Dust & Illusions, 30 years of Burning Man History, A Documentary by Olivier Bonin

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The Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society

Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society from Madnomad Films on Vimeo.

Credits: Filmed by Chuck Cirino (Weird TV), Doug Wellman, Scott Beale (Laughing Squid), Jon Alloway, Richard Darigo. Edited by Olivier Bonin.

You’ve heard about Burning Man, about Santacon (with over 10,000 Santa Claus gathering in Ireland), but have you heard about the Cacophony Society? The group emerged from the ashes of the San Francisco Suicide Club in 1986 after Gary Warne, its founder, passed away at the age of 35 in 1983. Gary famously said “Fear is a freeze on the future, the floodgate
that stops our imaginings…
“. Things were just getting started!!

In short the Cacophony Society is at the origins of many events such as Santacon, and made Burning Man as we know it today. Without Cacophony…

Now 3 of the people behind the group have written a book full of fascinating essays about following just what Gary Warne had in mind. From the authors themselves: “From Fight Club to Burning Man, Flash Mobs to Santarchy Cacophony influenced everything subversive, playful and anti-authoritarian in popular culture over the last 20 years – this is the great, untold story of the 1980s and ’90s. A template for pranksters, artists, adventurers and anyone interested in rampant creativity, Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society is the history of the most influential underground cabal you’ve never heard of. Rising from the ashes of the mysterious and legendary Suicide Club, The Cacophony Society, at its zenith, hosted chapters in over a dozen major cities, and influenced much of what was once called the underground. The Cacophony Society’s epic exploits radically changed the way people live and play in the world. The group inspired Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Burning Man and helped start pop culture trends including flash mobs, urban exploration, and culture jamming.

Authors are Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith, John Law

Upcoming Book Readings
May 16th: Book Premiere, City Lights, San Francisco.
May 18th: Panel Discussion, Makers Faire.
May 19th: Readings from the book, Green Apple Books San Francisco.
June 6th: Readings and book signings, Pegasus Books, Berkeley, CA.
June 14th: Powell’s Bookstore in Portland.
Jue 22nd: Le Luz de Jesus in LA.
August – Varnish Gallery and SFAI Lecture Series.

Tales of the Cacophony Society

RIP Pepe Ozan (1939-2013)

Pepe all the way. Intense, convinced, he died the way he lived. He was in charge. Great man, great passions. I wish I had visited him while he was in Argentina. Long live Pepe Ozan!

Dean Mermell announced the sad news this morning: Pepe Ozan has died. He took his life yesterday. He was a huge person who will be remembered for creating so many incredible things and for his uncompromising way of life. He will be missed. I’m sure more will come to light in the coming days, but I just found out and felt this was the best way to get the word out. Yes, wow. Pepe. Farewell, old friend.

Pepe indeed took his life. A few people who visited him in the past year, talked about his obsession with death. He was making Art that talked about death. Christine Kristen (Ladybee) said: “He had an obscure form of leukemia that he picked up in India, but it was in remission. He also had emphysema, from a lifetime of smoking. So when he got an additional diagnosis – diverticulitis – and surgery, I believe it pushed him over the edge. He had always been such a vital, energetic man – I’m sure being ill was not an option for him… I know he struggled with the move from San Francisco – right before he left, he told me he feared he would sink into obscurity and that his creativelife was over. He seemed pretty content when I visited him – his land is beautiful, he was making art and showing it, and he was still filming in India with his brother, who lived next door to him, working on their film about HInduism. He was in SF recently with his lovely girlfriend, a history professor from MEndoza, and seemed happy. Outwardly, his life seemed great – but we never know what inner demons others struggle with.”

A really great post by John Law about Pepe that speaks well for who the man was: http://johnwlaw.com/2013/04/15/pepe-ozan-was-here/

His fascination with India led him there on several occasions culminating in unique and insightful films about that strange and kaleidoscopic land. His other world travels, undertaken before I met him included sailing across entire seas in small vessels, trekking remote sectors of the planet and living amidst and coming to know obscure cultures. He never did anything half-assed.

It seems silly in a way, that one of my most cherished memories of Pepe was merely hearing his voice on my answering machine one day when I was really depressed. “HALLOOO JOAANN!! THIS IS PAEPE!!!!” Just hearing that coruscating, deeply alive voice on a machine was enough to completely change my mood, sending me out into the world on an important day, a day I needed to be on my game. That’s what Pepe did for me, every time I saw him, which sadly in later years was not often. He reminded me how vital and vibrant life was if you chose to live it.

