Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Category: Burner culture

Flipside essays

For Burning Flipside 2015, the organization had some tickets left over after the normal ticket distribution. We decided to sell these in what I call a “bonus round,” but we decided that anyone who wanted one of these tickets needed to demonstrate some commitment. Our normal ticket-distribution process is kind of a pain in the ass. Without including some hoops to jump through, access to a ticket in the bonus round ticket would be easier than in the normal distribution, and would give the appearance of rewarding flakiness. So for the batch of tickets that I sold in the bonus round, I required that requesters “write me an essay about what you hope to get out of the experience. If you have been to Flipside, you can write about what you hope to get out of this year that you haven’t experienced before, or write about an experience you had that was particularly meaningful to you.”

Following are the essays that I have permission to share, anonymized when requested.

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Burner-anxiety dream

You know those school-anxiety dreams where you show up in class, and discover there’s a test you weren’t expecting, or work-anxiety dreams that are similar? I had a burner-anxiety dream last night. I almost never remember my dreams, and this one seems funny enough to bear writing down.

In my dream, Gwen and I had gone to Burning Man as a last-minute thing (which should have tipped me off that I was dreaming). We were in a theme camp that had a TV playing a videotape…which is a little weird, but hey, it’s Burning Man—what isn’t weird? I was putting a bandana on my head, and realized I had left my belt pouch behind.

Then I realized I hadn’t brought even one change of clothes.

Then I realized I hadn’t brought any water.

Then I realized I hadn’t brought any food.

Then I realized we hadn’t had our tickets checked at Gate (another tip-off that I was dreaming), and I was pretty sure we didn’t have those either.

Gwen and I got into a bit of an argument over whether we should try to go back Reno to provision, or try to skate by as sparkle ponies, or just give up and go home. Since I was pretty sure we didn’t have our tickets, I was doubtful that we’d be able to get back in.

Then I woke up. It felt real while I was dreaming it.

Flipside, how does it work?

Burning Flipside is a regional burn, an event in the spirit of Burning Man. It has been around since 1998 or 1999, depending on how you look at it. It’s grown a lot in numbers, and along with that, the organization that produces Flipside has grown in complexity and sophistication. My aim in this blog post is to describe that organization and how it works.

All volunteer

The first and most important point to make is that Flipside is an all-volunteer organization. No one gets paid to participate in Flipside. In fact, hardly anyone even gets a free ticket: every year, Flipside awards a pair of tickets to the winner of a ticket-design contest, another pair to the winner of a sticker-design contest. Those four tickets are the only free ones to Flipside. Everyone else pays full price for their tickets, including all the volunteers. Including the members of the board of directors (who serve on the board as volunteers).

Flipside does have outside vendors, of course. The companies that provide porta-potties, the heavy equipment, the ice, and so on at the event. Accountants. Lawyers. Landlords. Those people get paid. But they’re not participants at Flipside.

So Flipside is completely dependent on its participants stepping up and taking responsibility for making the event happen: Nothing “just happens” at Flipside–participants make it happen. Some of these volunteers need advanced skills and training–which in many cases they use in their everyday jobs–in order to discharge their volunteer responsibilities.

What does the organization do?

Flipside is a participatory art festival (among other things). The way we sometimes talk about is that if Flipside is a painting, the organization provides the frame and canvas, and the participants provide the paint.

So the organization provides infrastructure that makes the event possible. Participants independently make the event interesting.

What does the organization not do?

Lots of stuff.

Although Burning Man’s principle of “radical self-reliance” technically is not one of Flipside’s principles (Flipside has three principles in contrast to Burning Man’s ten) we are still big fans of that idea. Creative self-expression is one of our principles, and it ties in with the idea of self-reliance. Any time we consider adding something to Flipside, one of the questions we have to ask is whether we’re removing an incentive for someone else to be self-reliant and self-expressive in doing it on their own initiative. We also ask whether adding something will be too expensive, whether we would have enough volunteers for it, what unintended consequences it might have, and so on.

