The Art of Burning Man (part 1)

What is Burning Man is a question I hear often. After stumbling around looking for a way to gather the disparate threads into a simple answer, what I’ve settled on is that it is a counter-cultural art festival. That pretty much takes in the dress code (Costume Art – slide show highlighted photos), the social structures (a self-creating system which guides the population of a city with a climax existence of about three days), the Mutant Vehicles and other conveyances (Art Cars to Art Bikes to EL wire painted night walkers), and the camps which range from purely functional and simple to every imaginable elaboration.

All of this comes together in a temporary city which has such things as clothing outlets, bicycle repair shops, a library, cinemas, cafes (grilled cheese at the Dust City Diner by the temple at dawn), bars and some frankly astonishing entertainment – roller disco, movie theaters, acrobatic troups, Dance Dance Immolation, Thunderdome.

And along with the body art, the costume art, the vehicle art, and the amazingly complex phenomenon of the city itself, there are the art installations. Large scale pieces will be selected to be placed in the plazas, and in other strategic locations – near Center Camp at its main entrance, and in the plaza in front of it. In the center of the city is The Man. In the direction of twelve o’clock from there is The Temple. And then, positioned according to a published map, a couple of hundred other art installations will be built on, or transported to, the playa.

Other random works appear. One day there is blank playa, the next someone has set something out. A couple of days later it suddenly has gone.

Out in Deep Playa (outside of the main clock face surrounding The Man) one might find almost anything. A desk and chair sit out alone. Sit down there and you will be in a huge, flat bowl with a rim of distant mountains. There is a lamp, some pencils, some paper, a journal. One is invited to write in it. A quiet, peaceful, solitary spot.

Out further, just before the fence that marks the outer boundary

To the south is a skyscraper – a ten story steel structure called Babylon.

Sometimes what you find is massive, sometimes humorous, sometimes intimate, sometimes strange.   Often it is beautiful.  And it almost always makes you think.

Conexus Cathedral, 2006

On the far north edge of Deep Playa is one of my favorite stops, but only when I am living on the north side of the city.  The past two years I relocated to the south and didn’t get over to Starf^cker’s Oasis, the home of Crappucino.  Friends living in the north of the city told me it was out there, but Deep Playa is an immense space and I never found it.  The oasis is visible in the photo above, on the left, in the distance.

A closer view:

Each year there are favorite installations that nearly everybody knows of and has seen, or has played on, or they will try to locate if they are able to find the time.  For there is never enough time.  The city is still being built when it begins to be deconstructed.

Megatropolis was burned on the fifth night of the event.  When a burn is planned, the installation is closed off a full day in advance to prepare for the demolition, so by the time I got over to see it, it was barricaded.

No matter how intently I try to see as much of the art as possible, I always miss far more than I am able to see.  I suppose that is the nature of any city – there is more happening than one can experience.  Things vanish before one finds the time, life gets in the way.  It’s just that in Black Rock City, it all happens so much faster.  It is life on fast forward.


There is lots more yet to come on the art of Burning Man.
These will turn into live links when the posts are completed:

most memorable playa art – intimate
most memorable playa art – colossal
burning art
interactive art at Burning Man
art retrospective – 2006 to 2010

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2 Responses to The Art of Burning Man (part 1)

  1. These are pretty amazing art installations. Gotta love the passion and creativity.

  2. Christine says:

    The art is what really makes the event for me. Lots of aspects of it are interesting and unique, but it is the memories of the art which most stay in my head. You need much more time than there is to see and appreciate it.

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