A great tribute to Pepe Ozan was posted on the Burning Blog by Will Chase. With great pictures of his art.

Laughing Squid has a little note as well.

The following pictures show Pepe at Desert Siteworks in 1993, where Pepe Ozan was invited to the Black Rock Desert by William Binzen for an intense 3 weeks camp out building art and performing for themselves.

Pepe Ozan recounts the Operas from Madnomad Films on Vimeo.

Another video putting Pepe Ozan’s Opera of 1996 into an interesting perspective, watch it here, you should love it:

700 Club & Sentinel Group visits Burning Man 1996 from Madnomad Films on Vimeo.


Desert Sitewroks 1993 Tape1-2




Desert Sitewroks 1993 Tape9

Desert Sitewroks 1993 Tape3

Desert Sitewroks 1993 Tape3-2

Desert Sitewroks 1993 Tape1

Photos of Pepe and his art at his home in Argentina back in April 2011 (Photo by Ladybee)






A month before he left us back in Argentina (Photo by his daughter Julieta Ozan):

Beyond camera consumerism, Photography can also be Art.

Just a quick note here. Burning Man Media team is opening up a dialogue about digital rights and has invited people from within the community to expose their views about photography at the event.

A few weeks ago, they sent me a prompt to react to. And here’s my take they posted on their blog:


Operation Restore Defenestration

An artwork central to the culture of San Francisco, whose crew have been active and important participants in the art of Burning Man since the beginning. Here’s Defenestration:

Defenestration, by Brian Goggin. San Francisco CA.
Fundraiser and Solo Show by Brian Goggin
Opening Reception: Friday March 5th, 2010 6-10 pm 1:AM Gallery 1000 Howard Street

How many times have you driven by Howard & 6th Streets and looked up at the seemingly animated furniture, tables, chairs, lamps, grandfather clocks, couches, their bodies bent like centipedes, grasping the ledges, hanging off the roof and climbing out of windows like escapees? Have you wondered who put them there? In 1997 with an NEA grant and over 100 volunteers it was Brian Goggin who created this site-specific sculptural mural called Defenestration. While expected to be up for only a year, those tables, chairs, lamps, clocks, and couches have weathered the elements for nearly thirteen and have fallen into unfortunate disrepair.

Operation Restore Defenestration needs $75,000 to repair the artwork making it again safe and beautiful during the day, and vibrant and illuminated at night. Brian Goggin has already begun working with a structural engineer, volunteers and assistants to return “Defenestration” to its original magnificence.  But they need your help. The restoration is a fiscally sponsored project of The Black Rock Arts Foundation where donors can make tax-deductible gifts or sponsor the restoration of an individual piece of furniture at www.defenestration.org. Your donation of $500 or more will be honored with your name on a commemorative plaque mounted on the Defenestration building and you will be awarded a certificate of sponsorship.

Operation Restore Defenestration will bring back a welcomed visual to the neighborhood where locals and visitors flock to this playful destination. With your support you can help put the magic back into this beacon that brightens its surroundings and is so deeply loved by the community.

I hope you will join me in revitalizing this unique San Francisco landmark. Come meet the artist, see the sculptural mural and learn more about the restoration project at the opening reception on March 5th, 6-10 pm at 1:AM Gallery, 1000 Howard Street, San Francisco. There will be a variety of prints, sculptural chairs and “Defenestration” memorabilia for sale. The show runs through April 2nd. For more information and to donate online please visit  www.defenestration.org.
Thank you in advance for your support!

21st Post-Yule Pyre. Jan 3rd 2010

Tonight concluded the 21st Post-Yule Pyre on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. The 1st one occurred on January 1990 on the initiative of the Cacophony Society and more specifically Michael Mikel (aka Danger Ranger, who serves on the board of director of Burning Man). The group has started many other events other the past 25 years, including Santacon (or Santarchy) that has spread all around the planet, with a record of 11,000 santas in Dublin in 2009. This year’s Post-Yule Pyre attracted a good 200 people, and probably 50 trees. We all gathered at Java Beach Cafe and walked 4 blocks in the dark night with our trees. People were coming out of their homes wondering what the procession was all about… all these people walking in that dead neighborhood with a tree each in their hands. At the beach all the trees quickly piled up and random people fired different side. In no time the flames were reaching high above the dunes behind us, and we heard the first police siren. The cops did join us, but 5 minutes too late. It was all on fire. After 45 minutes, they finally yelled at us all to move, but while we were all starting to go away, one guy pulled a non-burning tree from the side 100 yards away and put it on fire, then did it again another 3 minutes later, without the cops able to catch anyone. It was fun. They eventually caught 2 people for unknown reasons.