So with that explanation out of the way, Flipside as an organization doesn’t create any art projects except the Effigy. It does support and encourage other art projects, although it does not provide funds for them.

The organization doesn’t provide its participants with food or beverages or water or power. Or entertainment. Or shade structures. There are ideas offered under the “What can the community/organization do to make Flipside better?” section of this survey on Flipside 2013 that the organization will never undertake. They may be reasonable suggestions, but they would violate the spirit of self-reliance and self-expression. But the other side of that /, the community, can do (and in some cases has already done) lots of those ideas. There are other ideas that the organization might someday decide to do, but that someone else could do immediately, on their own initiative.

The organizational structure

Think of the Flipside organization as being shaped like a tree.

At the base of the tree is Austin Artistic Reconstruction, LLC (AAR). This is the board of directors. It it is the entity that has legal and financial responsibility for the event, as well as for the Warehouse. You can think of AAR as the membrane separating Flipside from default reality (whether that membrane is like a brick wall or like a soap bubble is an interesting question). Currently AAR has six members. Being a limited-liability company means that technically Flipside is not a non-profit, but it is not profit-oriented. None of the directors (Disclosure: I am one of them) make any money off of Flipside.

One branch coming up from that trunk is the Combustion Chamber (CC). This is an advisory body that discusses policy issues and community concerns. It also helps produce twice-yearly Town Halls and organizes a presence for the local Burner community on the East Austin Studio Tour.

CC meetings are usually every other Monday night at the Warehouse and are open to the public. Anyone can show up and say their piece (as long as it’s relevant to the topic under discussion). The CC currently has 14 members and periodically accepts nominations for new members. In terms of CC meetings, the only difference between CC members and the general public is that CC members can block resolutions (the CC operates on the consensus model).

Another set of branches coming up from the trunk are the Areas. And each of the areas has several Departments branching off of it. Each area is headed by an Area Facilitator; each department is headed by a Lead. In contrast to the CC, which focuses on policy, the areas and departments are operational. Some of the departments have only one person in them; some have dozens of volunteers. The number of areas has increased gradually over the years. The exact number of departments fluctuates from year to year, as some departments are inactivated and other are created or reactivated.

Sometimes its a little fuzzy as to whether a department belongs in one area or another, and there are a lot of tasks that wind up involving more than one department. It may look like a big bureaucracy, but we do a good job of making the organization serve the people rather than the other way around.

There are 9 areas:

360/24/7

This area handles year-round responsibilities–everything except Flipside.

Department leads: CC Scribes, Church Night Coordinator, Edjumication, Equipment Librarian, Off-Season Event Planning, Regional Outreach, Warehouse Manager.

Art

This area is mostly concerned with supporting art at Flipside and includes the Design and Fabrication Team (which builds the Effigy).

Department leads: Art Hype, Art Installation Logistics, Burn Night Coordinator, Burnable Art, Department of Mutant Vehicles, DaFT, Effigy Area Lighting, Graphic Arts, Procession Coordinator, Pyrotechnics, Regional Art Ambassador

City Planning

Organizes theme camps and places them–along with art and public spaces–on the map. Also, with greeters and zone greeters, helps welcome people into the city and get people to their camp sites.

Department leads: Cartography, City and Street Signage, Disinformation Kiosk, Flags/Camp Boundaries, Greeters Lead, InterZone Coordinator, Parks Department, Placement, Safety Lighting, Theme Camp Liaison

Communications

Another set of departments that are busy year-round, handling ticketing, the website, e-mail, etc.

Department leads: Content, Email Lists, Flipside Flame, Media Liaison, Sticket Design/Ordering, Survival Guide Lead, Ticket Distribution, Website Admin

Safety

The departments in this area are where some of those people with advanced skills and training that I was mentioning come into play.

Department leads: Boundaries and Safety Signage, Fire Safety Lead, Guardian (perimeter), PETs (Pyropolis Emergency Team, aka medics) Lead, Ranger Lead, Sanctuary, Sound Marshal

Site Ops

Handles most city infrastructure.

