Otto von Danger's friends wanted him to blow up a bank.
"They were upset about what the banks are doing," the Oakland artist (real name Otto Ewen) explained. "We all are." But von Danger is famous for blowing stuff up on an epic scale, like the city façade Megatropolis at 2010's Burning Man. "Just a bank is kind of blasé," he says.
So, he's aiming bigger: Burn Wall Street.
The project (estimated cost: $100,000) will erect Wall Street's major landmarks in the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man, let participants interact with them for a week, and the blow them up. It's von Danger's first foray into political art, and he emphasizes that it is not simply a left-wing statement: Burning Wall Street may be the one thing most Americans agree on.
"Wall Street is manipulating the political parties to divide the Tea Parties and the Occupiers when they both want the same thing," von Danger says. "They think of themselves as enemies when the real enemy is the thing that got them both mad in the first place."
Burn Wall Street will be anchored by the New York Stock Exchange, which Burners enter by trampling an oversized version of the Bill of Rights; the next door Bank of UnAmerica tower will have volunteers who glue actual foreclosure statements to the façade; the Goldman Sucks building will house a giant jungle gym, allowing the ambitious to climb over each other to reach the view 72 feet up.
Perhaps most delicious is the replica of Zuccotti Park (renamed Tecate, after the beer) where von Danger expects Burning Man participants to camp and hold meetings. Since Burning Man forbids camping in the main art area, Burn Wall Street will periodically encourage actual federal agents (of the real Bureau of Land Management) to clear protesters out.
It will take a crew of about 50 people over two months to build. Spots are still available on the crew, and tax-deductible donations (under the auspices of Veterans for Peace) are needed. (Find out more at BurnWallStreet.net.)
Then, after five days on display, the entire structure will be destroyed on the night of Sept. 7. Von Danger says it will be a success if it encourages people on both sides of the political spectrum to at least consider uniting against a common foe — and do the difficult legwork to found and support third parties. "You need to realize that bringing your AK-47 or your bongo drums to a protest is not going to change the world," he says.
Also, "When it blows up I want people to shit their pants and grin from ear to ear."