Post-Yule Pyre Guy throwing tree in the fire (more…)

David Warren Memorial, Suicide Club Co-Founder. Jan 2nd 2010

Excerpt from the Memorial webpage: http://www.suicideclub.com/memorial2/bio/default.html

David T. Warren (aka: Flamo LaGrande, R. J. Mololopozy) lived a strange and unique life.  After a tempestuous upbringing in the home of a prominent building contractor in Hayward, Dave left town with a traveling carnival.  Here he learned the art of eating fire as well as various sideshow skills including magic.  Later, he would apply his showmanship to selling Kirby vacuums and became tops of his team of salesmen.  Of other door-to-door items he peddled, perhaps the strangest were Venus’ Fly Traps — carnivorous plants that Dave touted as “organic insecticide.”

At a crucial junction in his life involving separation from his wife and children, he moved to San Francisco after the 1972 demolishing of the seaside amusement park “Playland At the Beach.”   Upset by the destruction of this park, Dave formed his one man Playland Research Center and initiated a series of Playland parties in the rubble of the park.   PRC was dedicated to collecting and archiving photos, film, personal interviews of and about the classic attraction out at Ocean Beach that served as a magnet for young and old alike. His mottos “Do It” and “Have Fun” were painted on a large wall at Ocean Beach to spread his message to passersby.

In 1978 David,  along with Gary Warne, Adrienne Burk and Nancy Prussia had a wild experience where they clung desperately to a heavy barricade chain atop the seawall under the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point as thirty foot waves crashed down on top of them. Later, in the early hours of January 3 over hot chocolate the four friends decided to start a club where they would encourage members to “live each day as though it were their last” by creating events and experiences that would challenge their deep personal fears, expand their knowledge and understanding of their world and those in it AND be hella fun.  This group became the San Francisco Suicide Club.

David Warren 1990 on the Black Rock Desert

The decisive summer of 1989

20 years ago… 1989. The Wind Sculpture Festival was being organized by Mel Lyons, a Berkeley artist, during the Labor Day Weekend on the Black Rock desert. Some people from the Cacophony Society attended the event then. Inspired by the event, and the desert environment, Kevin Evans and a few others started to make plans to come back to the desert the following year through one of their Zone Trips. A Zone Trip was a way to step out of reality, get out of this world and experience something extraordinary for the group.

The following year on June 21st 1990, the Burning Man event was preparing for their 5th burn on Baker Beach, but the SFPD caught the gathering, 600 people at that point, and stopped them from burning the effigy that had become pretty elaborate. This was going to be a major road block for the carpenters and their friend Larry Harvey that was “supervising” the construction of the man every year. The Cacophony Society that had been attending the beach event for 2 years now, offered generously to bring the humanoid effigy to the desert for the Zone Trip of Labor Day 1990, 2 months later. This was going to be the historic move to the desert, where many people actually think it’s always been now… and the 20th edition onto the desert flat is happening right now, with the burn of the Man tomorrow night.

The Cacophony Society was instrumental in helping Burning Man to continue and survive on the desert. The carpenters helped rebuilt a new effigy, but the Cacophony Society truly defined what Burning Man was going to be for the next few years, until another major influence came into play, but you will have to watch the film to know about this…

More information on that mythic 1989 Wind Sculpture Festival, and the 1990 move to the desert.


