Saturday, July 30, 2011


Forrest McCluer, a friend and sculptor who lives across the street, needed help this afternoon. So he asked my menfolk – husband Ben and sons Alex and Elliot, to help move one of his pieces. Alex and I had an errand to run – involving sculpture clay and a belt that holds water bottles. But Forrest’s activity would be first on our list of priorities, and we realized it might be a significant commitment, when we saw that two other neighbors, Sean and Greg, were also enlisted to help.

I went along to watch and to document the process with Forrest’s camera.

In his front garden, Forrest has arranged several geodesic spheres in a bed of pumpkin plants. But through the gate and in the back we found what he wanted them to move. It was one of three massive spheres in his yard, two constructed from computer parts. The piece in question was entitled “Bones,” made from the rusted frames of thirty PCs. Another sculpture, displayed further back in his garden, was assembled out of the case covers from these same PC’s, only this one was called “Skins.”

The task this afternoon was to mount ‘Bones’ on its axis between two steel columns set in concrete slabs. The guys would do this in phases, Forrest explained. First they would lift it, to be sure that they could. Then they would raise it above its working mount, and down onto the ground. Next, they would walk the sculpture backwards, towards Greg’s property line, so that the central pole, on which the sculpture was to be mounted, could be moved and then centered. Forrest would have to whack at the mounting pole hard with a mallet, to get it into position. And finally, two metal and timber fittings would be threaded onto the pole and slotted into the columns. Thus the sculpture in its final position would be able to spin on the pole across its axis.

The men gathered round. Each one grabbed a different part of the sphere – or rather, a different computer frame. “Ready?” asked Forrest. They were ready. “One, two, three lift~”

They heaved. And they put it back down. They rested. They agreed what they would do next. They lifted it again. They became tired and sweaty. Greg and Sean’s dogs often got underfoot. “Get outa here!” Sean cried repeatedly. At which his enormous German Shepherd trotted away briefly, only to return.

“How long did it take you to make this one, Forrest?” I asked, at one point, while they rested. Forrest was busy unscrewing bolts from his working mount.

“This one took him a long time. A very long time,” said Greg.

“How much does it weigh?” I asked.

“Three hundred pounds?” suggested Greg.

“No~” said Elliot.

“There are thirty computer cases on this one,” said Forrest, finishing with his bolts. “And they don’t weigh that much.”

“Two hundred maybe?” suggested Ben.

Forrest said, “I’m going to put a web cam on this one here.” He was pointing at “Skins”, the other geodesic sphere, constructed out of computer case covers. He wanted it to become an interactive kinetic sculpture. It was set in a permanent bed, circled by a stone wall.

“Okay. You guys ready? This time we’re going to walk it back towards Greg’s house,” Forrest said. “Ready? One two three…” and they lifted; they walked it back. The sun blazed as they set the sculpture on the grass.

Everyone needed a beer. In between lifts, Alex talked about Burning Man. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m on the team for the Temple burn.”

“I’ve had my eye on Burning Man for the last ten years,” said Greg. “But I never got there. This your first time?”

“No, I went last year,” said Alex. “But I’m going out to the desert in the next few weeks to help construct the temple.” He was moving around affably on his feet as he talked and swigging on a beer. He had his hair in a mohawk and was wearing shades. Ben sat on a chair and drank his Rolling Rock. Elliot sat too, resting his elbows on his knees.

Alex explained that the central structure of the Burning Man temple was going to be 120 feet tall – and that 24 flat bed trucks were required to bring in all the prefabricated panels out to the desert for construction.

“So you’ve seen the design?” Forrest asked. Alex explained the temple would have five towers around the central structure, each 40 feet tall. It would be in the end, the second largest monolithic timber structure in the world.

“And you’re building this so you can burn it.” Greg’s question was more of a statement, full of admiration. Forrest laughed with delight.

“The man is burnt on the Saturday and the temple is burned on the Sunday, and that marks the end of the festival,” Alex explained.

“So, Forrest,” I said. “What about this one here…” I was referring to his third, new sculpture, evidently under construction.

“That is part of my virus series,” he said – “I’d been working on these computer pieces for ten years and was trying to figure out what I could do next, when I hit on the idea of a virus. I said oh my God – They’re the same shape!”

The guys had to get back to work on “Bones”. The central pole needed to be positioned so that each end was equal in length. Ben located Forrest’s tape measure. They did the calculations. Forrest whacked the end of the pole with a mallet. His t shirt became wet. It was hot and exhausting work. “How many more inches?” he asked – as Greg measured the pole at the other end.

“Half an inch more,” he said.

Forrest gave his end of the pole another whack with the mallet. Greg measured his end.
“Perfect,” he said.

One more lift. The guys positioned themselves, each grabbing one of the computer shells. “One, two, three lift!” They walked it into position. They set it into its mounts.

And rested.

“Let me get a shot of you,” I said, “– all in front of the sculpture.” I took the picture with Forrest’s camera.

“Okay,” said Forrest. “Who wants to give it a spin?”

I took more pictures with my iphone as Sean and Alex posed inside the sculpture, and as they set it spinning. “Do you mind if I blog about this, Forrest,” I asked.

He laughed. “Sure,” he said. “Go right ahead.”

Greg had to get back home. Ben also crossed the road for our house. Alex, Elliot and I stayed chatting with Sean and with Kelly, Forrest’s youngest daughter, who is a good friend of Elliot’s, and who came outside to join us.

Alex talked about his Masters thesis in Fire Engineering, about Burning Man – the heat, and the tents and the camps – and the way the grid of the city was organized. He talked about the magic carpet rides –and how after the fourth day of the festival they all said to each other,‘how are we going to do life differently from this? This is clearly what life is meant to be!’

Kelly sat on a chair and listened. “Hmm,” she mused. “Now I know why you’ve never told me about this.” She looked up at Forrest.

“I was sheltering you,” he joked.

For more information on what Alex is doing at Burning Man, check out his blog:

And see more about Forrest McCluer’s sculptures at:

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