The Giant Mechanical Pegasus at Burning Man 2019
It was partially the Burning Man Event itself and everything that it entails that opened the doors of inspiration to conceive Wings of Glory. It provided the right space and atmosphere for me decide to take my art and my mechanical creations to a whole new level and in that direction, to push myself and the limits of scale and complexity, beauty and grace. The idea to make a giant mechanical Pegasus hit me like a thunderbolt and I was sent on a mission like Joan of Arc. There was no going back, there was just no way I could not do it, especially knowing that I was capable of doing it. The idea was fundamentally paired with the strong feeling that it would totally blow people away, absolutely knock their socks off, and it did.
I designed the whole sculpture on Rhino 3D CAD, like I do for my smaller scale mechanical horses (life-size and table top). I used the same geometry and proportions as my previous models, scaled up to 2.5 times life-size, and had to completely re-engineer every piece, to accommodate the extra feature of the wings. All parts were all designed to be laser cut in steel and then assembled and welded together. I had to weld together 6 crankshafts that weighed around 75 lbs each, I used bronze bearings that had to be cut in half to make into split bearings, I used shaft collars and laser cut sprockets for #50 and #40 chain.
Also, for the first time I had to work with an engineer and fellow Burner and mechanical engineer Tom West filled that role. Even though we couldn't really determine the exact torque and HP requirement to make everything move, we established to use a 2HP electric golf cart motor and set up to power it, and a BMW rear differential as a right angle gear box to power the wings. The wings were the newest element in this project and we had to figure out how to produce an elegant, articulate flap. It started with a basic sketch I did on the plane, and then Tom put together a model in SolidWorks that we could animate and simulate, to find the perfect geometry. Tom built the wings in aluminum at his shop in Maine and shipped them over to the Buffalo Creek Art Center in Gardnerville, NV, where I built the project over the summer.
Tom also has a lot of experience in building fire apparatuses, having been to Burning Man for 17 years now, and having built and worked on numerous art projects with fire, and building his own beautiful Art Car. So he also did the whole propane flame effects system, which entailed poofer tanks and propane lines running from the base 20' up to the sculpture, feeding the tail, the neck and most of all the wings. Tom figured to make "fire feathers", copper tube bent in the silhouette of a feather, with holes drilled and wrapped in stainless mesh to keep the wind from blowing away the propane and putting out the fire. It's a whole art form in itself.
The project was extremely successful and well received. I was one of the few artists to arrive on time and set up on time, despite the mechanical complexity and the working environment (bone dry desert and total white out dust storms), and I also owe that to my amazing crew, the "Dusty Sparks". Wings of Glory was placed at the Center Camp Keyhole which is basically the most important and central spot where a piece of art can be placed at Burning Man, and it apparently broke the "Keyhole Curse". Apparently many past projects placed in the Keyhole had issues that led them to not properly function or never be completely finished and setup during the entire event. The Pegasus ran during the entire event with virtually no problems. Burning Man is very big on having interactive art so that was another new factor to consider. I devised to put 8 buttons all around the base, where if all 8 were pressed together, the Pegasus would run on a timer for 1 minute. It worked out really well, people instantly became children and were brought together with excitement to make the magic thing move by pressing the buttons.
Many came to me in tears, many said it was the best thing they had seen this year or in 15 years of coming to BM.
After 6 long months of intense mental and physical work, 3 months of designing and fundraising, and 3 months of building, followed by two long weeks of camping in the Black Rock Desert, rationing food and water among the crew, we all came back to the default world, changed forever.
There is a long list of people to thank for helping me on this incredible epic journey of creation and manifestation, offering their skills, time and effort as a gift:
Thank you to my incredible Burning Man install crew a.k.a. The Dusty Sparks:
Ewelina Bochenska (reiki healing support), Roman Landon (comedian), Pierre Landon (Frenchman), Sean Fowler (keeping an eye from higher up), Sarah LeRiche (on camera), Foster (climber), Mallo Miller (fashionable electrician), Bodvar Sigur (Icelandic party animal, mechanic), Alex Wright (supervisor), Chris Flambeaux (Scottish moral support).
Wings of Glory is a female winged horse named Nebula Rider. She weighs around 4000lbs, elevated 20' in the air, with wings reaching almost 35' high. It was like building a space shuttle, with many people, builders, engineers and supporters all working together, and when it was ready, it shuttled everyone's imagination into the heavens, into the Nebulas of deep space. It captured people's inner child, as they would stare in absolute amazement and wonder with their mouths open wide, frozen.
It started with an idea, a feeling. Then, some drawings...
Now it's going viral on the social media, with +11 million views, thousands of shares and likes.