Thank you for your interest in the Prometheus Cube. We are gathering stories to be used in the installation at Burning Man 2009 and are looking to have broad participation and involvement.
The Prometheus Cube is an installation celebrating and investigating cultural evolution. It will be a wooden cube edged with rope lighting that contains an obelisk displaying video fire. There will be room for people to sit around the obelisk, and audio of crackling fire will be playing in the background. Every 15 minutes or so, a story will be told over the sound system.
A Bit of Background
Throughout human history, the fireside was often the location where storytelling took place. It was an important venue in cultural evolution, where ideas were transmitted amongst people. In particular, myths and fables explained both how the world worked and how we should interact with it. Their lessons may or may not have been factual, but they were instructional in understanding the world.
The cultural evolution of ideas, or memes, mirrors the biological evolution of genes. In the past, there has been a bit of a synergy; beneficial cultural behaviors actually supported survival of those who carried the ideas behind them, just as genes that were well adapted to an environment supported survival of those who carried them. As cultural evolution occurred alongside biological evolution, a coevolution took place.
In recent times, it seems that the relative equilibrium and synergy between culture and biology has fractured. Our rapidly changing modern culture has created dissonance with our biological evolution; our spines are not built to support us sitting in a chair typing on a computer all day, and our bodies are not built to constantly process high fructose corn syrup and laboratory-manufactured fats.
The Prometheus Cube
The Prometheus Cube gives us a location for reflection and interaction, to contemplate the modern world through the lens of traditional stories. The concept is not to avoid technology; the fire is made from video projection and the sounds from digital files. The concept is to embrace modernity and at the same time make it work at our own pace rather than be caught in its machinations.
The name comes from the myth of Prometheus, a titan who brought fire down from Mount Olympus to humans. As punishment from Zeus for giving humans such power, he was strapped to a mountainside where his perpetually regenerating liver would be eaten by a bird for the rest of time. The cube honors the gift of the venue, the fireside, while also acknowledging the mythic nature of the story itself.
One of the interesting things about culture is no matter how much one person or group has to say about it, there's no way a single voice could simulate the complex interactions of many voices. That's why we need widespread participation for the Prometheus Cube to be a true point of cultural reflection.
This is a call for stories to be used in the installation. In keeping with the themes of myth and modernity, the emphasis is on stories that somehow tell about modern life using metaphors. This could be a reinvention of an old myth placed into modern times; it could be a story of a modern struggle with public transportation; it could be something that happened to you this morning that you twist around into a modern fable. It could be a reflection of the state of the world in your mind's eye. There's no need for it to involve gods or metaphorical animals, although those were often used to good effect in myths and fables of the past.
While writers (and non-writers) are encouraged to come up with original stories, if there is a specific tale that seems perfect to you, feel free to submit that as well. As an example (the text of which is below) a few years ago I read a passage from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities to people I met at Burning Man. Feel free to submit such stories, but make sure to attribute the original author.
There are two ways in which you can contribute stories: as a recording, or as a text file.
All stories will be presented over the sound system in the cube. As such, we're going to need people to read them, and it'd be preferable if the creator told the story themselves. However, if you do not have the technology to make a quality digital recording, we'd be happy to make the recording for you.
Audio recordings should be clear and easily understood with no background noises to distract (kids, traffic etc) unless that background noise is used as an integral part of the story. (be creative with how you create these!) The target length is 1-5 minutes, although there is by no means a hard limit.
If you are reading a story originally written by someone else, please include "written by ...." in the audio recording.
For people who contribute a text file, there will be a variety of readers who will record the stories and provide different reading styles.
It's fine to present your story in musical form, as long as the lyrics are readily understandable
Non-original stories submitted and used will be attributed to their original author in the site installation; Original stories should be told, as around a fire, without attribution. However, I plan to put audio/text up on the website and you will receive attribution there. If you prefer I do not put your submission up on the website, or prefer the submission to be anonymous, please tell me.
Submissions, Questions, and Contact
All questions and submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please forward this information to friends who would be interested in participating, whether they attend Burning Man or not.
The tentative deadline is August 20, 2009. The earlier the submissions arrive, the better.
Thank you for participating and see you out on the Playa!
A Selection from Invisible Cities
I shared the following passage with people at Burning Man a few years ago, and while it is not set in modern times, it is the story of this art installation, the passage and sharing of knowledge and culture.
Proceeding eighty miles into the northwest wind, you reach the city of Euphemia, where the merchants of seven nations gather at every solstice and equinox. The boat that lands there with a cargo of ginger and cotton will set sail again, its hold filled with pistachio nuts and poppy seeds, and the caravan that has just unloaded sacks of nutmegs and raisins is already cramming its saddlebags with bolts of golden muslin for the return journey. But what drives men to travel up rivers and cross deserts to come here is not only the exchange of wares, which you could find, everywhere the same, in all the bazaars inside and outside the Great Khan's empire, scattered at your feet on the same yellow mats, in the shade of the same awnings protecting them from the flies, offered with the same lying reduction in prices. You do not come to Euphemia only to buy and sell, but also because at night, by the fires all around the market, seated on sacks or barrels or stretched out on piles of carpets, at each word that one man says - such as "wolf," "sister," "hidden treasure," "battle," "scabies," "lovers" - the others tell, each one, his tale of wolves, sisters, treasures, scabies, lovers, battles. And you know that in the long journey ahead of you, when to keep awake against the camel's swaying or the junk's rocking, you start summoning up your memories one by one, your wolf will have become another wolf, your sister a different sister, your battle other battles, on your return from Euphemia, the city where memory is traded at every solstice and at every equinox.
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino