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An Illuminating email exchange between Lady Bee and the Sawmi after Burning Man 2003

We went to ask our fearless leader and guru, The Sawmi, whether he REALLY wanted to put this correspondence up on the web where people could see it. As usual we found him reclining on his ragged old playa-dust coated aluminum and plastic chaise lounge. Since he brought that filthy thing back from Burning Man he has been spending most of his time sprawled on it, supposedly meditating but mostly just staring off into space with a silly-ass grin on his face. To make it even more ridiculous, the crazy old cheapskate has put a 150 watt bulb in the reading lamp over his head and he always wears his lame flip-up shades.

We shook him roughly a couple of times, kicked him, and he seemed to come around. After a brief period of confusion he flipped up those dumb-looking sunglasses, blinked several times, looked around blankly and said "Hunh? What's going on here." When we explained that we thought that the email exchange below would only further discredit him, and make it even more difficult to raise the money we so desperately need to buy food, he said;

"Nah, don't worry about it. Really, it's kind of comforting to know that my behavior is unacceptable even in an environment devoted to world-class Radical Self-Expression like Burning Man. I was starting to think that I was getting old and losing my touch, but this makes me feel like a kid again." 

We turned away in consternation and stared helplessly at each other, but when we turned back to try to reason with him he had flipped his shades down again, leaned back, and that grin was slowly reforming on his serene face.


-----Original Message-----
From: Lady Bee <<>>
To: <> <<>>
Date: Wednesday, September 10, 2003 3:17 AM
Subject: Palm at the End of the Mind

Hello -

We were surprised and disappointed in your installation - which didn't look at all like your drawing. I had mapped you in a prominent place after the Temple of Honor and before Lyra and Johnny on the Spot, and was quite disappointed to see a CostCo shade structure with a store-bought inflatable palm tree and sign boards inside it among three lovely sculptures. We
considered asking you to move it then got too busy with other issues - but it is not our standard ever to have shade structures in the theme art area. If you do another project you must tell us if your plan changes. We were expecting what you gave us in your sketch - NOT a shade structure. I map the theme art carefully and honored your request to be at the edge of the wholly other. I would never have placed you there, or in the theme art area at
all, if I had known you were putting up a shade structure. I'm curious - why did you think this was appropriate?

Curator, Burning Man
415-865-3800 X 106

----- Original Message -----
From: "Sawmi" <<>>
To: "Lady Bee" <<>>
Sent: Sunday, October 05, 2003 11:50 AM
Subject: Re: Palm at the End of the Mind


Dear Lady Bee,

I am sorry I have been so delayed in getting back to you. (Been traveling....)

In any case, I agree with you that "The Palm" turned out to be seriously underdesigned (ie too cheap and flimsy) for conditions on the playa,


There was no attempt on my part to mislead you. If you look at the original drawing I sent, it does accurately depict the installation. It may have been confusing, and I did not specify that the palm was an inflatable, etc. but what you saw in the proposal was essentially the structure that was erected.

I DO regret any grief you may have taken because of it. I was not aware of the actual location assigned (which was, of course, wonderful) until I arrived, and also I underestimated how competitive location on the playa might be. So, if you had to "take heat" either from the other organizers or from those with more elaborate installations, I really do regret it and apologise.

Just a couple of notes on my experience. From the beginning, I was
completely caught up in the theme. I have always thought that Burning Man most resembled those great Hindu religious festivals, and was very taken by the "Beyond Belief" idea. When I read about "The Realm of the Wholly Other" I somehow became immediately captivated by the idea that Stevens' poem (Of Mere Being) perfectly evoked that "space," and that it SHOULD be displayed there. (I am still a bit awed at how he does this with only twelve lines.)

To this day, I don't feel that "it was my idea" - the feeling was one of being caught up in something that was trying to manifest
through me. ("On a mission from God," so to speak!) Perhaps I
inadvertantly communicated this - or you somehow felt it too, and this may actually be the root cause of the misunderstanding. I assume that since you are "caught up" enough in Burning Man to get involved to the extent you are, that you can perhaps relate to these kinds of feelings, if perhaps not to my particular situation....

Also, I am a writer, not a visual artist, so to me the physical supporting structure was VERY secondary, and the poem itself was the ENTIRE point. So, even now, having received your "rather negative" feedback, I don't feel badly - except, as I said above, for any grief it may have caused you or anyone else there. It was something I had to do, I did it, and so be it.

If it makes you feel any better, I did "suffer for my art." Since the installation turned out to be so seriously "underdesigned"
I had to ride my bike out there 4 - 5 times a day to check on it
and duct tape it back together. The BAD part of this was that the bike I took out there had the WORST SEAT IN THE WORLD, and by burn day I felt like I had bent over to pick up the soap in a prison shower! It sounds funny now, but I almost didn't make it.... I had one sore ass.

Anyway, I hear it is getting close to time for the decompression party in SF, and I assume that the playa has returned to mother nature (ashes to ashes, dust to dust....) for another year. In the context of this tragic Dubya-reality that has now reasserted itself, I hope our misunderstanding(above) is not that big a deal. I have no plans to do another installation(nor did I really plan to do that one) so hopefully the unpleasantness is
behind us.

I should also say that one of my most lasting and even "precious"
memories of Burning Man is of the "el-cheapo signs" lining the entrance road when I first arrived in 2001. The incomparable Shakespeare was featured that year, and I'll never forget seeing "We are such stuff as dreams are made on...." magically appearing and disappearing in the clouds of dust as I slowly made my way in. Words can be more magical than things, and I have reason to believe that some people were affected suchly by Stevens' poem, despite the physical shortcomings of the installation.

Just a final note. You are, as you might guess, not the first lady to have informed me of my inadequacies.... But I bet you DO really know how to hurt a guy, Lady Bee! Snifff.... <(:o)

All the Best,
The Ol' Sawmi

-----Original Message-----
From: Lady Bee <<>>
To: Sawmi <<>>
Date: Sunday, October 05, 2003 1:54 PM
Subject: Re: Palm at the End of the Mind

Sawmi --

I was relieved to get your message today as I feared I had really pissed you off or something! Thanks for the response, and no, it's definitely not a big deal, nor did I take any grief from other artists - in fact just one person, a top volunteer in the Artery who placed the piece, was upset to the point of wanting to move the piece. As you saw, it was directly in a line with the Temple of Honor, Chandelier, and Johnny on the Spot and was intended to be
one of a path of thematically related installations. We were not thrilled to see a store-bought shade structure in that scheme - but checking back, I do see that you had indicated that in your questionaire. I should have caught it - but we learn from everything and now there will be a new guideline in the art section of the website - NO COMMERCIALLY MADE SHADE STRUCTURES!
Sometimes artists do need to shelter a piece but they usually construct a decorative dome or a related structure of some sort. (And in fact we don't allow domes or tents in the grant art unless they are handmade and related to the installation, like the Aural Reef in 2002).

Anyhow - no hard feelings, I love text as much as you do and I liked the idea of people reaching the edge of the Wholly Other and taking a moment to read that lovely poem. Maybe the shade structure was entirely unecessary...? I'd have preferred the poem to stand alone on a board.

Curator, Burning Man
415-865-3800 X 106


| The Sawmi | Burning Man | The Poem | Gallery | A Sordid Tale |


The Sawmi | Burning Man | The Poem | Gallery |