The Effigy and the Temple: Interviews with the Artists

As you probably know, Flaming Art is a very important part of Apogaea. I might even say it’s the most important, or at least the most consistently recognizable feature of the festival. In the interest of encouraging more of you to make Flaming Art, I decided to interview some previous effigy builders. I talked with Ender (Buddha, Phoenix, Squid, and Butterfly) and CANO (Volcano), as well as Rev. Tommy Tommy Tommy, the art grant committee lead and Koda who built another piece of Flaming Art last year: the Temple of Moon. Our other effigy builder, Felonious (Communigy), has retired from Apogaea and Burning Man and therefore declined an interview. For clarity, I have color coded the participants’ responses: Art, Ender, CANO, Koda, TTT.

Art: Could you give a bit of background about yourself and your involvement in Apogaea? [If you are wondering who I am, please see my recent interview].


Ender: I have a BFA in sculpture and have been working in many media since the start of my career, wherein I discovered that wood is my favorite medium for various reasons.I found the local burner crowd and was invited to contribute pieces to the first local parties, most of which were not sculptures but installations. Later, when Geodesika became Apogaea, and after I’d been to a few big Burns, it was clear that no one was prepared to make an effigy for our regional burn, so I put in a proposal, won it, and made the Buddha (which you can find on my website From there I simply kept proposing, and kept winning it, mostly because no one else was trying it at all. By the third year, I felt that such a state of affairs was unfair and I stepped down to, in effect, force someone else to be inspired enough to make something, which happened quite successfully with the Volcano and the Communigy. But, I must admit, I missed the opportunity to make really big art, and came back to propose the Butterfly last year.

CANO with volcano CANO: I first attended Apo in ‘08 and was blown away by the event so much that I was inspired to build the effigy in my 2nd year. After building the effigy I joined the board of directors, and while on the board I saw a need in the DPW department and stepped in as DPW lead. I am currently the president of Apogaea.

Koda with temple Koda: I attended my first Apogaea in ’08. I was underwhelmed. I then attended my first big burn (Burning Man), which captured me. I did not return to Apogaea in ’09 but I did attend Burning Man again. I came back to Apogaea in 2010 and really connected with the event. I also saw opportunity within the event, after having been so inspired by the big burn. In 2011 my life aligned such that it was obvious I needed to build a temple, which was one of the more powerful experiences of my life. Caught up in the frenzy I mindlessly ran for the board and was elected. I am now neck deep in evolving our communications infrastructure and dearly miss building an art piece.

Rev. Tommy Tommy Tommy recently gave an exclusive interview, so I refer you to that article for his introduction.

Art: What does the effigy mean to you, and what made you decide to build an effigy (or a temple for Koda)?

Ender: I think it’s less important what the effigy means to me, and rather more what it means to the rest of the event-goers. I have tried to create pieces that are accessible to the crowd, so that they might serve as cathartic for people. I hope that, aside from the spectacle, people will meditate on the meanings of the figures I’ve reproduced. While seemingly obvious, to be explicit: Amitabha was the Buddha who eschewed worship of him, and was called the Bringer of Light. The Phoenix is a symbolic manifestation of Death and Rebirth. The Squid was more tongue-in-cheek, but the idea was that we humans are not necessarily going to dominate the world forever. And of course, the Butterfly is about Death and Rebirth again.

CANO: My father was a carpenter and he passed away when I was young. I have always played around with carpentry and woodwork, and after my first Apogaea I was blown away by the event and the fact that it was driven by the community. My first year, I had a small sub-camp (part of Smoke and Bones) called the Volcano Lounge. I saw how the effigy brought the community together and I felt very drawn to it. I thought, “I could build something like that.” I had the vision of a giant volcano and from there I listened to the community and built on that vision.

