A Bird-Trap Church and a Cathedral of Photographs… Burning Man 2013

A side view of Church Trap at Burning Man 2013.

If you ever caught birds as a kid, you’ll recognize this set up. You would take a wooden box, put a stick under one side tied to a string, and then put bird seed under the box. You get the idea. The name for this diabolical structure designed by Rebekah Waites was called Church Trap. I thought the outhouse was a clever addition.

One summer when I was a child, my mother decided it was time my brother, sister and I got some old-time religion. So we were dressed up and dropped off at the Diamond Springs Community Church for Vacation Bible School. I must have been all of five years old. Marshall and Nancy were older.

One day we were privileged to witness a true miracle in progress. Somehow we had escaped from Vacation Bible School only to be corralled into attending an actual kids’ service. I think it was a graduation ceremony meant to put the exclamation point on our lessons. It came complete with hymns, prayers, a sermon and lots of Amens. Then the big moment arrived.

“Would you like to hear the Lord knocking at your heart?” the Minister asked.

“Oh yeah!”  “Wow!”  “Really?”  What little kid could resist?

“None of you little kids open your eyes until I tell you to,” he ordered.

Twenty little children dutifully bowed their heads and screwed their eyes shut. Three didn’t. If there was to be a miracle, the Mekemson kids wanted to see it. So we watched the preacher with eagle-eyed attention. He tiptoed from the pulpit to the back of the church.

Bang, bang, bang. He pounded on the back door. Yes indeed, the Lord does work in mysterious ways. We watched the minister tiptoe back to his pulpit.

“OK,” he said, “you can open your eyes now. Did you hear the Lord knocking?”

Twenty little sets of big round eyes popped open and twenty little mouths started gabbing all at once. You could almost guarantee that the kids would be eager to come back to church. The minister smiled smugly until his eyes fell on us. We got the glare. He kept us afterwards for the lecture. Unless we changed our ways, we were bound for a very hot place.

I thought immediately of the experience when I saw the Church Trap. I wondered if the minister would have had a sense of humor about it. Probably not…

Another side photo of the church with this one featuring the lonely desert mountains behind it. The church looked like it had come straight out of an Old West ghost town.

Another side photo of the church with this one featuring the desolate mountains surrounding the Black Rock Desert. It was a fitting backdrop for a church that looked like it had come straight out of an Old West ghost town. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A front view of Church Trap with me holding up the trap pole. Does this make me a pillar of the church? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A front view of Church Trap with me holding up the trap pole. Does this make me a pillar of the church? Note the roll of music coming out the top. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Church Trap at Burning Man 2013

Inside, an organ filled the church with the music you saw escaping in the previous photo. Was music the birdseed designed to trap people?

Church Trap designed by artist Rebekah Waites at Burning Man 2013

A view of the music filled church. Tom Lovering, AKA Adios, has been lured inside.

Curtis Mekemson springs the Church Trap at Burning Man 2013.

With enough people inside, I move to spring the trap. And yes, I did catch a bird or two as a kid. They escaped. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

“It’s the biggest thing I have ever done,” Mike Garlington said of his Photo Chapel, a 40-foot tall cathedral where Mike featured his photographs of family, friends and fellow DPW (Burning Man’s Department of Public Works) volunteers. His contemporary work had a feeling of age, like photos that were taken in the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century. “I collect old photos and these are terrific,” a young woman standing next to me said. Like her, I had assumed the photos were taken from an earlier era until I saw Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man, staring out at me from one of them.

Mike Photo Chapel from the rear. Larry Harvey is on the bottom right.

Mike Garlington’s Photo Chapel from the rear. Larry Harvey is on the bottom right.

Burning Man 2013 Photo Chapel.

The back of the Photo Chapel at night with Larry Harvey at the bottom center.

A front view of the Photo Chapel by Mike Garlington at Burning Man 2013.

A front view of the Photo Chapel. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The steeple of the Photo Chapel at Burning Man 2013.

Looking up at the Steeple of the Photo Chapel. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Burning Man 2013 Photo Chapel.

A side view of the Photo Chapel at night.

A view from inside the Photo Chapel. The person featured is Joey Jello, a member of Black Rock City's Department of Public Works who die in an auto crash just before 2012 Burning Man. His motto, shown below, was "Never Betray." It referred to his core values.

A view from inside the Photo Chapel. The person featured is Joey Jello, a member of Black Rock City’s Department of Public Works who died in an auto crash just before 2012 Burning Man. His motto, shown below the photo, was “Never Betray.” It referred to his core values. As for the horses, I don’t have a clue.

Photos on the Photo Chapel at Burning Man 2013 taken and processed by Mike Garlington. builder of the chapel.

A close up to provide a closer look at some of the photos. Mike Garlington, photographer and creator of the chapel is on the upper left. Larry Harvey on the lower right.

Photo of chimp on Burning Man 2013 Photo Chapel.

I’ll conclude with this chimp who appears to be praying.

NEXT BLOG: A visit to Center Camp.

23 comments on “A Bird-Trap Church and a Cathedral of Photographs… Burning Man 2013

  1. Thank you Curt and Peggy for sharing all your Burning Man experiences. I’m so enjoying it. Amazing constructions. My favourite so far is Truth is Beauty. What an extraordinarily gifted artist. But I must say I love the Church Trap – never did get caught in it myself – thank God 🙂

    • Yeah, I sort of got caught as a teenager, although it was what I needed at the time and had some great ministers. Later I went my own way with a leaning toward Zen. In a few blogs I will show the Temple at Burning Man, which is just the opposite of the Church Trap. –Curt

  2. I love both of these churches – they’re really quite marvelous, filled with creativity and good humor. If only there were a bit more of both in the Christian church as a whole. There are plenty of Christians who wouldn’t recognize me as one, but I am – and I still love Annie Dillard’s great line: “Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?”

    The detail that caught me with the photo church is the decoration apart from the photos – all those hands and eyes! It’s truly just wonderful.

    • I don’t remember the exact number, but as I recall there were over a thousand eyes. The big ones, yes, but there were also small ones everywhere. And yes, I loved the humor. Christianity is always better with a sense of humor. –Curt

  3. wow..just wow.. how utterly creative is the “church trap”.. I too got caught in that trap for a brief time as a teen but grew to embrace more than what was encompassed in those walls.. The photo chapel is another creative piece.. such amazing craftsmen at BM.. I am so impressed with the quality..

    • I’ve watched the quantity and quality of art growing in the ten years I’ve gone to Burning Man Lynne. There is growing consensus that the event is one of the top centers of art creativity in the world. –Curt

  4. Oh, my…. First, what a cute story of a mischievous Curt! And second, I’m relatively sure the church was safe (Remember, even the Mythbusters err once in a while.), how did it stay “propped” up??

  5. I am always amazed at the size and structure of the buildings/art that attract us to the playa. How do they build them in “one week” to withstand the elements?

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