Burning Man 2008 HAND OF MAN Project - Full Proposal

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Physical Description

For 2008 this team proposes to build a large hydraulically-actuated human hand and forearm.

This hand and forearm, hereafter referred to as the Hand, will be controllable by anyone from the event by way of an ergonomically accurate "glove". In other words, anyone who wishes to operate this gigantic and powerful Hand need only insert their hand into the glove controller, and any motion they produce from the elbow forward will be accurately and quickly reproduced by the large machine Hand.

In this way individual BM attendees will be able to effortlessly lift, crush, or twirl objects weighing thousands of pounds.

The Hand will be constructed of steel and stainless steel.

It will be powered by an engine-driven hydraulic power unit, such as one might find powering a crane or tractor.

The entire machine, including the Hand, its base, and the power and control components, will measure approximately 30 feet long by 20 feet wide. In addition, a semi-circular area within which the Hand moves and operates will need to be cordoned off for the safety of onlookers. This area would measure approximately 40 feet wide and 15 feet deep.

Philosophical Statement

The idea which underpins The Hand Of Man is a very simple one.

Previously, I was having all the fun. The Hand Of Man will let others share in the fun, too.

Let me explain.

I was lucky enough to work extensively with Survival Research Laboratories in the mid-1990's. Following that experience I spent most of the next decade producing similar mechanical-catastrophe performances under the name Robochrist Industries. Whenever pressed to analyze the appeal of these spectacles, I invariably discuss the feelings of power and control over the environment experienced by the machine operators. But what about the audience?

For years I've referred to the "vicarious" thrill that the audience must feel..... But I always had the nagging feeling that I was having the most fun.

The Hand of Man will put all those feelings of power and control and FUN squarely into the HANDS of the public!

At its core, I believe the American dream is about self-determination. The promise of America, the idea which has through history made this nation unique among nations, is that in this place the individual has the freedom to change the conditions of his or her life, or even to change the world, through personal effort. America, at least in its mythic incarnation, provides an environment uniquely conducive to the individual exercising of what Nietzsche would call the "will to power", free from outside influence.

The Hand Of Man tantalizingly promises something almost as transformative as the full experience of the realized American dream. Through the tele-operation of enormous and capable machinery The Hand Of Man will provide a shortcut to the exhilarating feelings of power and control that lie at the heart of the American Dream.... And all without the years of hard work!

A single, enormous hand also provides a striking and powerful metaphor for the single most important tool for achieving the American Dream. Historically it has been the ingenuity of the individual, manifested through hard work - manual work - work of the hand - that has secured a piece of that glorious American pie. What better homage to the toil that made this country great could possibly be imagined than the all-powerful hand... The Hand Of Man?


April 1st: Purchase all steel. Commence fabrication during month of April.

May 1st: Purchase all hydraulic components. Continue fabrication and commence implementation of hydraulic cylinders.

June 1st: Finish hydraulic systems. Fabricate "glove" controller. Commence electrical integration of hydraulic system with controller.

July 1st: Finish heavy fabrication. Commence finish work. Test functionality. Identify failure points and likely failure points and repair/strengthen.

August 1st: Prepare for transport.

August 21st: Arrive on Playa.
August 22nd-24th: Set up, test, and playa-proof Hand.
August 25th - Sept. 1st: Play.
Sept 2nd-Sept 3rd: Dismantle Hand, load for transport. Clean site.
Sept 3rd or 4th: Depart.

Clean-Up Plan

As veteran performers at Burning Man, the people who make up this crew intimately and thoroughly understand the "Leave No Trace" principle.

Hydraulic systems carry with them an intrinsic risk of oil leakage. While all appropriate measures will be taken to reduce this risk, we will also prepare for it. The most likely source of any leak will be the power unit. For this reason the power unit will sit within a specially constructed tray designed to contain all leaked fluid. However, the most important factor in the mitigation of the effect of any unforeseen leak will be the use of a revolutionary new product: vegetable-based biodegradable hydraulic oil. This type of oil is formulated to biodegrade upon exposure to sunlight and water. Any incidental leak, therefore, that does manage to hit the playa will pose no risk.

It is reasonably likely that, while out on the playa, one or more props might be secured for people operating the Hand to "play" with. As a crew we are aware of the reality that these props, in the process of disintegrating, will produce a fair amount of garbage. In the spirit of the "Leave No Trace" principle, any bits of garbage which are not big enough to be played with by the Hand will be cleaned up on a daily basis and deposited into an appropriate container supplied by us.

At the end of the event all garbage, big and small, will be cleaned up by the crew and deposited into appropriate containers. These containers will be taken off playa by us, the crew.

Additionally, of course, the Hand will be dismantled and loaded into trucks for transport off-playa.

Two days after the event our site will be as clean as it had been two weeks earlier. We promise. We've done it before.

Click here to see diagrams of the Hand Of Man.