Mutant propagation

Two Chico groups build mutant vehicles for Burning Man

Glenn Tucker atop Gravy Brain’s Beau Le’Phant at a recent unveiling in Chico.

Glenn Tucker atop Gravy Brain’s Beau Le’Phant at a recent unveiling in Chico.

Photo By Photo by matt siracusa

Fund it
Donate to creative projects or start your own at

How much would you pay for a nighttime ride on top of a giant glowing pink elephant? How about for a “participatory, interdimensional and visceral experience” courtesy of the Intergalactic Transporter?

Turns out either could be had for as little as $10 thanks to “the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world”— Two different Chico-based groups of Burning Man regulars are among the first locals to use the site to fund their projects—two art cars bound for the playa: a big pink elephant (aka Beau Le’Phant) and the Intergalactic Transporter (a 70-person mobile dance floor/chill space).

Kickstarter is not an investment or money-lending site; rather it’s based on a model of collective patronage, where a proposal with a target dollar amount is posted and donors can select from a number of small-to-large increments to pledge. If the project meets the target amount by the end of the drive, then all donations are collected; if the target isn’t met, then no one is charged.

In the case of the two local Burning Man art proposals, the target amounts were $2,000 for local band GravyBrain’s Beau Le’Phant and $7,500 for the Chico Urban Art Collective’s Intergalactic Transporter, and backers gave anywhere from $10 to $500. Each project actually exceeded its funding goals, by $596 and $331, respectively.

“Cheers!” said Kevin “ShipWreck” McAllister as he climbed aboard Beau Le’Phant and raised a bottle of beer to GravyBrain bandmate and fellow elephant-builder Glenn “Dr. Galaxo” Tucker. “I can’t believe we’re standing on top of it.”

The wooden floor at the top of Beau was covered with friends invited to the unveiling in McCallister’s back yard. Standing high above the neighborhood, the bassist (McAllister) and keyboardist/vocalist of Chico’s funkiest jam band are beaming at their creation. And so are the kids climbing around, pulling the ropes to make the ears move and staring wide-eyed at this strange creature poking through the trees.

GravyBrain has been traveling to and performing at Burning Man for years, and last year after seeing the cool art cars—or “mutant vehicles”—crawling across the playa, Tucker said, “We need one of those.”

To achieve its proposed Intergalactic Transporter design, the Chico Urban Artists Collective stripped down a 1981 fire truck and rebuilt it from the chassis up.

photos courtesy of chico urban artists collective (bottom right by matt siracusa)

He’d noticed a lot of Burning Man artists on Facebook were talking about using Kickstarter to raise money for their projects, and he and the guys decided to give it a shot. They recorded a quirky, but very logical and straightforward, video complete with a cheesy cut-out elephant floating across the desert.

After two months, and a flurry of pledges submitted in the final week, they were fully funded. Initially, McAllister’s response was, “Oh shit, now we gotta really build it.” With Tucker—who had no previous art-making experience—as the artist and McAllister handling all the mechanical aspects, they spent every night for three months working on the project.

Using an old three-quarter-ton church van they’d already purchased as a base, they built up a frame for the sheer pink skin out of PVC pipe; mounted a deck on top, with a ladder leading up; reinforced the suspension; constructed the head out of old plastic soda bottles and the top hat out of an old lamp shade; and covered it all in more than 800 watts of lights.

It’s McCallister’s hope to create the kind of memory that lasts well after people return home from the desert.

Rites of Passage is this year’s BM art theme, and both groups have embraced it. Tucker said that the rite of going on safari led to GravyBrain’s choosing to go with the elephant, while the Chico Urban Artist Collective saw the organization and creation of the Intergalactic Transporter itself as their group’s rite of passage.

“We all have been extremely challenged and have grown a lot,” said Katrina Djberof, one of the 10 or so core CUAC members involved in the build.

For their art car, the CUAC (formerly known as Chico Urban Area) pulled a retired 1981 fire truck into their warehouse and stripped it to its chassis before building it back up to a two-story mutant vehicle. On top is the open-air dance floor, while inside is a chill-out area with portals along each side for taking in the dusty-but-colorful Burning Man scenery. Along either side are big retractable wings, while in the front and back, respectively, are a hippie/cattle guard and a bike rack.

The most intriguing feature might be the so-called “nebula,” or lighted portal, which will be centered right behind the cab and will be lit by LED lights in such a way as to give the impression that the transporter is time-traveling through the portal.

At interview time, they were about 85 percent complete—which was enough to get a head start on the interactivity with a kick-off party last weekend at the warehouse.

“I wanted to create something that everyone can be a part of,” said CUAC artist Paul Correa, a 14-year Burning Man veteran. “The art’s not just the vehicle, it’s the people who play.”