I’ve intended to write about crowdfunding website Kickstarter for some time. With all the recent attention on the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff movies, I wanted to keep people focused on Kickstarter’s true raison d’etre. To my mind, crowdfunding’s purpose in its purest form is to bring something into being that was not there before – something innovative, creative, and expressive that the creator lacks funding for, and sourcing the capital for it would be nearly impossible.

There have been thousands of unique projects that fit the bill. What I sought, however, was something local to Los Angeles, and something I could literally get my hands around. It wouldn’t be small. It wouldn’t be entrepreneurial. It would be some form of modern art, a piece that was part of Los Angeles culture turned inside out, that was interactive, and more than just something people stood around and looked it, attempting to interpret its meaning.

I found it – and more — in the form of Tiki Island.

I’ll be writing and photographing a lot about Tiki Island in the weeks to come. For this introductory article, however, I want to introduce the project and offer a few insights as to why I find this project to be one of the more fascinating works I’ve come across.

On the surface, it seems deceptively simple. Yet, as Abraham Kaplan described in his 1966 essay, ‘The Aesthetics of Popular Art”, I believe Tiki Island has several hallmarks of what Kaplan dubbed “high art”.

So if you’ve seen the link to Tiki Island, you’ll initially think, “Yeah, big deal. They bought a bus, cut it up, and are building a party platform for that neo-hippie Burning Man thing”. And that interpretation is beautiful. Truly.

But I see much more.

Los Angeles is a city of transportation. The freeway traffic is legendary. The interiors of our cars have become personal expressions of our tastes and preferences. The city buses that traverse the landscape are these strange metal boxes where humans enter, sit or stand, and engage in all forms of meditation – listening to music, reading books or newspapers, or staring into space. Their inner lives, each rich in their own way, are completely hidden from view. The ride is often silent. One wonders what these people would transform into if all inhibitions were removed, and the vibrancy of their authentic souls permitted free reign – without judgment or consequence.

Tiki Island is the visual and physical manifestation of this concept. It is a drab city bus whose innards have exploded, been utterly deconstructed, and then reconstituted as a literal moving platform of humanity’s interior world. That the Island will become the centerprice of the Playa Surfers’ Burning Man Camp this year is what coalesces the emotional component with the physical.

I’ve not yet been to “The Burn”, but from all accounts, it is what Jung might call a grand awakening of the Self. A collective of 60,000 souls comes together in the desert – a location where myth tells us we are to lose (or find) ourselves, to engage in purification, redemption and initiation. It is where Christ was tempted by Satan, where the Jews sojourned in exile, where the Egyptian God Set would release the fires of passion. Burning Man, I am told, is all of this and more. Thus, Tiki Island becomes a synecdoche for all of Burning Man itself. That the piece works on multiple levels is what elevates it beyond mere popular art.

Then again, perhaps its just a real-world, adult version of the Barbie Glam n’ Jam Tour Bus.

But that’s the beauty of modern urban art. As Kaplan writes, “A reaction…is determined by the initial pre-planned external stimulus, while a response follows a course that is not laid out beforehand, but is shaped by a process of self-stimulation then and there. Spontaneity and imagination come into play; in the aesthetic experience we do not simply react to signals, but engage in the creative interpretation of symbols. The response to an art object shares in the work of its creation, and only thereby is a work of art produced.”

I did not merely react to Tiki Island, I responded, as this high-falutin’ essay should indicate. And the response I have today may itself be transformed tomorrow. I suspect, should I make it to the desert this year, that response will transform indeed.

Next Time: Joining the Build

If you would like to donate to the Kickstarter project for Tiki Island, just click HERE.
(Yes, I have done so, and so should you, if you support the arts!)

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