Hi, my name is Tom Woodall, sometimes known as Rock. I am the creator of the Pins Project and I would like to share a little bit about the journey that brought me here.
My first trip to Burning Man was in 2010, Metropolis (now, that’s a story in itself, but I’ll save it for another time). Metropolis knocked my socks off and the Playa got into my blood. I was going back, and I was going to bring some art. For 2011, Rites of Passage, I brought the Wind Watchers installation. Three panels of glass stood vertically with abstract designs painted within and ten positive emotions on the outside. From this project, I met Bettie June (Burning Man’s associate director of art management) and learned how to write an Honorarium grant proposal.
Wind Watchers was contemplative … meant to bring peace to the mind and soul. My next project, having talked with Bettie June, was going to be participatory… interactive, inviting, inclusive, playful. So I set to thinking about what kinds of things would be interactive. I had been impressed with some of the installations that were based on toys that have a history and connection to childhood and memories of fun and play. Several ideas floated around. The pin board toy that sat on my sister’s counter for many years — and which held my distracted attention each time I saw it — was in the mix. I wasn’t real keen on it, though, because it just seemed like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Then one day, as I was wandering through a thrift store, which I like to do to calm my mind, I came across a pin board … it was plastic, with a couple of pins missing, but it kinda spoke to me and I knew then that this was where I was going to go. But it still had to stew around in my head for a while before I could figure out how to do it properly for the Playa.
By January the ticket fiasco was getting set up and the excitement of the lottery was in the air and the art grant applications were due at the end of the month. I still hadn’t committed to applying, but over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend I decided to sit down and work the thing out. So I sat down and started doodling … starting with the center pin panel as the core. I played with this and that and another idea and then things began to take shape… two snakes rose out of the playa and met at a globe. Hmmp, that’s kinda cool. Then they took on these Art Nouveau-ish kind of curvy lines and an arch grew around them. All kinds of different bases formed and went away until I settled on the outline we have now. Looking at the snakes, it seemed they kinda looked like peacocks, so I added topknots and kinda liked that too…
So I had my design. Now I had to get into the grant application and fill in the blanks that would help to make it become real. I spent the next two weeks wracking my brain for all of the parts and pieces I was going to need, digging into the Internet seeking out prices and more ideas, coming up with a build plan and attempting to explain the piece in detail so that the readers could understand exactly what I was talking about. One of the things that Bettie June helped me understand was that the readers need to be able to form as clear a picture of the project as possible and be able to see it through the descriptions, illustrations and thinking that I had given to it.
Just before the grant was due, the theme, Fertility 2.0, was announced. One of the things that was clear about these grants was that the evaluators like projects that relate to the theme. Right… um, well, if you look at what I have… you can almost read a sexual/fertility/reproductive aspect into it. Art Nouveau is a very sensual art form and those snaky-looking peacocks could be sperm and the globe an egg … why not? The pin board does kinda look like a penis and the arch a vagina… why not? (Later, it was pointed out that this was a male perspective and that it could also be viewed from a female perspective where the arch is a womb and the pin board a vagina – I like that too …very much. It captures the duality of us all). So anyway, I built that into the description of the piece in the application, crossed my fingers and sent it off.
It took forever to find out if I had been accepted or rejected… excited anxiety. When I didn’t get my ticket in the lottery, this project became my best hope of even getting into that event in the desert … Yikes! 349 grant applications had been submitted … 349! And when they said that only 47 had been accepted, gulp… the excited anxiety went way up by several more notches. Then they said that they would contact the projects that did not get funded first, so all I could do was wait…and wait… and wait… GAW! The longer I waited the more likely I was going to get funded, but who knew? I’m just a guy out in Eastern Washington, the dry-side, who just really wants to participate, but it just seems so unlikely against 349 proposals from surely some of the best in the world.
Finally the email came … that was one of the most exciting days of my life… WOW! I did it! I really did! But then the reality began to set in… Gulp! I’ve got to deliver this thing… I have to bring it out of my head and manifest it into the world. What a concept. I get to make this happen! And to be one of the 47 is an amazing honor. To represent my region… the dry-side, is a great honor. To stand as an artist is a huge honor… to be brought to Burning Man as one of the 47 is a true honor. I am humbled and grateful to have been selected… it really is an honor!