Wind Sculpture Festival 1989

Wind Sculpture Festival 1989 (the Bed)

Arguing about Copyrights at Burning Man

If you plan on taking pictures like 40,000 people at Burning Man, it’s a good idea to read this. Burning Man has a strict set of rules so participants can feel their privacy won’t be violated, and their image won’t be abused. The Burning Man organization (Black Rock Limited Liability Corporation) requires all journalists, and anyone with an intention to publish their photography/videos, to sign a contract that claims all copyrights of the journalists’ work, and forces them to request an authorization from the BM organization for each public use of the work they don’t own anymore.  In good faith the Burning Man organization has been arguing that this is to protect the participant’s privacy and filter medias they don’t want to see at the festival.  In practice it seems to have worked since only “News” style coverage has been published by the large media networks, and a lot of documentaries, and photography’s exhibitions have happened over the years, but we don’t know who/what has been denied. Here the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argues that the Burning Man organization makes an illegal copyright claim of work they don’t own, and that their contract with journalists is too invasive. The contract basically says that the BM org has full power to decide which work is allowed to be published and which isn’t without any other specification on the work. Judge on your own:

Snatching Rights On the Playa (EFF)
EFF Says Burning Man Usurps Digital Rights (Slashdot)
Protecting Our Culture? Burning Man and the EFF (Burning Man Org’s response)
Freetards bully Burning Man (The Register-UK, an example of today’s medias poor quality)

Eventually when the time is right, I will present the full details of my own experience making this film and working with the Burning Man organization.

Olivier Bonin. Director of Dust & Illusions.

UPDATE: Balsa Man, the tiny version of the “burn”, that happens on Baker Beach, like back in the old days… has also a copyrights policy… a tiny copyright policy:

Photography, Video, and Film

All people within the boundary of the Balsa Man event, hereafter assumed to be line-of-sight, accept that BALSA MAN RETAINS ALL RIGHTS TO ALL THUMBNAILS OF ANY PHOTOGRAPHY, VIDEO, OR FILM THAT IS TAKEN AT THE EVENT. Rights for full size versions of photographs and video remain property of the photographer/videographer/camera operator.

Touché, as the EFF said!

Burning Man ticket 2009 BackBurning Man ticket 2009 Front

Rough Cuts September Series 2009

The LabDust & Illusions was the 1st film invited to the series that opened back in June 2008. Rough Cuts is an important tool and time for filmmakers in the Bay Area. If you are interested in the process that each filmmaker goes through, this is a great forum, where you can interact with a filmmaker and provide feedback to help her/him take the film to the next level. It’s really interesting to build a discussion, and is very different from the std post-screening Q&A. It’s a constructive discussion that will have an affect on the film!


Goodbye To Tom Kennedy: Art Car Artist, Activist, Teacher & Prankster

Update: May 2nd screening is a benefit for Tom Kennedy. Please join us!

Tom Kennedy left us on April 12th 2009, the birthday of my son. Tom became a close friend through our collaboration on his and my projects. We were planning new projects and were looking at the future together. Tom has always been very generous, and inspiring. His activism impressed me because he fought for what he believed. And surprisingly to me, he did it all with a smile, always happy and positive. I will miss Tom.


guest post by John Law

We lost one of our very best. Tom Kennedy drowned at Ocean Beach on Sunday, April 12th at 2PM. Tom was an artist, activist, teacher, prankster – a strong friend, bright spirit and true inspiration to each and every of the thousands of people he touched through his powerful and loving art and his huge and giving heart. I first met Tom at Burning Man 94 when he came out from Texas with his amazing art car Ripper the Shark, forever raising the bar at that event for creativity and originality in personal expression. I was dumbfounded by the whimsical nature, bold concept and execution of the piece. But more importantly, I was floored by Tom’s unmitigated joy at just being there, alive and creating the world around him.

He went on, often in collaboration, sometimes alone, to create many of the most engaging and whimsical art cars you would find anywhere in the world. Tom was one of the kindest and sweetest men I have known. His big, muscular presence was that of a gentle giant, a protector and a gentleman. Tom’s sense of fairness and justice was as powerful as his creative urges. He was no push over, though. His work as an art provocateur and activist was tough, funny as hell and very “in-your-face” for those he saw as oppressors and forces of evil in the world. Greedy businessmen, slimy politicians and the like were the hapless targets of his art wrath. Along with his wonderful wife and partner Haideen Anderson and a cast of dozens in the political satire group Missile Dick Chicks, Tom stuck it to the high and mighty, often at personal risk. His courage and convictions were never in question. I saw him arrested in NYC for the 04 Republican Convention – an event that cost him greatly. This indignity only fired his passion to confront the injustices he saw and to mock and indict those responsible. Tom was generous, selfless and productive in ways that lesser men could only stand in awe of. He helped an untold number of aspiring artists with his powerful presence, practical fabrication knowledge and unique aesthetic. He did what the very best always do – he gave it away.

