Built on a flat-bed truck, the stylized metal figure of a praying mantis is 40 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet high. When the truck bed is raised, the figure reaches a height of 55 feet—including the graceful antennae that throw flames from each end. Painted a mottled green, sporting large round eyes streaked with red and featuring the realistic, slightly frightening angled legs of its namesake, the massive insect was designed by Salt Lake City aerospace engineer Kirk Jellum, who explains, “It’s actually a 150 scale (model) of a praying mantis that I captured last fall. We hired a welder/artist to build it.”
“We” includes his wife, former extreme ski champion Kristen Ulmer, an avid “Burner” who helped see the project to fruition.
“Mantis” was unveiled with great celebration at a pre-burn rave in early August; joined by other Utah art cars—all drivable—that will also be making their way to Black Rock City in the Nevada desert, such as a motorized polar bear, a brontosaurus and a 23-foot-long rat, which light up and move their heads, as well as “Betty the Beetle,” created from metal pipe outlined with flashing lights. Conservative Utah will be well represented at Burning Man; in fact, the ethos of the event is ingrained throughout the state, where frequent gatherings are held by Burners who want to capture or recapture some sense of the huge annual Burn.
Jellum estimates that thousands of Utahns go to Burning Man. “There’s a pretty big scene here,” says Jellum, who describes the event in Nevada as a week of “radical self-expression.”
The ambiance of the Burn has taken hold throughout America. Most major cities have pre-burn parties and post burn “decompression” gatherings. Utah’s official Burner central, “Element 11,” holds events throughout the year. However, none of them are quite like the real Burn.
According to Ulmer, there is nothing like the main Burn.
“People who’ve never been to Burning Man make common mistakes,” says Ulmer, an eight-time Burner. “They think it’s crowded because they hear 65,000 people will be coming. But is a city spread out over 36 square miles crowded? No. It’s not like a music festival; it’s a small city. You can’t buy or sell anything. There’s no bartering. You have to be self-sufficient. Another mistake people make is thinking it’s some sort of green event or hippie thing. That could not be farther from the truth. This is not where you go to share peace and love and caring for the planet. This is where you go to blow shit up.”
Reflectively, she adds, “But it’s also about the community, about loving your Burner neighbor in a Mad Max anarchy scene. Because it’s total anarchy. There are over 1,300 theme camps, and that can be anything from the Goddess worship camp to the oral-sex-contest camp. Nearly everyone does something. There are very few tourists at Burning Man.”
As for the “Mantis,” Jellum says, “It will be remarkable, it will be one of the more unique ones. A lot of the other art cars are party mobiles; this one is a piece of art.”
The couple won’t reveal how much it cost to build the massive art car; but Ulmer’s own art car, the rat she recently sold to another burner, cost $7,000—and it was constructed around a golf cart, not a full flat-bed truck.
Currently parked in a cul-de-sac in the hills high above Salt Lake City and drying from its final paint job, the “Mantis” will soon be readied for the trip to Black Rock Desert. Once the man is burnt, the bug will return, ready to show, as Jellum says, “Burning Man is alive and well in Utah.”
After the Burn, there will be several parties featuring the gigantic work of art. For more information or for an invite, contact Ulmer at email@example.com.