Chris Wiggins and The Circle of Friends Project. [Burners in the Spotlight]


This month Kathleen Norris and Jeremy Meehan interviewed Chris Wiggens (Nova) and David Meljie (Zoom Zoom) regarding the Circle of Friends Project. Below are some excerpts from our conversation. We’re hoping you find insight into the scope of the project, how it began and how you can get involved.

Are you an artist? have an art project of your own that you’d like to spread the word about in the Sacramento region? Submit your details here!


What stood out as a special memory from your venture onto playa in 2018 with the trial sculpture?
Chris: “The next day [after build] I go out to check on the Circle of Friends sculpture and there’s this little girl about 6 years old standing under the legs of our man. I’d gone out to check on him because there’d been horrible dust storms the entire day before. Build had been terribly difficult. The little girl didn’t speak English - but her parents were nearby and translated their daughter’s French so I could understand.  ‘She just loves this sculpture. It makes her so happy.’ It felt really special to see someone so small, and so sincere, enjoying the art we’d brought to playa.”


Wiggins is the lead artist and creator of the Circle of Friends Project - planned to return to playa in 2019 following the team’s successful trial year at the last burn where the team brought just one 12’ sculpture.  Wiggins is working to create a much larger and more interactive Circle of Friends for this year’s burn with 6 sculptures, each of them maybe as big as 20 feet tall.

Wiggins continued, “That little girl handed me a tiny paper scroll with a note inside in her handwriting.  It was all in French - so it was a couple days before I found someone to translate it. It read, ‘I’m on a plane traveling to Burning Man with my family for vacation.  I’m practicing my writing. I’m writing this note to give to someone at Burning man who’s art makes me happy inside.’ That was just one of the experiences last year that helped me know that the project was going to be worth it.”

The Circle of Friends Project is aiming to be a 2019 Burning Man Honoraria Grant awardee and is preparing to bring 6 large aluminum humanoid figures arranged in a circle around a fire barrel to playa this year.  The sculptures are highly interactive and will feature hearts that light up and heart rate monitors that visitors can use to activate the sculptures in a variety of ways. Wiggins and his team also wants to have fire features at the top of each sculpture’s head.

When was your first burn? How did you end up on playa?
Chris: “In 2002 I attended my first Burning Man at the encouragement of my friend Zoom Zoom (David Meljie). I didn’t know what to expect and even brought my work computer and a bunch of paperwork to fill my time with. I didn’t understand what I would do with all my free time. But when I got out of the truck I shut the door behind me. My work stuff was inside and I never opened the door again and an amazing whirlwind began.”

What is the fundraising goal for Circle of Friends Project and how will you guys get there?
Chris: “Our total budget all in with all our dreams for the project funded is $95,000 but we have scaled the project and tiered it so that we could work with a budget near $75,000 if we need.

We were offered an honorarium last year by Burning Man - we chose to pass - wanting instead to take 2018 as a trial year to work out any obstacles to make for an even more successful return to playa in 2019. We hope this year to take full advantage of any Burning Man honorarium we might be offered - and add to that fundraising efforts from the events hosted by the Circle of Friends support camp and even more funds raised through Hatchfund.”

Where did the idea for Circle of Friends come from?
Chris: “It goes back to after my first year at Burning Man. I was gifted a terra cotta pot with a circle of friends surrounding a flame. I liked it and over time it felt like a good reminder of what Burning Man had become for our camp - a gathering place and connection for a Circle of Friends. Over and over we would run into reminders - and other terra cotta pots - both me and Zoom Zoom. The idea to make this a large interactive sculpture on playa just persisted. In 2017 we started making sketches and I realized that nothing was going to happen if we didn’t start taking the first steps.”

David: “Yeah, Deanna purchased a circle of friends candle holder for a member in our camp. And then a house I moved into 8 years ago had one in the backyard. They kept popping up and led us to continue brainstorming; Chris and I haven’t every stopped talking about this idea. And now we have a doorway to walk through to make this happen.”

How is the team filling out?
Chris: “Good. Jeremy Evans from the Reno Generator has taken on the role of CNC engineer. I’m continuing as the project lead and artist. Zoom Zoom has been the constant supporter, warehouse supplier our cheerleader and my friend. Jackie Weimar is coming on as our communications lead and I’m excited about that.”

What has Burning Man meant to you over the years?
David: “I can’t imagine missing Burning Man. For 18 years - focused on love and people. And through the years - several different camps. From 2002 on I’ve hosted events and what I love is bringing people together. What I get out of this is that somehow we are able to get along at Burning Man and I hope that we can continue to bring that into the world.”

How has fundraising been going?
Chris: “Good. It’s going to take everything we can. Our Circle of Friends support camp raised over $5000 at the White Ass Ball on New Years Eve. We were really thankful for contributions like Jon Thompson’s - he made a custom burn barrel that we were able to raffle off and make a considerable amount on. Everyone is helping how they can.”