Department leads: Equipment Vendor Liaison, Power, Sanitation, Shaven Apes, Ice, Radio Communications, Pre-Ops, Transpo, Cartelle (motor pool), Fuel, Parking

Site Prep

Every year, there are several Work Weekends to get the event site ready for Flipside, clearing brush, laying roads (when needed), etc.

Department leads: Land Search, Roads, Waiver Wrangler, Work Weekend Communications, Work Weekend Tools and Supplies

Site Sign-off

We take Leave No Trace (LNT) very seriously at Flipside, and so we have a whole set of departments dedicated to it.

Department leads: Clean-up Lead, Earth Guardian Lead, Exodus, Post-Ops, Recycling Lead

Volunteer Coordinator

In addition to the above, Flipside has an additional Area Facilitator with no departments, the Volunteer Coordinator, who helps line up people who want to volunteer with departments that need volunteers.

Conclusion

That covers the structure of the organization. In the future, I may discuss individual areas in more detail. And I’d like to discuss the art projects and theme camps that make Flipside worthwhile.

Building the Flipside Ticket Exchange for 2012

I’m on the admin team for the Flipside Ticket Exchange, better known as Bob’s List, also known as !Bob’s List, also known as Not Not Bob’s List since !Bob moved on to better things. This year it is running on a WordPress install. I configured that setup, and am writing down what I did so I don’t have to try to remember it.
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Boundaries

I often use this blog as a way to think out loud. This will be one of those posts.

This is a post about Burning Flipside and boundaries. Burning Flipside is the central Texas regional burn. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, you might not want to go past the jump.
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Lakes of Fire 2011

I participated in Lakes of Fire, the regional burn for the upper midwest.

LoF apparently is run coequally by the Chicago and Detroit communities of burners—I get the impression that most burns are run by the burners in one town, so in that respect, it’s a little unusual. This is only LoF’s third year, and it has quickly ramped up to a pretty big event—I heard there were 1150 people there this year. LoF got on my radar last year, when it was held very close to the spot where my grandfather once had a blueberry farm. That, plus the fact that it’s associated with Chicago, piqued my interest. I’d been wanting to experience a different regional burn, so LoF seemed like a natural.

I had lined up a ride from Chicago to LoF with someone on the chicago-burners mailing list, and had lined up a theme camp I could camp with. Twelve hours before I was to board my flight to Chicago, my would-be ride bailed on me, but referred me to someone running a bus up there. So I wound up getting on board that, along with about a dozen hippies. I don’t have much patience for hippy woo-woo, but they were all nice folks.

This year’s LoF was in a new location farther north, near Muskegon. It was raining off and on all the way there, and when we got there (probably after 10:00 PM), the venue had been drenched, with more rain still coming down. The event was being held at the site of a commercial campground that encircles a small lake, and parts of the ring road were too muddy to pass. The bus was diverted to a spot other than what had been set aside for it, and nowhere near the theme camp I was supposed to be joining up with. I had no interest in schlepping my stuff over there in the rain/dark/mud, so I pitched my tent where we landed and wound up befriending the folks of the neighboring theme camp, Shady Cinema, whose ringleader is a film geek. In fact, I wound up being adopted into that camp—they gave me so much food I barely had a chance to break into my own food, and they had shelter and entertainment. And good people. It was a lucky break that I wound up there. That night I also met Shirley, LoF’s placement lead, who drove me around on her golf cart while we chatted. She bears an uncanny resemblance to Mia Farrow. Also went wandering around with my new friends at Shady Cinema and wound up in Tick Town, a bar camp, where we chatted for a while with Monica, a woman participating in her first burn.

