ICARUS 'Spaceship' Artists Aim to Inspire at Burning Man Festival

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Kimberly Paynter | NewsWorks.org
Morgan Kato said that working on community art projects is "an awesome way to spend time with people."

ICARUS, a battle-beaten, low-tech "spaceship" is in the last phase of being "restored" before it will be shipped to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, where the artists responsible hope to defy expectations and inspire more art.

The ICARUS crew members have been working on the spaceship at Frank's Kitchen, a warehouse workshop at Frankford and Lehigh avenues in Kensington, where they've been assembling the mobile art car since June.

"It's something different, it's big and over the top and ridiculous, and if we pull this off, it's going to be epic," said Morgan Kato, a Philadelphia artist working with the crew, while she took a short break from welding steel bars. "No, we will pull this off," she amended. ICARUS is scheduled to depart Philadelphia for the desert on Sunday, and the team will be working non-stop till then.

Brandon Robinson, a Brooklyn-based artist and Burning Man devotee, said he knows they are up against a whole mountain of challenges, not just time.

"We all know that when we go out to the Burning Man event how difficult it is, it's the harshest place to do anything. It's bad enough just to go inside a tent there, but to go there with power tools and delicate electronics, and build something that has never been done with people who are enthusiasts and really clever and intelligent, but maybe not necessarily fully qualified to be doing it, it can get hairy," he said. But that's the fun. "It's a game, and we've always won."

The core group of artists working on the project came up with the idea of building a "grungy, dirty, cowboy" spaceship two years ago. Robinson said that he's "kind of not satisfied with the stuff people are doing out there."

ICARUS was funded on Kickstarter.com for $12,000, but Robinson believes that with all the labor the artists and other volunteers have put into the project, it easily could have cost more than $100,000. But doing the work as a community makes ICARUS a more authentic experience for festival attendees, he said.

The spaceship will be mounted on an old Air Force cargo loader which can hold 25,000 pounds. Its crane will lift ICARUS 21 feet into the air. The ship will have a DJ booth, or "bridge," that will be equipped with flamethrowers, a 25,000-watt sound system, more than 20,000 watts of LED lights and projectors that will cast a moving star field onto the desert floor. The crew will wear costumes and the ship has sound effects. The crew hopes to create "a moment you can go beyond this thing and imagine yourself in another world."

Despite the expenses and physical challenges of taking on the desert, Robinson calls attending Burning Man an addiction. He remembers his first time in an art car with a friend in 2006. They had a generator and a blender and announced with a megaphone that they were making frozen drinks. Droves of people came with sandwiches, T-shirts, massage oil and all types of gifts.

"I just wanted to give something, and at the end we had more booze, more ice, more cups and more fruit than when we started." Robinson said he was shocked. "It's totally changed my life."

Since then, the crew's been inspired to take big risks they've been told they're not qualified to do, not just in the desert, but in all aspects of life. Robinson has his own successful animation business and another ICARUS artist has a robotics company. Their goal is to inspire people and see what they can do.

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