Koda: Before Apogaea 2010, my life fell apart. Maybe that helped me connect with Apogaea, or maybe it was that Australian solarphysicist. Either way, a broken man, I returned to Burning Man in 2010 seeking the healing I had found there before. For the first time, my tears wouldn’t flow at the temple. Sometime after my return, I decided I needed to build one. I started attending board meetings and making plans to build a pagoda style temple. Then tragedy struck again, and we lost a beautiful community member named Moon and her unborn child. I knew what the temple was about for me, but now I knew what it needed to be about for everyone else. The design changed to a bridge with spiral staircases on each end forming an infinity symbol if viewed from above. Each end had 6 steps, symbolic of the tattoos gracing Moon’s face.

Art: When did you start thinking about your design/proposal?

Ender: It seems as if every time I was saying: ok what’s next? while the current one was burning. Obviously, I’m a process junkie! But seriously, you need to be inspired, begin the process of designing, THEN STAY INSPIRED and be ready to stick it out to the end.

CANO: I was so energized I was literally designing it in my head while driving out the gate after my first year. This really shows that anyone can be involved in Apogaea. I had been in Colorado less than a year and had only been to one event, but I felt driven to take this on. Ender sent out an email two weeks after the event saying that he wouldn’t be taking on the effigy the next year, and without that I might not have had the courage to take it on. The email energized me and within a week I had a full blueprint of the finished project. I put together a show-and-tell kiosk at the Denver decompression that year, and when I got my proposal approved I reached out to the community to see who wanted to do it.

Koda: I didn’t know about the art grant system when I first started thinking about building a temple. From post-Burning Man (September) until the end of the grant process (February), the design was in constant flux. Though I held on to a core vision, a considerable part of the design came from the community. I put my proposal together near the last minute, but it took that whole time to prepare to write it.

Art: CANO, you were very new to the event and the community, and you had never made a large-scale art piece. How did you use the proposal to show you had the ability to do the project?

CANO: I did have to generate confidence in my ability to do the project by providing detailed designs and a blueprint of my project. In my proposal I had a verbal description of the project stating what I was trying to convey and what the piece means to me, but that was followed by very detailed design drawings showing what the finished project was going to be. If you can show blueprints of your design, even using a simple program like Google SketchUp, it takes away a lot of the questions and shows that you have the ability to make the design happen.

Art: Koda, you had never built a large-scale art piece either. What was your strategy in your art grant proposal?

Koda: I knew I wanted to build the art piece before I knew I was going to get a grant. Collectively with artistic friends, I created poster board sized sketches, clay models, and SketchUp renderings (thanks for the tip, CANO). I took the SketchUp renderings and superimposed them on photos of the woods, not for anyone else, but just to get an idea of what it might look like. By the time I was ready to write the art grant, I had a collection of visual imagery clearly conveying the concept.

Art: Do you have any other tips for writing a successful proposal?

Ender: To make any sculpture, but especially something so large that won’t fail structurally and put people in danger, requires a lot of planning, sketching, modeling, and testing.  And that’s before one considers the effects of setting something that size on fire, which is more planning on top of that. With your proposal, be succinct yet detailed with all of the required areas: vision, intentions, expertise, skills, needs. With your budget remember: it’s a lot like sharing a big tab at a restaurant- it’s gonna cost more than you think, so add 25%!

CANO: An important part of my proposal was a materials list, which you can make easily if you have a detailed design. If you can show 3 things: what you’re going to build, what materials you need, and how you are going to build it, that goes a long way towards convincing people that you can complete the job. Tools, transportation, warehouse expenses, everything that you need to make the effigy should be included in the budget. It may not be 100% funded, but you should include it anyway.

Koda: Like CANO, I had an extensive list of expenses and made sure to show my anticipated out-of-pocket expense above and beyond what the grant covered. I also started organizing volunteers before submitting the art grant. I was able to show community interest as represented by the number of volunteers in a Facebook group. I also provided an account of any woodworking experience I had. To my good fortune, I helped build our family home throughout high school, giving me a grasp of carpentry. Finally, having taken an invite from CANO, I also happened to be renting space in the Phoenix Asylum, giving me a location with resources for the community to build the art piece.

