in the company of Charon

The most impressive and special of the Burning Man art installations draw people to their neighborhoods. This year everyone wanted to see The Octopus Art Car . And everyone wanted to see Charon.


Peter Hudson’s Zoetropes have long been a Burning Man staple, and favorite. A zoetrope is a new version of the old time silent movie technology. A sequence of images, or sculpted forms, moves past the viewer. When these forms are lit sequentially by a strobe, the figure appears to be in motion. Of course, the impression of motion only works at night when the strobe is able to create a sequence of images with sufficient contrast.


The figure this year was a skeleton – the raftsman of Greek mythology Charon, poling across the River Styx.


To get the wheel turning, there were ropes attached to pulleys between the supporting legs. The artist was the coach, and the audience contributed the power. Unfortunately those who were manning the ropes couldn’t see the show, so as soon as the wheel came up to speed, the rope pullers usually let go to have a look. The wheel then lost its speed and the show stopped.

Still photography cannot capture the effect, and even movie clips rarely do it well. This Youtube video does a reasonable job of capturing the impression of movement starting about one minute into the video sequence.

Once out in the neighborhood, there are other nearby installations. Just in case anyone asks whether there is TV out on the playa:


Of course, there is. According to the artist, Tony Geluch

Since its humble beginnings, television has come to dominate the North American household. Living rooms are built around it. Schedules revolve around it.

One of the finest attributes of a week on the playa is that the entertainment is all live and participative. With the increasing presence of wifi on the playa, I suppose it could be possible to hang out in a motorhome and keep up with your tv schedule, but – uh – why? Wouldn’t it be better to just bicycle out to this sculpture in Deep Playa and soak in the sunset view.

Between ‘TV’ and the raft ride to the afterlife is the Walkabout Woods.

walk about woods_2011_img_0092

This was a complex and varied installation combining a unique set of sunset colored trees with a variety of other structures. The artists’ statement:

1) The Forest, which represents the natural world and our collective past, is a magical place to get lost and found.
2)The Boiler Room which is our reflection of the present, invokes human technology and industry, and turns a reflective eye back on ourselves.
3) The Pyramid, which represents our collective momentum onward and upward into the future, is an elevated place from which we can observe the madness of our world without being “in it”.

Taken together, the forest, the boiler room, and the pyramid represent the rite of passage of the human species.


vast 2011_dscn6889 Heading back now to the inner playa, I came across an interesting interactive installation called Vast. Outside the structure was an area of miniature archeological ruins formed of playa mud bricks. Inside were miniature dioramas and the craziest little movable dolls. People outside the installation stuck their heads in to see what was inside and became part of the show.

As soon as one of these seats opened up, one couldn’t help but peek inside.


As you looked across the inside space, you could see the faces in the openings across from you. If they were the show you were seeing, then you must be the show to them. Little movable arms on the dolls made for some real silliness.


Back now to camp to prepare for the evening. But first a quick stop at The Pier. The Bait Shop was a nice touch.


The Billion Bunny March was just wrapping up their Playa Parade with a sunset walk out onto The Pier.


Then back to camp to grab a quick dinner and lots of warm clothing for the magical night.

This entry was posted in *mostly photos*, at Burning Man and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to in the company of Charon

  1. Brodie Hilp says:

    I didn’t realize this was a metal sculpturer’s dream showcase. Again stunning photos.

  2. Q Hart says:

    Hi Christine,
    I’m a student at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland OR, I’m writing a paper on animated art for installation and would like to ask permission to use one of your photos (the first full photo on this page) as an illustration in my paper. I’d be honored to have your permission and would like to cite and attribute you appropriately. Thank you for your consideration.

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