"The Return of Free Water"

A Burning Man Art Grant Proposal
February 15, 2007

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"The Return of Free Water" (aka "The Cola Flower Jungle") will be made almost entirely of reclaimed recycled soda bottles and cans. The Cola Flowers will consist of approximately 10' tall "stems" made from aluminum or PVC poles covered in a "bark" of aluminum soda cans and "flowers" made from soda bottles that are arranged and layered around a circle of PVC piping - approximately 180-300 soda bottles per flower, each secured to the structure with electrical fencing wire for a safe bond.

The Cola Flower Jungle surrounds and is entwines around an 8’ tall chain-link fence that encloses a 15’ x 15’square area. The gate is heavily chained and padlocked. The inside of the fence reveals a well, made of unfinished wood, with a small roof and bucket; the kind of well that we think of pastoral villagers using to gather their water. The well is also draped in chains and padlocked. A sign on the well explains that it has been purchased by Coca Cola (see note), and that trespassers and “water thieves” will be prosecuted. This sign is old and dirty, a product of a past lifetime (one that is unfortunately our present reality).

(note: There is also an alternative of having it be a made-up yet suggestive company name, in case people feel the actual branding of Coca Cola is a violation of the no-corporate logos rule.)

A hole is cut in the fence to allow the viewer to enter the area inside.

There are newspaper cutouts all over the interior of the fence, depicting an amazing story of a future world that found out how harmful the cola industry is to the environment and human health. The story begins when humanity finally awakens to the truth about the dire environmental impacts and health risks of the soda industry. Many factual nutritional and environmental articles will grace the walls to educate and inform the viewer. The newspaper cutouts will be a conglomeration of current-day news and a future story line, but all news stories will be written and produced by a member of the "Return of Free Water" team to look like actual newspapers.

The story unfolds to show how the masses struggled to free themselves from the addiction of high fructose corn syrup and caffeine and other “water substitutes” that the cola industry pushed on them, how the colonialization of the world by these corporate giants began to crumble and fall when people stopped buying their products, and how, when the soda giant toppled, the community wells around the world that had been bought up by Coca Cola and Pepsi Co. (causing a worldwide water crisis) were returned to their rightful owners: the people and communities of the world.

Small altars and prayers of thanks for the Return of Free Water adorn the interior of the fence. It is apparent that the place is now a sacred shrine which the villagers care for. For us it is a future reminder of a time when water rights were owned by multi-national corporations and access to clean water cost us money (sometimes more than many people could afford). Participants will be welcome to contribute to the altars as they see fit.

Pamphlets with the Soda Story (information and statistics about the effects of soda consumption on ourselves and the world) and stickers with relevant tenacious memes are available as gifts to the participants. Markers and paint-pens are available for participants to write their prayers, thoughts, intents, and wishes on the well and on the trunks of the trees. Clean, reclaimed cola bottles will also be available, along with the materials needed to transform it into a water carrier. Participants will be encouraged to create their own "last bottle," inscribed with their newfound resolve to never again drink soda, and their wishes for a healthier way of life. Potentially this area could also provide a repository for other leaflets and informational handouts on how to re-use soda bottles and cans (such as for insulation and building materials, floatation devices, etc.) and a variety of other related things.

The giant cola flower jungle provides shade to the interior of the fence. Looking up at the flowers, the viewer can now see how the interaction between humanity, technology, and the waste product from an entire industry can be transformed into something beautiful and useful. Each flower is unique and different. Here is a description of some of them:

The Fountain of Youth Flower (aka the Flower of Life): The stamens of this flower emerge from it’s center and trail down like vines to the interior of the well. These green tubes carry potable water (via a pump) from a water reservoir in the base of the well to the trunk of the tree, where a small water dispenser allows the viewer to quench their thirst. A catch-basin makes sure that a watery mess is not produced (the water is filtered and drained into a reservoir for the Rain Flower). Access to the Fountain is through a shield door (made from clear soda bottles) to prevent playa dust buildup. (Detail for the sake of sanitation questions: a potable water hose hangs down into an aluminum-lined box inset into the trunk of the tree. A hand-powered pump above the box controls flow. A door made of clear plastic bottles mounted on an auto-close hinge and latch protects the hose from incoming playa dust.) A mirror resides at face level next to the fountain, for the participant to visualize their beauty. Messages about the links between hydration and beauty adorn the frame of the mirror, and participants are invited to face themselves in the mirror and promise themselves to give themselves full support to be healthy.

The Rain Flower (aka “Shower Flower”): Again, the stamens of this flower are tubes that reach into the well and into the catch-basin from the Fountain of Youth Flower and pump water up into it’s canopy. This time, instead of producing drinking water, the Shower Flower emits a fine mist into the air during the hot parts of the day, providing a cool atmosphere to enjoy the installation by. By night, the mist becomes a part of the projection screen area as colored lights, slide projectors, and live video mixing shine light on our most precious resource so we can watch that light refracted according to the natural laws of this universe.

Data Flower: A testament that plastic is not all evil and wasteful, the Data Flower will feature multi-colored fiber-optic lights in each clear bottle-petal, providing a nocturnal light show as each flower petal cycles through 8 colors. Fiber-optic cable provides the ropes behind most of the world’s fast data transfer and the internet, meaning that it has an important part to play in the unfolding story of spreading information and truth to a culture that is “bottle-fed” lies and propaganda from multi-national corporations. If possible through collaboration with BRC’s Information Center, the data flower will also provide access to the city’s information network. A plastic-protected shield will reveal a computer monitor on the trunk of the tree that will play back the pre-recorded soundtrack for the installation as well as allow participants to check their Playa Mail and view announcements, as well as access a library of additional information about the health risks, environmental concerns and socio-economic impacts of the soda industry. The Data Flower’s stamen is an antenna that will allow the installation’s computer to communicate with the BRC network.

Note: Access into the BRC Info network is completely optional and is subject to further exploration on the feasibility. I would only need to have a member of the info team load the installation’s computer up with the software needed to communicate on that system, as well as wireless or Ethernet access into the system.

Several flowers will exist solely as a monument to the transformative power of recycled art. Their bottle-petals will be covered in donated, re-used white four-way stretch Lycra (donated by Any Event Décor, inc. from their stock of unusable video screens and scrap material pile), and painted with a variety of patterns with watercolor paint. At night, these gigantic flowers and their centers become three-dimensional video and light projection screens.

The installation will require some consumption of energy, and we are actively seeking alliances with existing support structures (i.e. theme camps and art collectives) to be able to share power. Our preference and request is that if this project is selected as a grant recipient, that the piece be placed in an area of Burning Man that would allow the installation access to the BRC grid. We would be incredibly honored to have a place at The Man and would be willing to restructure our design and timeline to accommodate that opportunity should it be granted to us. Our power needs are simple: Operation of a laptop computer and low-amp ambient sound system at all hours, operation of two low-volume water pumps, and power for video and slide projections or movie projectors at night. If further information on total wattage use is needed, we will be happy to calculate and provide this. If connection to the BRC power grid is not an option, I feel confident that power (preferably green) will be found (a tentative open invitation from the Evolutionary Center theme camp is one of several options on the table).