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The Need for Tall Tales
by Mathew Gilbuena

Published on June 2, 2021

Aftermath participates in a cleansing ritual within caves once inhabited by Neanderthals in France.
Aftermath participates in a cleansing ritual within caves once inhabited by Neanderthals in France.

There are very few lightning-bolt moments that has shaken my worldview to such an extent that it has forever altered my perception of the reality around me. On one such occasion, I was nose deep in Demons Don’t Dream, a novel that utterly broke the fourth wall between between the reader and the book, it itself a story following a character who’s own fourth wall was being broken down between his reality, called Mundania, and a magical Florida-shaped world called Xanth. How could a book be so self-aware? Seventh-grade me, quite amused and addicted to the story, would read the tales just before wood shop class. What a place to explore shattering realities! A tale of fantasy, a blank canvas and a wood shop in which to create!

Growing up as an 80s baby, the Space Age was in full force, with images of Neptune beaming back from the Voyager 2 space probe, and promises of planets beyond inspiring the youth of the era to reach for the stars. Annoyingly, those space probes were quite slow, and I’ve already read all the astronomy books that I could lay my hands on from the library. The tools that were afforded to my imagination as a youth were NASA, drawing shoddy Super Mario Bros. airships on construction paper, diving into the fantasy worlds of Xanth and Death Gate Cycle, and finally, via the Information Superhighway, learning of another fourth-wall breaking story, a video game called Myst. It was a hopeful time, with promises of a great utopian future.

I began writing my own stories of floating islands and a people caught between magic and technology, and how this environment affected them. My experiences in high school became the dramas that played out in these fantasies. Some wrote in a journal; I would excitedly craft worlds of magic that would explain what happened during the lunch break that day: A tall tale of my life. I shared these stories with my friends, and they entertained my weird ways and helped enrich the stories.

During a multi-day stay within Neanderthal caves in France, a spontaneous and improvisational ritual formed in celebration of friendship and to the ancestors who once roamed there. We'll later learn that those caves were infested with mosquitos and tick.

Tall tales, as you know, are not just limited to a story about Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox. I found stories of a historical past that shimmered in warmth and gold within Rembrandt, and enormous worlds of absurdity and the surreal within Dali. And, in adulthood, a temporal out-of-place and out-of-time Temple of Juno through David Best.

Without knowing the process of how such a structure could be built, only to be burned down within the week, my imagination ran wild. I imaged a sage-like tribe, toiling away in the heat of the Black Rock Desert, creating a sacred space that could only be done by those who achieved a state of self-actualization endowed by those who have been touched by God himself. This group of light workers are totally, without question, operating at another level. This was a mythology I wove to myself that explained something I did not understand.

Tall tales, by their own definition, are highly exaggerated. However, it is these stories that make the mind wonder: how did they build that temple? Why are clocks melting in the desert? Was the sun gold in the past? Why can’t islands float in the sky? And hello! Dinosaurs are alive today! Look at Florida!

My first tall tale to be shattered, after finding out that Santa Claus stored his presents in my parents’ closet, was visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The goal: to make a pilgrimage to the Persistence of Memory, one of my favorite works by Salvador Dali. I told myself that it would be breathtakingly wild. Filling the room. Wall-to-Wall. A masterpiece. Eventually, I found it: all 9.5”x13” of it. Wow! The painting certainly had became larger than life, for if I stretched out my hand, I could nearly cover it. I thought it would be bigger. We oftentimes feel that way about the stories we tell ourselves.

Becoming a Temple Builder was a lot like being one of Santa's Elves: it is a workshop of magical things and possibilities not yet dreamed.

I eventually found my way onto the David Best Temple crew and found it to be a very enlightening and humbling experience. Like the rest of us, the crew was comprised of regular folks who came together to heed the call to make something larger than themselves. Each of us flawed in our very own ways, but together, building a masterpiece. Through the hardships faced in the workshop and the countless hours toiled before we even hit the desert, a family was forged.

Flying a kite was at the top of my list for things to do at the Black Rock Desert. This kite was affectionately named Squiddy by the camp, in honor of his strangely flappy eyes. When not flying kites, we explored the greater desert on one of the many off-road trails and paved roads.

With new friends from the art build experience, a new frontier lay in front of me: If, when creating art, one must learn the material and allow it to express itself, what was the expression of the Black Rock Desert in its raw form? To learn its blank canvas, my band of decidedly not-saintlike desert campers and artist friends embarked to visit the Black Rock Desert and create a camp. And so we did it, again. And again. And again.

Lanterns and the Soirée were produced by the Everywhen team, inspired by Dali's Dinner in the Desert Lighted by Giraffes on Fire. The Lanterns were installed to light the Everywhen Shrine, which is dedicated to exploring the Electric Universe and the petroglyphs found there. The Soirée is a dining table flanked by Bamboo Toriis, colored lighting and prayer flags to celebrate eating meals with friends.

Through the years, as I embarked on new art projects and eventually led my own, I learned that tall tales eventually gave way to legends shared by others, and through the exploration of these legends we might become inspired to create our very own dream worlds. Those worlds are a source of inspiration to help us create and invent, and for those stubborn enough to follow the vision, the process gives way to a workshop that is larger than any single person. A group forms. They adopt their individual take on the tale and infuse their energies, narratives and beliefs. The family works together, building toward the vision, and with a little help, a little luck, and pure stubbornness, they’ll manifest art from the realm of the surreal into an enriched reality.

And do you know what happens next? Those countless hours of being together, yelling at each other, learning about one another, crying together, dreaming together, growing together, and eventually respecting one another leads to forming incredibly strong friendships. They are fertile. They create an environment of abundance and boundless opportunity, with respect, fantasy, and a we-can-do-it attitude as a foundation. These lasting friendships become the means to learn about your true self, experience growth, and form a community around the laid-out foundations.

An Everywhen family of dreamers, builders, makers and artists.

Eventually, the act of creation becomes its own tall tale. For the folks at Everywhen, our story is how the space age gave way to a group of desert artists who learned how to be together, dream together, build together, create together, and forge a community of dreamers, builders, makers and artists. Our goal is for this community to be given the support and courage to embark on their own journeys of exploration and expression of the myths, legends, and tales of transformation they discover along the way. Perhaps on the adventure, they will find new friends, create new dreams, and become their own tall tales.

Everywhen is the exploration of these tall tales, the stories of your experiences, and the journey we have all taken toward self-actualization. It is the tapestry we weave, in which we dance and play.

See you in the Mojave this October! Be sure to grab your ticket here.

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