Art: CANO, what does the board consider a successful effigy?

CANO: The board does have a preference for effigy builders that try to do a community build. They like to have as much community involvement as possible. The board also likes to see someone who is willing to step up and take control of the effigy and everything else involved, not to assume someone else will take care of things for them. We need a leader to be in charge of the project, and also someone who can communicate when problems arrive.

Art: Reverend Tommy Tommy Tommy, what is the art grant committee looking for in an effigy proposal?

TTT: Powerful expression and feasibility. Be sure to research the costs and layout the budget in Excel or something similar.

Art: What happens if the artist goes over budget?

TTT: The board has indicated it will not appropriate more money so one would have to put in personal funds or raise money elsewhere.

Art: How many effigy proposals do you get each year?

TTT: Just a few.

Art: What happens if the project isn’t finished in time?

TTT: We are disappointed, panic, and make a plan B.

Art: Does the effigy have to go with the theme?

Butterfly lit TTT: Nope, but this would be nice.

Ender: I don’t try to coordinate my designs with the theme.As I see it, the Man is above whatever else is going on around him, so why not our effigy? Also, some themes are too restrictive or specific to allow for enough freedom in the design, and the priority for me is that the piece be meaningful in a deeper way than some themes allow.

temple at night Koda: Initially, I ignored the theme, but with a theme like Illuminate, you kind of want to embrace it. The colored lighting on the temple, which was merely an attempt to fit the theme, ultimatelybecame one of the defining characteristics of the design.

Art: What are some tips for making an art piece that engages and involves the community?

Ender: I feel that, so far, my effigies haven’t involved enough of the community, so I can’t offer tips on that front, though I have some ideas that I’ve incorporated in my latest proposal. With various changes to the process I’ve used in the past, I believe that we can get a lot more people organized into building the effigy, and then maybe they will share in my bliss! I also believe that this would be a great vehicle for helping individuals discover their own creativity, and for promoting ownership of the sculpture and of the event.

CANO: I think I was the first effigy builder to include a significant number of volunteers. It basically takes one full day of planning to hold a workday for volunteers, and then a second day as the actual workday. I used the Facebook and Yahoo! groups to get the word out. I gave about two months worth of scheduled times with specific tasks to be completed on each day, and I made sure I was there and available on workshop days to get it done. I still did a significant amount of work in between workshop days, but it was a big help having 15-20 people there on workdays. If you are organized enough to keep all those people on task, it is a significant help, and there are many community members interested in helping.

Koda: I felt like I had no choice but to involve the community. Moon touched so many people. She was a founding member of the Phoenix Asylum and the lead artist on CANO’s Circus of Fear. Everyone who knew Moon had an inherent interest in the Temple. The only thing I had to do was let go and let it happen. The challenge of leading so many eager volunteers was unique and very beneficial to me. Above and beyond involving the community in the build, I often appreciate how the Squid engaged people at the event. Even though my ’08 experience was poor, that effigy kicked ass! The temple allowed a level of interaction that I don’t believe an Apogaea effigy has yet to do… you could walk on it and climb it. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters how you engage, just that you engage.

Art: Where did you do the actual build work?

Koda: Following CANO’s lead with the volcano, I built at the Phoenix Asylum, an artist co-op. In addition to the warehouse space, it gave me access to a plethora of tools and a lot of talented people.

Ender: I have been very lucky to be living with a brother who has had immense patience when I created the first 3 effigies out of our garage. But when it came time to build the Butterfly, I was very fortunate to find a friend’s garage to use, as the scale of complications rose exponentially with that piece. As a contractor by trade, I have owned most of the tools I needed, but I’ve had to tap into the resources of several contractor and artist friends who loaned me the tools I didn’t possess.
I believe that Apogaea, as an organization, could promote more community art involvement by maintaining a community studio space, but I realize this is expensive, unprecedented, and a daunting challenge. If it were made so, however, it would be a platform for all kinds of creative endeavors, perhaps including outreach to those in need outside of our community, which I would love to see.

