The Origins of Ray Cirino’s “Water Woman”.
By Ray Cirino
The Beginnings of Waterwoman – 1995
In 1994 my bother Chuck started taping Weird America from coast to coast. I lived in the SF bay area during that time and was sent out to look for weirdness especially in SF. I found the The Cacophony Society and turned my brother on to this group, who in turn, turned him on to BM. When he found out that there was a desert festival he asked me to join him out in the Nevada desert called Blackrock. When he told me there were guns out there as part of the festival I told him I’m not interested. He went anyway and brought back video footage which then turned into BM first documentary video. After seeing and edited it with him I was hooked on going in 1995. I interviewed the BM staff with my brother in 1994 before going to the event in 1995. I got to know the staff really well as we both connected with all the artists as well.
After we drove home to Los Angeles my brother convinced me to go in 1995, but I needed to bring something special. My first idea was a costume that was able to hear, speak, touch, taste, and see better than the human body could. I lost interest in that when we were in a circle of friends discussing what we were going to do. I said. “Let’s have a shower and call it Water Woman” I turned on my computer and began rendering a form that looked a little like BM, but I put a water catchment pyramid as the head and the rest some kind of wood structure. I remembered years ago seeing wooden sculptures near Berkley right on the SF Bay shoreline. I wanted to make one there, but never did. Now I needed some wood, so I jumped in my truck and drove around San Fernando Valley looking for anything I could make Water Woman with. It was Thursday and my brother had already left to BM. I saw this big blue dumpster along the River of Angels that had 11/8″ plywood. There were three full sheets with a few scratches and holes, but in good shape. I put them in my truck and drove back home. When I arrived I already had the design worked out. It hit my very clearly to slot her together without screws or nails. So in 6 hours without even setting her up on a dry run I packed her parts into the car and drove up to the Bay Area, where a friend Terry would install the watering system. It was a washing machine pump with a 5 gallon water bottle as the storage. We then loaded up his van and drove out to the playa.
When we arrived to the dried up lake bed it was totally black without lights anywhere. We drove on to the playa and felt like we were in a boat. Arthur who worked with my brothers company was with us also was gone as the days. This was a major concern to Terry as he saw no landmark or light to guide us. We finally saw a light on the horizon so we made a line toward it. All the apprehension and worries vanished as the light grew larger. Finally we drove up on a camp of people and I recognized the artists we interviewed months earlier. We were asked even before the van stopped to carry this huge fiberglass dog with about 10 people. John Law was the first to welcome us to BM as soon as we set down the dog. He then directed us to my brother’s camp where we set up our tents and quickly fell asleep.
The next morning I looked out of my tent and I was amazed. Every direction I looked was endless playa and nothing man made, except for cars, tents, trailers and some strange moving objects called art cars. I felt like I had to and wanted to get Water Woman installed ASAP. So with granola bars crunching in my mouth downing it with OJ, I was told to put her right off the middle of center camp. We needed electrical so we had to edge close to this character Flash who had this bar set up behind us. The moments before installation were electric and full of charged energy. I actually couldn’t wait for my buds to help me, so I did it myself. As she rose over the playa above most of the tallest things around her I’ll never forget the feeling the moment I put the last steak intro the ground and stood back and looked upon the massive canvas where all I could see was BM and Water Woman dominating the scene; male and female, yin and yang, water and fire. Slowly people gathered around her and asked what she was and I gladly said, “Water Woman.” Terry then hooked up the water pump and we had our first shower. With blue food color added for effect we showered Arther and a young lady who worked in Washington D.C. in a political roll she kept secret, but did shower nude. People would come to WW and shower with their own water all day Saturday, until it rained, hailed and a double rainbow opened big on the sky. I turned around and saw about two hundred muddy people needing a shower from rolling in the mud. It was too much fun as we had people wash each other off of tons of mud. There wasn’t any other way to get the mud off in camp. WW was an instant hit as she was the place to wash off and be energized.
The first year I burned her, but as she was being placed into the fire there were a seedy element within the burning man circle of flames that unceremoniously dragged her into the fire and stumped on her. It made me really mad to see this rage.
Water Woman Didn’t Burn – 1996
In 1996 someone robbed my shop of all my tools and when we welded on a larger lock the sparks started a fire that burnt the rest of the space. I was without tools or materials to build WW and was depressed, until I asked a friend, Roman to use his shop and tools. It was hard to make WW as I didn’t have much time to do her right, because she grew from 12′ tall – 17′ and her hair was getting longer. This year I installed a hand pump so people would have to give their fellow people showers. I met with Larry Harvey a month before BM to talk about putting WW in what he coined Mud Hinge. WW was such a hit in 95, he wanted to bring the mud people to WW so there would be a major interaction. Turned out another group brought a shower and water sprayer next to us and stole the show. We had only a few gallons, but we still were attracting crowds. We shot a video that has never been finished, but we when out to another local playa outside of LA to finish some of the shots.
The night of the burn I wasn’t sure how or if I should burn WW. After BM went down there were large groups of people looking for something else to burn. Jim Mason’s Veg-i-matic firing throwing tractor pulled up with an entourage of 2,000 people. He torched Mud Hinge as the blowing fire came close to WW. She lit up bright against the dark, starry sky. He drove the beast over to WW and asked me if he could torch her and I said get 1″ from her and see what the people want. At that moment a friend of mine Eric Trueheart stood in harm’s way wearing a white painter’s outfit with a staff with a lighted skull. For some unknown reason he made it clear WW would not burn. Earlier that night a couple jumped in front of a local drunk and I heard the hippy defending WW say, “The ground she rests on is sacred and she must not burn”
As we all became surrounded by the whole population of burners people started throwing burning 2×4’s at WW and one hit her in the hip, which prevented people behind her from getting hurt. The chant went out, “Burn the bitch, burn the bitch.” It was getting close to a riot until one by one people stood up on her deck with Eric to defend her. Then there were more and more and the Veg-i-matic backed off and the disappointed crowd walked away into a smoke filled sky, leaving a circle of white knights around WW who stayed with her all night until morning sun. This was the first time a burnable structure didn’t burn, because of the few people who dedicated themselves to WW. That morning we had several people thanking us for not burning her who themselves almost got lost in all the smoke, but they saw her standing tall as the only art left on the playa that year in 1996.
Fly Hot Spring’s Water Woman – 1997
In 1997 WW was installed in a hot spring, Fly Hot Springs. WW was the only art allowed in the springs, because the owner of the land thought nothing else would be appropriate for the setting. I also installed a weathered sign from an old local barn that was routed a message that read, “Walk softly on this earth.” I constructed a dock out of salvaged 2×6’s found at a lumber yard in Reno. I built it 1″ under water to give the feeling of walking on water. There were 6 clay fired animal heads on the pathway to WW. The large ponds temperature was about 100 degrees. The surroundings were breathtaking with reed beds, birds and life everywhere.
When installation was complete, a group of dancers with mud designs on their naked bodies and golden rod in their hair began to feel the energy from the space. They danced around and on top of WW as she sprayed a mist of air cooled water onto the 100 bathers and performers. A singer named Fantuzi and his band accompanied the dancers with the most beautiful music written on the spot about what was happening all around us. There was no other place on earth as heavenly as that moment in time. We hardly left that hot springs knowing that a painted sunset might reflect in the water of WW.
WW stood up for 2 years with 100 mph winds until one winter she fell. I was called by a BM staffer Michael to see if they could give her a sacred burning and I told him it was OK. The copper paint I used surprised them as they saw different colors of fire whistling out as she burned. All that remains is a dock that has minerals embedded in the wood pours that has built up sediment that almost turned to stone.