Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dust & Ashes

Last year, about this same time of the year, I was making ceramic dog tags as gifts for Burning Man. Dogs are not allowed in Black Rock City during Burning Man so perhaps the term “dog tag” is a bit misleading. I based the shape and size of my ceramic tags on my USAF dog tags: the military dog tags issued me when I enlisted in the USAF in 1971. Yes, I still have them.

I had serious doubts that my gifts were “cool” or even desirable. Two friends, upon seeing the finished dog tags begged me for one. Their reaction stilled my introverted, self-doubting mind. I made 1,000 ceramic dog tags last year. Yes, I counted them. I’d actually made 1,008 tags and exactly 8 of them broke before I made it to Burning Man.

However, it was the reaction of fellow Burners who reassured me that my gifts were not simple trinkets. It was rather nice to see hundreds of Burners wearing my dog tags out on the Playa. Many stopped me to thank me again for the gift! I was touched. I gave these gifts out with wild abandon during the week of Burning Man and still did not manage to gift them all. I have about 200 left.

On the last morning of Burning Man, I filled an empty bucket with Black Rock City dust. I scooped up about 5 pounds of dust from around my campsite and brought it back to Palm Springs with me. I had this crazy idea that I would incorporate that dust in with some regular clay to make dog tags for Burning Man 2012.

On that same day, I met my Tribe at the burn site of the One Mile Clock, which we had burned the night before. The burning of the One Mile Clock was an emotional experience for me. Artwork I made for the clock was being burned. I brought to Black Rock City a meaningful sculpture I’d made nearly 45 years ago. It had disintegrated significantly over the years. I could not bear parting with it. But I did. I threw it into the roaring fire and through my tears watched as it burst into flame. It was emotional and liberating.

We met the next morning to clean the ashes of foreign materials left over from the burn. We picked up nails, screws, staples and other materials to leave no trace behind – one of the 10 tenants of Burning Man. I scooped up a baggie full of ash: ash from the One Mile Clock that I helped create, build and burn. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it but I collected it none-the-less. Those ashes contained part of me; my artwork.

I stuck the bucket of dust and baggie of ash in a corner of my studio. It sat there quietly while I pondered how to use it.

Thank you for listening,

Jerry L. Hanson

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