Monday, September 08, 2008

Dust and Dreams at Burning Man

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.

Lost Burner

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 Temple

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


Anonymous said...

Yawn. Oh, What?! The end of civilization? Or perhaps, far more likely, the end of consumerism and the era of cheap commodoties and self absorbed excess? One can only dream. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Anonymous said...

I do rather enjoy the manhole cover, though. But is one of those context things, not much good here. Though they have been stealing them for recycling, the price of metals skyrocketing. Hope all that crap gets recycled into something useful, but more wasted energy carting it back to town. Silliness. Children.

Anonymous said...

Damn, thats one helluva firework show as the burning dude flames out. Here they had lots of indie rock there too. Just saw a study that heavy metal lovers are gentle, and Indies are the angry ones. True?

Balhatain said...

Hi Donald,

I read that same study. It did not really account for people who like several types of music... unless I missed something.

Chadwick, I take it he was not lit early this year?

Chadwick said...

No The Man was actually burned late this year due to a dust storm.

Hi Donald, I too don't know anything about this study but it sounds right to me.

I also like the Manhole piece and agree it loses a lot of it's meaning in this context. I came across it while looking for another artwork on the playa. I am glad I saw it "by accident"-- I experienced the full punch line.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, from my experience metal heds are often animal rights types and worek at teh Renaissance fair, or jsut big(fat) guys who like to work at computers and release anger fantasize, which metal really is. Not many take it seriously, skinheads usually are indie types.

Though I do like Nirvana and their enemies OK, cant remember their name but the biggest grunge guys now, the rest are pretty dumb. Depressive music, but as with Marley and Dylan, often one or two true artist and a lot of followers and hangers on perpetuating a fraud.

Anonymous said...

My neighbor works in Hollywood and attends this worldwide phenom every year - honest dirt, he calls it - I already live in the wide open desert and so can sit back in the comfort of my solar powered cooling system and observe - articles like this one help me do that and I greatly appreciate it. It is a wonder to me that more acts of 'creative destruction' aren't in vogue. I believe this one was inspired by the ancient Aztec creation myth, which goes something like - After eons of total darkness the gods came to the decision that the least of them, a 'pimply' little thing (penis?), would be wrapped in bark paper and set afire, thereby igniting the sun - that explains Meso-American sado-masochism, I suppose - Thanks for the update.