Friday morning was cold and drizzly still, with only intermittent moments of sunshine and warmth. I definitely didn’t bring enough warm clothes. I did just get a new pair of Adidas-brand combat boots, which acquitted themselves well in this environment, and stayed comfortable throughout. I probably walked the perimeter of the lake three times that day, and met a lot of new people, including Shoebocks, the ranger lead and brother of Austin’s own Sodium. I also encountered Tiara, who I knew would be there, and Wulfgar, who I knew might be there. LoF has a mandatory safety meeting for fire performers who want to take part in their fire conclave, so I attended that in the afternoon and signed up to be a spotter. One of my campmates, Earl, had an interactive art project called Earl’s Body Brush, in which he stood naked in front of a bunch of small canvas panels attached to a large frame and had people shoot him with gallons of red, yellow, and blue paint. After the paint on the panels dried, he handed them out as artworks.

That night I spun some fire at LoF’s one significant sound camp, Freakeasy, along with a few other people. There was one older guy, Richard, juggling torches, and I noticed with disapproval that he was having an awful lot of drops. Then he finished and snapped out a white cane with a red tip and I felt like a heel. Later, I spun some fire again back at my own campsite for the folks in Shady Cinema, where I also watched the tail end of Logan’s Run, which I still have never seen start to finish.

Saturday morning I was actually forced out of my tent by the heat, which was a welcome change. I don’t recall doing anything exceptionally interesting on Saturday during the day except for hanging out at the LoF outpost of the Golden Lounge (a well-known theme camp at Burning Man), where I was served a shot of some very fancy aged rum that tasted like good scotch. That night was the night of the effigy burn, so I had to get myself over there for spotter duty. This is an area of special interest for me, since I’ve been in charge of the pre-burn fire ceremony at Burning Flipside. Part of my reason for going to LoF was to learn how another regional operates. They organized their fire conclave somewhat differently than Flipside’s fire procession—some of this is clearly a response to logistical constraints, some of it is probably a matter of local habits, and some a matter of taste.

The fire conclave went well. I didn’t notice any serious issues. After it was done I got just outside the safety perimeter and found myself standing next to Monica, and we chatted as we watched the fireworks display and effigy burn.

One aspect of the way burn night was organized didn’t sit well with me. The effigy was situated on a narrow peninsula on the north side of the lake. This meant that nobody could get a good, close view of it. The fire conclave was on the peninsula, to the north of the effigy. The safety perimeter on the peninsula was at 200′, which was pretty far (too far to feel the heat when it was burning), and probably had something to do with emergency-vehicle access, so for those people at the perimeter, they didn’t get a great view of the effigy and didn’t get the visceral feeling of the fire’s heat. But more than that, a lot of people (a large majority, I think) watched the whole thing from their campsites across the lake, so there wasn’t the close camaraderie and excitement I’d expect at a burn.

After the effigy collapsed and the perimeter was dropped, we were allowed to approach it. Typically, I would circle around the fire a few times, but on this narrow spit of land, it wasn’t possible to make a complete circuit while staying a tolerable distance from the fire and while keeping one’s feet dry. So it’s a good thing my boots are waterproof.

After that, I gathered up my firedancing equipment and went with my Shady Cinema campmates back to Freakeasy for some more firespinning. Didn’t get in as much as I wanted, but had fun anyway. There was also a “monster wheel” race (gigantic homemade big wheels) and a fashion show there.

Sunday was the end of the event. I tried to help the folks from the bus and from Shady Cinema strike camps (my own took very little work). As one might expect, it’s hard to get a busload of hippies to get their shit together in a prompt fashion, and we didn’t roll out until about 90 minutes after the supposed last minute. On our way out the gate, someone flagged us over. Turns out it was the owner of the campground, Don, who thanked us for coming. He said he was happy having us there, which is nice to hear.

I can’t help but compare LoF to Flipside, and it’s interesting to see what’s the same and what’s different. LoF seemed to have a lot more children, a lot less nudity (even on the warm days), and a lot less volume from the sound camps. There’s not as much over-the-topness, but I suspect that’s just a matter of time. Flipside has been around ten years longer, and I get the impression that some of operational details at Flipside were figured out without reference to Burning Man. This may be because either the people who volunteered to handle those functions at Flipside had no experience doing the same thing at Burning Man, and therefore didn’t know the “right” way to do them, or those functions got fleshed out at Burning Man and Flipside after Flipside already existed, so they developed along parallel tracks. LoF seemed, at least superficially, to be following Burning Man as a model in ways that Flipside does not. But on burn night, when I was standing around with some other spotters waiting for things to happen, I got to chatting with a guy named Breedlove, and he told me that for LoF, Burning Man is so big that it just isn’t a useful model to follow. Instead, they’ve looked to Flipside as a model and inspiration for how to run an event. Which gave me great nachas.

