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Desert machinations 

In keeping with a long-standing ethic — eschewing corporate branding and rank commercialism — espoused by promoters of a gigantically weird art and communal living experiment/festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, this report will be rather vague. We can tell you who: Shaye Harty and her cohort of like-minded non-profiteers who this spring took over operation of a local race that involves kinetic sculptures. We can tell you what: They’ve been invited to bring some of these fantastical human-powered vehicles to the desert festival in Nevada this August 27-Sept. 3, the one where they burn a sculpture of a man, and everyone’s nekked or costumed, and nothing is bought or sold (except, as they say, “ice and coffee”). Need we spell it out further?

OK, we can tell you a bit more. Harty says the machines they’re bringing to the festival will join a host of other oddities and marvels inside something called the Green Man Pavilion. The pavilion is a new feature at the week-long desert festival, “an exposition of all of the innovative” green technologies, says Harty. This will be the first time (Harty’s outfit) has been on the desert playa, although it will be her personal fourth year of attendance. They intend to bring at least eight machines, including a tofu-themed one, a bouncy one and possibly the one with fancy scales and fins made by Duane Flatmo.

In an interview on Treehugger Radio, posted online, the festival’s environmental manager Tom Price said the green pavilion is an expansion of the festival’s “leave no trace” ethic. “We build the 10th largest city in Nevada,” he said. It stays up for a week and then is taken down, leaving no trace. “But of course there is a trace: Getting there, and the materials used, leave an impact on the planet. And this year we’re expanding the scope of what ‘leaving no trace’ means to include attempting to offset the entire carbon footprint of the event, reducing solid waste by 50 percent and attempting to recycle on a scale that really can’t be done in any other city in the world. ... What the Green Man Pavilion is doing is creating a world’s fair of emerging energy technologies — 30,000 square feet right in the middle of the city.” One huge machine will allow people to drop their garbage into it, watch the garbage get chewed into pellets and then see it expelled as a giant flame. And, Google — oops, we let one brand slip out — is setting up a Google Earth feature, where anyone can virtually zoom into the desert site and check out different technologies. Another outfit is providing solar power to the festival; the panels will be donated to the nearby Nevada town of Gerlach after the festival.

This temporary city in the desert draws 40,000 people, these days. And reports have it that some of the festival-goers are a bit put off by the introduction of major technological firms to the free-form fray, brands a-blazing or not. But Harty is excited about the exposure her group may get at the festival, even though the official rules say they cannot actively advertise or display logos.

“We can’t talk about ourselves as an organization there,” Harty says. “So we’ll be promoting the beauty of kinetic power.” But she figures that in one-on-one conversations, their identity may be guessed. Which, well, could help gain sponsorships for the kinetic race — celebrating its 40th anniversary next year. “We’d really like [the race] to become more well-known. And we’d really like to start a kinetic university.”

All of this out-of-Humboldt experience marks a departure from the kinetic race’s past managements’ style. This spring, the new non-profit running the race entered a kinetic machine in San Francisco’s Pride Parade. And now, the wacky mega production in the Nevada desert — a glorious new day?

Heidi Walters

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Heidi Walters

Heidi Walters worked as a staff writer at the North Coast Journal from 2005 to 2015.

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