an octoganal piazza resembling Filippo Brunelleschi's gold-gilded dome.
Johnstone, who was jolly while sweating in a hard hat and an open vest on Friday in the midday sun, could not be any more excited about honoring da Vinci, who he is convinced would be a Burner if he were still alive today.
“He would be so proud of us, of what we’re creating,” Johnstone said.
The effigy, made up of a complex system of wheels and gears, will weigh about 13,000 pounds, be mounted on three points and rotate a single revolution at the top of every hour, according to project manager Joe "Joe the Builder" Schwan. The transmission, comprised of a wooden maze of wheels and gears, will weigh another 14,000 pounds.
“We’ll have 16 people get on the wheel and push it just like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in the wheel of pain in ‘Conan.’ Just like that," said Schwan, who sported a waxed handlebar mustache and black dusted work clothes at the build site on Friday.
About 20 core crew members are piecing the puppeted man together, though they will be receiving help from other members of Burning Man's volunteer-based Department of Public Works in the coming weeks.
They don't look like your typical construction crew, since about half the crew members are women and some of the workers are sporting tye dye and others have rabbit ears glued to their construction helmets. They have names like "Scoot" and "Jelly Bean," and they are from all over the United States. The work site does not look like most work sites either, as it has Madonna and Lady Gaga playing on a boombox and people are riding around on tricycles with their dogs.
Still, the volunteers are taking their work very seriously since they must uphold OSHA standards on the work site and maintain a safe work site.
"We have to pre-fabricate as much as humanly possible. Every hour means something out here – if we have a dust storm or a rain storm, we don’t have time for that," said Schwan, who notes that the bulk of the work was done in a warehouse space in San Leandro, Calif. "We hope and pray that there’s no contingencies we have to deal with... This crew is so passionate – any time we wake them up, they go."
There is little protecting the crew from the elements currently, as Black Rock City is little more than a mapped out template with a smattering of rusty trucks and construction equiptment dotting the horizon. Wild horses were crossing the entrance to Black Rock City on Friday afternoon.
"You can't buy desire out here," Schwan said. The volunteers are entirely self-motivated to be part of the project, he said.
On the night that the man is torched, the plan is to have the man accompanied by a motor which will turn the man however fast Burning Man founder Larry Harvey wants to turn it. He’ll have the motor, according to Schwan.
"This man has to be perfect, we don’t want him to have a little gimp in him as he goes around – he’s going to be nice and smooth, nice and smooth," Schwan said.
The man is not the only active build site right now. In fact, more of the artists are playa-bound this week to begin breaking ground on their projects, including a 747 chunk of airplane that is being hauled down Nevada highways this week. The crew building the temple also is on-site along with the crew building the Catacomb of Veils.