Burning Man co-founder to speak | NevadaAppeal.com

Burning Man co-founder to speak

Burning Man co-founder Michael Mikel will speak Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Churchill County Museum for the fourth installment in the museum’s fall lecture series covering the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art/design and math) movement.
Courtesy of Michael Mikel |

Burning Man co-founder Michael Mikel will speak Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Churchill County Museum.

His presentation is titled “Coyote Goes to Burning Man — an exploration of the historical roots of tricksters, pranksters and surrealistic art at Burning Man.” Burning Man is a nonprofit project that annually erects a temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, attracting tens of thousands of people to experience community, art, self-expression and self-reliance.

“This topic stems from my involvement with the (San Francisco) Cacophony Society,” Mikel said, “a group of pranksters and performance artists in the ‘80s. It was the Cacophony Society that first brought Burning Man to the Black Rock Desert in 1990 and had a great influence on the character, principles and art at Burning Man.”

He said his talk traces these influences even further back into the art world of the Dadaists and Surrealists as well as makes a connection between pranksters and the trickster Coyote legends of North America. The evening will conclude with a Q&A.

The fall lecture series theme is the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art/design and math) movement, and Mikel will focus on the art/design aspect. He’s an avid futurist with interests in technology and social communities and has worked for Apple and influenced startups including Wired and Laughing Squid.

“For him to have done something in technology and move onto art seems like a jump but really isn’t,” said Jennifer Jones, education curator for the museum. “STEAM is really about overall design, and for him to kind of slide into Burning Man is really more of a natural progression than people might think.”

Mikel, who joined Burning Man in 1988 and later helped bring it to the Black Rock Desert, will delve into the spirit of the coyote, representing for many indigenous peoples a trickster and teacher as well as being a character deeply imbedded in Burning Man culture. He encourages people to come laugh and be inspired as they learn about this historical relationship.

“It will be very interesting and amusing,” he said. “Very much in the spirit of Burning Man.”

Jones really wanted to have someone speak about art in a way that was an application of where they came from, expanding on their highly technical degrees or experience.

Mikel’s Silicon Valley career began in the early days of the personal computer as an electro-mechanical systems engineer. He was a Caltrans consultant in the ‘80s, researching intelligent freeway systems in Los Angeles. He went on to develop the first robotic assembly line for Apple’s Fremont plant and in 1988, he co-founded Jasmine Technology, the first technology company to be located within San Francisco city limits. He also assisted local technology startups such as Boing Boing and the Internet Archive.

Jones said the series theme came about several months ago when one of the staff members was watching PBS’ History Detectives and saw a featured expert from Fallon. Kent Tarver — who spoke Tuesday — manufactures fine airplane propellers.

“We weren’t aware someone was here making aeromatic propellers,” Jones said.

Tarver Propellers had them thinking about engineering, she said. They knew of STEM, and Churchill County Middle School emphasizes STEAM, the movement’s inclusion of art/design. When Jones learned about Mikel, she thought it interesting to move from such a technical field into such an artistic one.

Mikel drove the first art car to Burning Man, edited the first on-site newspaper and founded the Black Rock Rangers who volunteer to aid festival safety and well-being — he’s even known as “Danger Ranger.” In the ‘90s, he developed the logo that has become the community symbol as well as launched large container storage and transport for the gathering with the acquisition of its first shipping container, structures now heavily used on site by organizers and attendees.

Jones was thrilled Mikel was able to fit Fallon into his calendar.

“He is certainly adding an exceptional dynamic to our fall lecture series,” she said.