Burning Man Explosions: Crude Awakening [The Oil Derrick]

Crude Awakening - Jon Curley
Crude Awakening by Flickr User Jon Curley

Oil Derrick Explosion
Oil Derrick Explosion by Flickr User Veo

One of the truly amazing features of Burning Man is the art. A piece of particular note at this year’s Green Man was the “Crude Awakening” sculpture in which one of the components, a 99ft oil derrick was DETONATED and burnt to the ground on Saturday.


Duration: 26secs

From Wired:

The piece is meant to dramatize the worshipful relationship and dependence modern man has toward oil. The idea occurred to the married couple during their honeymoon in India two years ago, and fit in with this Burning Man’s environmentally minded theme of “Green Man.”

The piece’s fruition comes in a performance [where] four different containers at each corner of the tower will shoot a total of 900 gallons of jet fuel (given away by NASA as unusable for its purposes, Das Mann says) to engulf the top of the structure in a huge fireball.

Seconds later up the center of the derrick, 2,000 gallons of liquid propane in a pipeline stretching out to the derrick’s right will shoot out at once through a remote-control 5-inch pneumatic ball valve. The piece’s creators figure this should create a 1,000-foot-high column of flame.

The detonation of the piece will create 2.4 gigawatts of energy, which Das Mann and Cusolito say is enough to “power the entire Bay Area for one minute.”

The artists realize that it might seem indulgent to burn so much fuel for art meant to dramatize our warped relationship with fuel. They understand those concerns. But they stress the personal conservation efforts about environmental and carbon impact that working on the piece created in all the 180 people involved, which they expect to continue.

The fuel the piece consumes only amounts to an ounce or so of fuel per attendee at the event, they note. Cusolito, who says she is thought of by her friends as somewhat of an “environmental Nazi,” says she thinks of Crude Awakening as if “all the energy I have not consumed by living the way I do, it’s almost as if I get credits” to use the fuel to “make the biggest environmental statement I could make in my lifetime.” The pair hopes the message will reach far beyond the 45,000 or so who might see the finale at Burning Man.

Not green at all, but it did well the capture the violence, power, and rage wrapped up in our dependence on oil.