All in all, I had fun, the weather being the only drawback. It was nice, as Clovis once put it, to be part of the problem for a change.

Flipside 2011

Another year, another Flipside.

In September last year, I was elected to the Combustion Chamber, which is the advisory board for the limited-liability company that nominally produces Flipside. This means that every couple of weeks, I get together with other CC members and we argue over The True Meaning of Flipside. So I’ve been kept abreast of and involved in Flipside-related developments to a much greater extent, and felt more of a sense of responsibility for the event’s success, than usual. It’s a good thing that it turned out really well, at least from my perspective.

One of the most contentious issues leading up to the event was what to do with the Effigy. The effigy burn is the apex of the event. There have been two previous occasions when we could not burn the Effigy at Flipside, but this year there was a lot of debate over what to do with the Effigy in the event of a non-burn, which seemed all but guaranteed, given the wildfires all over the state. By amazing coincidence, the burn ban for Milam County (where Flipside is held) was lifted for one week, just a couple of days before Flipside started, resulting in this unlikely burn-ban map:

It was widely speculated that the Apache Pass’ landowner applied pressure to the county judge to lift the burn ban or that “somebody was paid off.” Perhaps, but I doubt it. Milam County actually had isolated flooding in the week before Flipside.

In order to get a head start setting up our theme camp’s infrastructure, Gwen and I got out to the property in the early afternoon on Wednesday, a day before the official start of the event. Two of our campmates, Matt and Lori, arrived a few hours later. When we arrived, we were surprised at how much had already been set up—a lot of theme camps seemed to be fully set up already. I got the impression that, more than any year before, there was an unspoken agreement that Flipside would hit the ground running when the gates opened for general admission on Thursday morning.

With a little help of a couple of Shaven Apes (the Flipside department of people who help with odd jobs), Gwen and I managed to get our main shade structure almost completely pitched in a few hours. Good thing, because it was freaking hot. Matt and Lori arrived in time to help with the tail end of that project, and we got the “residential” side of our camp fully set up before dark. Gwen and I wandered over to Wonderlounge (which had its bar going already) for bad drinks and good socializing. I waited until Thursday evening to get the fire circle set up, as there would be more warm bodies to help with that task.

On Friday evening, Monk (2009 DaFT lead) stopped by our camp looking for people to help finish the Effigy. David and I grabbed our work gloves and headed over. I spent the rest of the night off and on doing scut-work, like cleaning up wood scraps or holding pieces of wood in place while someone screwed them together. DaFT (the Design and Fabrication Team, which builds the Effigy) managed to open the Effigy by about 2:00 AM. I’ve always had a lot of respect for the DaFT crew, but that limited exposure gave me a much more direct appreciation for how hard they work. I don’t think I could keep up.

Saturday was my off day. I didn’t have any notable responsibilities, so I spent a lot of time in the creek and drank some beer. The one responsibility I did have was to attend a theme-camp meet-and-greet, and somehow I managed to misremember the time for that, so I missed it. I brought some homemade cookies to hand out there, and wound up handing them out to people I encountered at random instead. Someone asked “Are these plain cookies or special cookies?” I replied half in sarcasm “They’re special because I made them with love.”

