Even a week after Burning Man, dust still lingers. The playa sand is a fine-silt and clings to everything it touches. You eat it, breathe it, and sleep with it. Surprisingly though, this does not stop 50,000 people from making the long trek all the way out to the Black Rock Desert, where the annual Burning Man Festival is held.
Burning Man, if you are not familiar, is a week long participatory art festival. Or as many participants describe it, “…an experiment in community, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance." The festival culminates on the Saturday night before labor day with the burning of a wooden effigy.
Burning Man seems to be a very necessary event—despite the fact that it requires an obscene amount of unnecessary energy. Ironically, last years theme was “Green.”
This year’s theme was the American Dream and all the stars and stripes were out. On my first day, while getting a feel of the land, I saw a bearded man dressed in a fancy mauve corset. After admiring the intricacies of the corset, I soon noticed he was also wearing a top hat and looked strikingly like Abraham Lincoln. I attempted to question the man but he scampered off into a mass of dust and people.
These sorts of sightings are commonplace at Burning Man. A good handful of the people, or Burners—as they are referred to on the playa—seem to be trying very hard to out-weird one another. Often, to the point at which, they all blend together.
Among these peacockian dress-up battles, there is plenty of art to be seen. The majority of the large artworks installed are spread out in various places within the playa. The playa is several miles wide and circular in shape. One must bike or hitch a ride on a “Mutant Vehicle” in order to see some of the furthest artworks.
The art at Burning Man is hit or miss. You occasionally stumble across some very provocative work but just as often you are disappointed.
Manhole, Joseph M Dupre
It is also sometimes hard to tell whether or not the work was intended for night or day. Some though, like Peter Hudson’s “Tantalus,” and Steve Heck's “Sound Cave,” manage to engage either way.
Tantalus, Peter Hudson
Sound Cave, Steve Heck
Though most artists prepare their artwork for the wind and the heat, not all survive the battle.
There seems to be a disparity between art that receives funding from Burning Man and ones that don’t.
Popaver Rubrum Giganteum, Gary Miller and Babylon, Arthur Rodriguez
It is hard enough for an artist to pay for a project that will be exhibited in a gallery let alone the desert. The amount of work that is put into installing and maintaining the artworks at Burning Man is staggering and commendable.
Babylon, Arthur Rodriguez
Altered States, Kate Raudenbush
You are All so Many of Me, Michael Emery
The End, Bob Marzewski
It is hard to say how significant Burning Man is to our times. None of the artworks I experienced really captured the condition of our spiraling nation. I think Burning Man as a whole may represent the state of the collective American Dream better than any of the artworks it displayed. I recall, while driving into Burning Man, bumper to bumper, during a complete whiteout, my friend remarking, “I feel like were refugees being ran out into the desert.” I agreed.
The Burning of The Man