I spoke with Tom’s room mate Chris de Monterey and was told the basic facts regarding how this tragedy occurred. Tom and his friend Mike Tackaberry were in the surf about waist deep at Ocean Beach (stairway 24 – just south of the Cliff House) and were knocked over by large waves and swept out to sea by a very strong rip-tide. Both strong swimmers, they fought to swim back to shore. Mike made it and after coughing out water swam back out to try and help Tom back to shore. He was able to get Tom to the beach where he attempted CPR. EMT’s arrived and took over, eventually transporting Tom to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Tom Kennedy Art Car Artist, and for the film Narrator!

Flaming Lotus Girls are bringing Soma to Burning Man 2009

In February all artists interested in getting funded to create an art piece for Burning Man have to send in a proposal to the event’s organization. After careful review, they attribute grants to a certain amount of projects, that they believe the artist will be able to create. The largest grants are often attributed to artists that have a history with Burning Man, as they are “trusted”, and the smaller grants will be awarded to anyone with a “good’ proposal. The selection process has always been a little obscure since it’s all about art and it’s not easy to define how to choose the best art. But the Burning Man office also has certain criteria beyond the artistic value, such as feasibility, safety, interactivity, as well as the collaborative aspect.

One aspect about the grants is that Burning Man doesn’t want the artists to reveal publicly how much they were awarded. There might a good reason for this, but it seems that opening the books is a better way to go. I don’t believe there’s any secret in letting the public know that recurring artists have more chances to get more money. Also depending on the artists, more money can be spent to create the art piece than awarded by Burning Man. Money that often comes from the pocket of the artist himself, and sometimes from fundraising.

One more note, the grants are only meant to buy materials, transportation for the piece. Nobody is supposed to get paid making the art pieces. And most times nobody does. The large majority of the collaborative groups that bring art are composed of people who have a day-job and work on their Burning Man projects nights and weekends. This is the huge invisible force that makes Burning Man worth it and interesting. All these people working for free all year-around so there’s something spectacular to experience out there in the desert. Working hard so it doesn’t just turn into a simple party.

The Flaming Lotus Girls have had grants from Burning Man since 2003. The first one was for the Hand of God followed, by the Seven Sisters in 2004, the Angel of the Apocalypse in 2005, the Serpent Mother in 2006, and Mutopia in 2008. In 2009 they sent in a new proposal called SOMA, which is getting a new grant.

Soma. A new piece of interactive Art by the Flaming Lotus Girls for Burning Man 2009

The Flaming Lotus Girls are also making appearance at Coachella, the massive music festival in the valley of the 1,000 golf courses, i.e. Palm Springs, CA. They will be bringing the Serpent Mother.

John Law’s New Book

Excerpt from Laughing Squid’s blog:

John Law just finished a book called the Space Between and had a release at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.

The Space Between is a collection of three stories inspired by the author’s lifelong obsession with bridges. An avid urban adventurer and bridge historian, the author shares his passion for these engineering marvels while delving into their potential to fuel our dreams, fears, and nightmares. Part dreamscapes, part adventure tales, these narratives take the reader on an exploration of bridges to inspire their contemplation on a structural as well as metaphysical level.

John draws from his personal experience of admiring and ascending bridges in the Bay Area and around the world. He has a perspective that literally few people have on local icons the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. There’s no more fitting place to discuss San Francisco’s icons than City Lights, founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953 and a landmark ever since in SF’s North Beach neighborhood.

The book is available now from Furnace Press.

John Law is Special Projects Coordinator for Laughing Squid. He is also a proud accomplice and associate of such noted cabals as Survival Research Labs, Dark Passage, and Cyclecide. And he is a known wrangler of The Dogminican Trinity, a trio of mysterious and ginormous canine heads which often appear in times of benign creative cacophony or unrepentant mischief around the Bay Area.

The Doggies and John Law

A true multimedia threat, John co-produced and appears in the film Head Trip a documentary about those same dog heads making the trip from SF to NYC for a Laughing Squid show and in the process fraternizing with every roadside attraction along the way.