Art: Do burnable art pieces have to be made out of wood only or can other combustibles be added?

TTT: As long as the other combustibles are not toxic, you may use what you want.

Koda: My piece included muslin, which is a cotton cloth.

Art: Can it spray fire, include a sawdust type bomb, fireworks, other large pyrotechnics, or a combination of all of those?

Koda: Haha! No. I used smoke bombs in the temple… those are different. The smoke bombs only made sense because we had a daylight (sunrise) burn.

Art: How do you make the structure burn as desired?

Butterfly burning Ender: To be honest, none of the effigies have burned as intended (!), so I can’t offer any tips in that realm.In the past, as I’ve won a proposal, I’ve always met with the Fire Head to discuss burn strategy, but we haven’t had anything insanely unsafe (so far), and so burning hasn’t been too much of an issue. The issue has been not having enough fuel on the piece for it to be lit easily, but I’d rather have to add fuel than the other way around! The Butterfly was the only piece that went up too soon, but that was a function of the sculpted tree on the side of the cocoon, and it turned out to be a happy accident anyway (the wings glowed wonderfully in front of the “tree” fire).

Volcano burning CANO: I also worked closely with fire and BAMF to design my flame effect (which was amazing). It actually wasn’t my idea, but I followed through with it and made it happen. I knew I wanted fire shooting from the volcano, but I got together with T and a few other guys and played around with bottles and gas and just tried to figure out what was possible and what we wanted to see out there. I tested the design multiple times with T to make sure it wouldn’t harm anyone.

Temple burning Koda: Fire safety lead and Phoenix Asylum member, Sam, would occasionally give me tips and even evaluate my current design for burn-ability. Mostly, it’s common sense. However, it’s easy to get caught up in how it looks and forget about how it will burn. The key is to think about airflow. One change that Sam encouraged were hollow center posts for the spiral stairs. Building hollow posts presented a new challenge. The solution allowed for a new design element, intricate rope knots holding the poles together. At the actual burn, I also had a happy accident. Focused on the logistical challenge of moving my piece to the burn pad, I forgot to drill air holes in the base of the towers. With the lack of air, the fuel inside superheated and ignited at the tops of the poles creating 14-foot tall flaming torches. It was a beautiful burn.

Art: Ender, what did you do when there was a fire ban and the effigy couldn’t be burned?

Ender: The only year thus far that we weren’t allowed to burn (Phoenix), the landowners let us store it on site for a year, but I doubt that will be acceptable to our new landowner.

Art: Does the effigy have anything to do with the Burning Man CORE (Circle of Regional Effigies) project?

CANO: No, nothing whatsoever. If the effigy builder was interested in participating in the CORE project, they would have to apply directly to Burning Man for a grant. It would then be up to them if they wanted to make a duplicate effigy or something different, so it really is a separate program.

Art: Community, what do you consider to be the most successful effigy to date and why?

Sam Limanski: The squid, then the volcano. Squid was super interactive fun, with the kaleidoscope, but the Volcano burn was really pretty. I still remember how the smoke swirled around and through it…
Miska Krauz: Volcano.
Boo Danger: Phoenix.
Meghan Woodhouse: The butterfly, by far. That was amazing.

Art: Stay tuned to the Apogaea Facebook group for more input from the community. Thanks James Whiddon and Jennifer Whitesell for suggesting questions.

Art: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ender: It continues to be my hope that others will surpass me and have such an amazing [effigy] idea that I will lose the proposal (which may happen this year, for all I know!) I would certainly love to help that person however I can!

Koda: To the best of my knowledge, no one is yet dedicated to building a temple this year. The temple could become a tradition or it may remain something that just happened once. I prefer the former.

Art: Thank you all for sharing. Effigy proposals are due at midnight on January 4th, art proposals for more than $300 are due January 25th, and proposals under $300 are due February 25th. There is lots of information on the Apogaea website, and you can contact Rev. ttt with questions ([email protected]). Be sure to look for Flaming Art at Apogaea 2012.