Myschevia (the North Texas burn) had been held under a burn ban, so they brought their Effigy to Flipside. They took advantage of the last-minute lifting of Milam County’s burn ban to burn it at Flipside. Apparently their preparations were last-minute as well, because that thing would. not. burn. Normally an effigy is loaded with diesel to get it to burn better, and I’m guessing that didn’t happen at all. Shiree heckled the fire—”a bunch of ten year olds with sparklers can burn better than that!” I wandered over to the stage for Flipside’s own Effigy, where the Drishti Dancers were putting on a performance. Then Arc Attack fired up their singing Tesla coils and everybody was pulled away from whatever they were doing to watch. It’s almost unfair. I think Arc Attack was having some technical problems this year, as they had much less performance time. As far as I can tell, Parsec (the guy in the Faraday suit) wasn’t present at all. They had a new Faraday cage that is much larger—it can accommodate four people at once, so more people can have the experience, but the price is that none of them feel as close to the lightning (so I am told).

The fire circle at Circle of Fire got a lot of action on Saturday night, and I got in a few good light-ups. It was gratifying to see. Due to space limitations, our circle was smaller than usual. I would have preferred it to be bigger, but word reached me that some people liked it small. I think the size inhibited some people from going on when there was already somebody lit up, which slowed throughput. I guess that could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

When I finally got to bed (probably around 4:30 AM), I noticed that Carpe Noctem, the neighboring dance camp, was a lot quieter than I expected. I learned the next day that there had been noise complaints on Thursday and Friday, and I’m guessing the dance camps had all been told to cut their subwoofers. Friday (?) was the only night that I felt rattled in my bed by the sound, and I generally managed to sleep well.

Sunday was all about getting ready for the burn. There was a 12:00 meeting that was supposed to be followed by a 2:00 meeting where the go/no-go call would be made. Since the 12:00 meeting ran until 1:30, we postponed the 2:00 meeting until 5:30, where a go call was made. As Ghost put it, certain dominoes needed to fall in order to make a go call: first, we had to be out of the burn ban. Check. Second, the county sheriff had to give his approval beforehand. Check. Third, Kit (the landowner) needed to give his approval. Check. Fourth, the wind levels had to be within the limit set by our own fire chief, Henry. At the 5:30 meeting, the prediction was that the wind levels would be near or possibly above that limit. Henry decided that we’d be able to take advantage of a window of opportunity, and so he gave us a go. Some of us then prepped the Effigy to burn by removing a wooden skirt around its base to promote airflow, and shoving wood scraps under it.

The next thing on my docket was the fire procession. I had put out the call to have fire performers assemble at Circle of Fire at 8:00 PM. This would give me plenty of time for stragglers to arrive, and still time to go over the details with (almost) everybody before the putative performance time of 9:45. I say that I’m the cat-herder in charge of the fire procession, and that’s as apt as any title, but in fact I could not do that job effectively if it weren’t for other people who step up and help organize the procession—Wulff, Matt, David, Frank Marissa, Warlock, and of course Gwen all made things run smoother for me. In spite of some confusing instructions on my own part and things not quite going exactly as I planned, the fire procession seems to have gone smoothly and safely. It looked great, and I think we had more performers than ever. I don’t have an exact count, but I think it was around 70 people.

With that out of the way, I could relax and watch the firecracker hats, fireworks and the effigy burn. Lacking anything like a chimney, I didn’t think the Effigy would burn well. I was wrong: it was halfway engulfed before the fireworks wound down, and fully engulfed shortly after. It burned beautifully, with a sheet of flame rolling under the arch and the flame-shaped pickets rimmed with yellow fire—like fire on fire. It collapsed in on itself quickly and perfectly, and a few minutes later, the Rangers dropped the safety perimeter so we could approach. People cavorted, running and leaping toward the fire, still burning intensely hot. We made our three circuits around the fire, stopping to wish friends “happy burn” as we encountered them in the circle.

Monday morning came all too soon. I got up early to take down a personal art project, and found that Matt and Lori—who had never gone to bed—had made a lot of headway toward striking camp already. By the time I was done with my project, Matt and Lori had gone to bed and most everyone else was up. We had a relaxed breakfast and got to work striking camp. Things went pretty quickly, and we were out of there by 2:00 PM. All in all, I felt that this Flipside and the preparations for it seemed to go smoothly.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll update this as I think of more.

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