June 26, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
In Seattle, a spark of Burning Man
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And similar to Burning Man, a significant number of Critical Massive attendees volunteered in some fashion to help put on the event. Martinez said that out of about 550 in attendance, at least 125 had put in some of their own time to help.
Although Burning Man keeps a close eye on the many regional communities and their events, Martinez said it mostly stays hands-off when it comes to Critical Massive and other regional events.
"They just support us if we have questions," he said, adding that the Burning Man organization mandates that official regional events must be "by and for the community and have transparent accounting."
But the advantages of being an official regional are many, he said. For one, the Burning Man community responds in much greater numbers. And just as important, regional organizers like Martinez are able to turn to the parent organization and ask for advice gleaned from years of putting on other events.
Also like Burning Man, Critical Massive used some of the money from ticket sales--participants paid at least $50 to attend--to fund art. This year, Martinez said, Critical Massive handed out $6,000 in art grants.
One project benefiting from the grants was Assimilator. The creation of 28-year-old Seattle software engineer Peter Brown and two partners, Shelly Farnham and "Juice Box," the Assimilator is a weather balloon from which hangs a video camera that feeds live video of the nearby surroundings wirelessly to a screen inside a nearby art car, as well as onto a pair of virtual-reality goggles.
"We wanted to be able to give the some perspective to three or four different people as we're driving around," Brown said, adding that his team was testing Assimilator at Critical Massive in advance of bringing it to Burning Man this year.
And because the art car can drive around, Assimilator will be able to continually project a moving image.
Another Critical Massive recipient of art funding, though from last year, is fire artist Wally Glenn.
His twin pieces, the "Flaming Zen Garden" and the "Propane Fountain" were big hits at Critical Massive.
The Flaming Zen Garden is a project in which burning propane is fed slowly into a sand pit. The result is an elegant and peaceful swirling of gentle flames throughout the sand. Further, participants can rake through the sand, changing the patterns of the fire.
His Propane Fountain involves flames burning on top of a pool of water, an impressive display.
Glenn, who currently lives in Oakland, Calif., joked that he came to Critical Massive this year to ensure that the event could hold its head up in comparison to other regionals.
"The reason I'm telling people I came is that I heard that (Burning) Flipside had less fire," Glenn said, "so I wanted to make sure that Critical Massive had more fire than Flipside."
He also said he was gratified at Critical Massive participants' response to his art.
"I hear the same story over and over again, that people are blown away by it, and they don't know how to think about it," he said. "That's worth driving 20 hours to get here."
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