by Michael Christian
| Michael Christian, Flock, 2001.|
(© Michael Christian. Photo: Hovering)
|Sketch of Flock, 2001.|
(© Michael Christian)
|Flock was a phantasmagorical steel sculpture created for Burning Man 2001 at the Black Rock desert. It took the shape of a headless horse-like creature suspended on 35-ft legs and gave the appearance of a magical creature striding across the desert. People who saw the sculpture at Black Rock say the creature reminded them of similar animals in Salvador Dali's The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Others have remarked that it reminded them of a tall, walking creature from Princess Mononoke, a recently released Japanese anime animation.
Flock is, despite its name, a sculpture of a single creature, who appears to wander about as if separated from a herd of similar creatures and seeks a return to its "flock." As people come to check it out, they tend to "flock" around the sculpture as they view it from various angles and distances.
I have created artworks for Burning Man since 1997. Other pieces include The Bone Arch (1997), a large 30-ft archway made of cattle bones; the Nebulous Entity (1998), a 33 x 30 x 30-ft mobile sculpture that rolled about on five tentacled arms, complete with interactive systems of sound, light and motion; Orbit (1999), a 14 x 14-ft cluster of concentric spheres that spun independently within each other at various speeds and directions depending on the mood of those interacting with it; and, in 2000, The Pipe Organ, a 16 x 20 x 20-ft rotating steel pipe organ tree spun and played by participants.
I like building very large artworks in the Black Rock desert because of the sense of seemingly infinite space that the desolate plains of the desert playa provide. It is an amazing place to create three-dimensional works because there are no walls, structures or visible barriers to contend with. Pieces can be approached from any direction without any real sense of scale or context.
Flock was 42-ft high with a 30-ft width at its base. The entire sculpture was made of steel tubes, bent to shape and welded together. The headless body and the legs were constructed in at my studio in Hunters Point, San Francisco. When finished, the components were driven to the Black Rock desert and assembled.
To assemble Flock, I worked with a crew of five assistants, including carpenters and welders, to attach parts and bring it to completion. Lifting the sub-assemblies was done with an on-site crane with a 90-ft extended lifting arm. Flock was built from the top down in three 14-ft sections by first setting up the headless body, then lifting it to attach and weld the next section of the legs and, finally, lifting it to attach the base legs which supported the entire sculpture.
The changing colors of the sky at dawn and dusk had a dramatic effect on Flock's appearance, on what "mood" it presented and on how people perceived it within its surrounding landscape. During dust storms, Flock looked very eerie as dust clouds swirled around it, and its upper body seemingly hovered above the desert floor. At night Flock had the primal appearance of a night crawler as the moon sailed over it, giving it a soft silver glow and casting its long, dramatic shadows on the playa. And of course during the day, it had a looming presence and was visible for miles.
People would often ask me why Flock did not have a head. Maybe it was free to wander as its head had been lost or maybe it was still searching to reclaim it. Personally, I find other peoples interpretations more entertaining than anything I could ever create. To some degree Flock relates to the experience of being alone and lost in a large, overwhelming empty space- a place where you feel compelled only to seek out and find your "flock," though often it seems to find you instead.
1037 Murray Street
Berkeley CA 94710
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