Catacomb of Veils- Burning Man 2016 Reflections



Part 1: The Project

Part 2: The Inspiration

Part 3: The Team

Part 4: The Scope

Catacomb of Veils Burning Man 2016: Reflections

Catacomb of Veils designed by Dan Sullivan




Anna Thorsen (my daughter):

“I’ve back been home in San Francisco from Burning Man for 24 hours and I’ve been trying to figure out how to summarize my first trip to the playa. Honestly, I was terrified to go. I was scared of the emotional, physical and financial demands, scared of the dust, the wind, the darkness of night. Terrified of not getting the right outfits, not eating enough food, not finding the time to rest, not going to the right events and not being with the right people. I was so unbelievably scared of the idea of being caught in a dust storm at night and not finding my way home.🌗

During my 8 days on the playa, there was not one moment were I felt scared, overwhelmed, in the wrong place or unequipped to handle any situation I came encountered. In fact, I DID get caught alone in a dust storm at night and it was one of the BEST experiences of the whole week. My Burning Man was 8 days of pure joy, celebration, self acceptance, resilience, vulnerability, discovery, ease, comfort, strength and learning. 🌘

The most difficult part to translate into words is my interactions with people. Some I’ve known for years, some I met while building the Catacombs in SF, some I met on this trip and some I shared just a brief 30 seconds with. I fell madly and deeply in love with the human spirit, body and soul. Each one of us has stories to tell, lessons to teach and lessons to learn from one another. I am so thankful for everyone who choose to share the vulnerability of their Burning Man experience with me so freely. Thank you.🌒

It took my 7 years to get to Burning Man and if it wasn’t for my best friend @jhkillian, I would not have endured this test. I did find my way home, and all was exactly how it needed to be…🌓”

Joseph Killian (my daughter’s soulmate/best friend, my second son):

“And after 16 days I am finally home. My bed and shower feel incredible and my heart is fuller than I think it has ever been.

We set out on a journey to build the Catacomb of Veils in February and though it was ambitious it was perfect. It became a symbol, a living piece of art that represented our commitment to form a community that was defined by generosity and mutual affection. Through long days and nights of hard work, we opened and gifted it to Burning Man and then we solemnly burned it. It was once in a lifetime and without it I would not have been transformed the way I have been over the last few months.

I found love. The type I’ve not felt ever before and the Catacomb was a monument to the discovery of that love. I looked at it through that lens and it kept me working and fighting for it, even when I thought I had nothing left to give.

Having the crew there as well as @annatfabulous was all I could ask for during the week. We rode through the desert like we were on the moon and it was amazing.

Though it’s gone, it’s in all who built it, all who experienced its interior for 48 hours and all that witnessed it’s beautiful burn. It’s within our hearts now and that can’t be burned.

Words will never be enough.”

Joseph and Anna

More reflections:

Anna and David

Courtenay Loechl:

“Friday morning I sat with my Catacomb of Veils crew- my family- and waited in anticipation for our final chapter. Sun rays began to sneak above the horizon and the pyramids were finally lit. As the sun rose, our beloved Catacombs went up in flames. They fiercely licked and beautifully danced; they billowed and coalesced with power and immediacy. And they tugged at every heart string and lit up my soul.

When I walked through the Catacombs the night we opened, I burst into tears. Every corner reminded me of a memory, a laugh, a story. A problem or roadblock, and the solution we found. When I took one last look I cried again, knowing that I had finally poured everything I could and more into this project, and I would do it all over again.

The last 2.5 weeks have been some of the hardest of my entire life. Building for 12 days in the desert meant 16 hours a day, 100 degree heat, white out dust storms, injuries, frustrations. Today I laughed when I reread a text I sent on my way to the playa, where I said I was worried maybe I wouldn’t be tough enough, or would drag the team down. I don’t think I’ve ever proved myself more wrong.

Building on the playa means giving everything you have until you’re empty, and then giving 3 more hours because you’re a crew and you’re so damn committed to each other. It means being really scared of heights but still jumping into a climbing harness and hanging off a pyramid 4 stories up until 2am to finish cladding. It means getting a nose bleed while building a floor and just shoving a handkerchief into your face and continuing with a nail gun because we’ve got shit to do! It also means you’re way is not always the right way, and even if it is, that’s not always most important. I don’t know if I’ve ever had my physical, mental, and emotional trifecta pulled to that extent all at once for so long.

Building also meant community like I’ve never experienced, guidance, trust, determination, perseverance, acceptance, and love. Oh so, so much love. I’ve never been so grateful. Though I’m having trouble with it ending, I remember the feeling watching it burn that my heart could explode in bliss and release.

My last day on the playa was spent helping with our LNT (Leave No Trace) clean up. As I biked away, covered in charcoal, I teared up again. It may look like we started with a handful of lumber and ended simply with ash, but we created magic. We built community. We ignited the spirits of thousands.

The one question I got all week after we finished that I couldn’t quite answer was ‘But how did you guys do it??’ We had a crew half the size of other big art. We had 60 mph winds that cracked a 30 foot wall down the center and nearly took out our foundation, setting us back 2 days. We had bumps and roadblocks and you name it but somehow it just flowed, and we knew every single minute that there was no way we weren’t succeeding. We also learned to define our success in other ways, and sometimes we realized it wasn’t actually about the pyramids at all.

The Catacomb of Veils meant something different to each of us. And when I bumped into a wonderful new soul on that bike ride home from LNT, I knew exactly what to write when he asked for a journal entry.

Feeling so empty and so full is a strange feeling, but one I’m embracing completely. I owe so much growth to this project and family, that selfishly the Catacomb could never give back to the community what it gave to me.

Alfonso, Joseph, Kahai. Photo by Kahai Sumida Tate

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