Daruma is said to be an image of the Zen Buddhist patriarch Bodhidarma, and originates from the 1700s in Japan. It is a symbol for perseverance, goal-setting, and good luck. The round shape symbolizes the ability to succeed in spite of adversity, since it bounces back whenever it’s pushed over. The red color is reminiscent of a Buddhist priest's robes. Most importantly, the Daruma has two round, symmetrical blank eyes. When a Daruma is given as a gift, the recipient fills in one eye to set a goal, and the other once the goal is achieved, often while promising to give the Daruma full sight one day. In this way, the Daruma serves as a daily visual reminder of the recipient’s intention.
We are creating a Daruma for the playa for several reasons. Last year, feeling inspired after the 2016 Burn, our group of friends decided that we wanted to bring an art installation to Burning Man. Project lead Angela Chang went to Tokyo in the first quarter of 2016 for work, and while there, she acquired some mini Daruma dolls to give out to friends on the playa. As she explained the significance of the Daruma, her love for it and what it represents grew.
Angie's history with the Daruma runs deep. Not only does she have quite a collection of Daruma at home, she even had to make one as part of a homework assignment for her 8th grade Japanese language class. For the record, Angie did very poorly on that assignment -- she used all the wrong techniques and materials, and submitted a Daruma to her teacher that wasn’t even fully dry. Fast forward a couple of years. Angie’s been giving and receiving Daruma dolls on and off playa, and in January 2016, as a strategy consultant, she designed an intention setting ceremony for 250 clients at a leadership summit in Tokyo.
Shortly after the last Burn, this year’s theme, “Radical Ritual,” was announced. Angie knew right away that she wanted to bring a Daruma to the playa for BRC Citizens to interact with, and recruited her friends and fellow Burners Edwin Mendaros and Wilbur Han to join her as the project’s engineering leads. Edwin and Wilbur began drafting the designs and consulting architect and structural engineer friends right away. They thought through all the safety concerns, and turned something that was once just a dream into something that was tangible and feasible.
The Daruma sits on a ¾” 4’ x 4’ plywood base. This will be lag bolted directly into the playa to give it as much stability as possible. On top of that we use a redwood 4” x 4” as our main support vertical center beam. We then built the surrounding frame with 2’x4’s to give us the overall internal structure of the Daruma.
To give the Daruma it’s circular shape, we created plywood ribs, cut with a jig saw to give the Daruma additional shape and also guide our heavy duty ¼” chicken mesh wire that surrounds the entire Daruma. These plywood ribs act as an additional support but more importantly, create the profiles of the body, face, nose, and front ridges of the Daruma.
As with traditional Japanese Daruma dolls, its exterior is covered with papier-mache. To increase the integrity of the Daruma, we’ve layered multiple types of papier-mache on top of each other, including newspaper, claycrete, and cheesecloth.
At night, our Daruma will be illuminated by a set of six 12V LED flood lights powered by a deep cycle marine battery. We’ve decided to go with waterproof professional grade LED flood lights to ensure we have the brightest light possible illuminating the Daruma from all angles. We’re also roping off the Daruma with stanchions & 12V LED rope lights to allow people a good viewing area, as well as protect the Daruma from bicyclists, art cars, and wandering BRC citizens. We’ve created the stanchions out of 4’x4’ wood pillars and plywood bases. The stanchions’ design may seem familiar to you – they were inspired by the Burning Man lamp posts!
We conceived our initial design after consulting friends who are professional engineers and architects. The first version of the design featured the same internal wooden main frame. We wanted to make sure that our internal frame structure would be capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of the playa and support the full weight of the Daruma.
Before starting the build on the full scale Daruma, we wanted to test our design by building one on a smaller scale. We decided to build a two foot model using our initial design plans. The goal was to learn from the mini Daruma build process, and we sure learned a lot from building it!
- Chicken wire is not easy to shape - the original chicken wire we chose had gauges that were too wide
- Red paint comes in many shades, and dries differently on papier-mache than on drywall
- Claycrete, if too wet, will fall right through chicken wire and cause a mess
- Wood glue dries really slowly...really, really slowly
- When in doubt, staple gun everything!
- Bumps in papier-mache are super obviously even after being painted over
- In order to survive all the elements, our structure needs to be stronger and more rigid
- We need bigger and better tools (“started from a jig saw now we here…”)
- We need more supplies (3x more screws and L brackets!)
- We’re over budget :(