The most improbable thing in a most unlikely place Sunday was a giant wooden clock, an intricate creation resembling nothing so much as a Walt Disney design on LSD.
The creation of twenty or so people, the resplendent wooden weight-and-pendulum-driven t imepiece took shape in the Shipyard, a West Berkeley artist’s collective built of stacked shipping containers.
Volunteers—technically, the Time to Burn Regulators—were still adding the final touches Sunday evening as artists began arriving for a celebrat ion of the work before it was disassembled Monday. The artwork was then loaded on a truck headed for the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, where the festival will be held.
There, it will serve as one of idiosyncratic landmarks of the Burning Man Festival, which begins next Monday.
The highlight of every year’s gathering is the immolation of the eponymous Burning Man, when the Regulators will ignite the Berkeley clock as well.
“I don’t like to overexplain myself,” said McNamara, before doing just that.
“We’re playing with time. That’s what’s important. We just like to play with things, take them apart, whatever,” he said, adding, “we got a little out of control.”
McNamara and fellow Regulator Matt Snyder said there’s some controversy about sacrificing their work to the flames.
“It’s very controversial,” said Snyder. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
“It’s about impermanence,” said McNamara, “and Burning Man is about impermanence.”
The best part about sacrificing the work to the flames is that “we don’t have to bring it back,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to fix it either. Besides, I want to build something different next year.”
The clock is built almost entirely of wood, save for a few pieces of metal joinery, the brass kerosene lan terns that illuminate it, and the 200 pound empty compressed gas cylinders that serve as counterweights to drive the pendulum.
The most modern touch, ironic in its execution, are the wooden binary numbers adorning one of the clock’s six faces.
“We’ve go t woodworkers, machinists, a guitar-maker, a carpenter. You might say its really about working with all these people,” McNamara said.
Burning Man legacy
The Shipyard and Burning Man were inexorably linked form the get-go.
Artist Jim Mason, a leading li ght at the festival, created the unusual workspace four years ago by assembling 27 shipping containers around a central courtyard as a haven for local artists—kinetic sculptors being the first to sign on.
When city building inspectors declared the comple x un-Kosher, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey beseeched the Zoning Adjustments Board to issue a use permit.
Joining him during the October 2003 meeting were 150 or so local artists lamenting the lack of workspace in the city.
The shipyard was saved by Z AB’s enthusiastic endorsement.
Many of the artists working at the Shipyard are Burning Man buffs, and about a fourth of them worked on McNamara’s vision, with the remainder drawn from the larger community of devotees.
When they finished, they had time to burn.