One of the most large-scale event of contemporary art and radical expression takes place annually in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA. Once a year, tens of thousands of people gather in Desert to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art and self-reliance. It’s a city wherein almost everything that happens is created entirely by its citizens, who are active participants in the experience. Its main principles are environmental and civil responsibility, rejection of money, involvement and most importantly: creativity and creative self-expression.
At the end of the event some installations, presented at the festival, could be burned.
Burning Man is an annual, nine-day gathering in the desert that includes artistic performances, installations, and music — but don't call it a festival. "Burning Man is not a festival. Burning Man is a community. A temporary city. A global cultural movement based on 10 practical principles," the official website reads.
Its history began from its early days on a small beach in San Francisco through its evolution into the bustling temporary metropolis of 70,000+ people and sprawling diaspora that Burning Man has become today in Black Rock City.
Black Rock City is an independent municipal formation and is one of the five largest cities in Nevada. The city has the shape of a circle, in the center of which is the figure of "Man".
Left: Black Rock City. © Kyle Harmon
10 Burning Man's principles
1. Radical inclusion – anyone may be part of Burning Man
2. Gifting – gifting is the basis of Burning Man
3. Decommodification – there is no sponsorship or advertising at Burning Man
4. Radical self-reliance – you are encouraged to rely on and discover yourself
5. Radical self-expression – arises from the unique gifts of an individual
6. Communal effort – work together
7. Civic responsibility – society should be civil and respect all outside laws
8. Leaving no trace – clean up after oneself and leave the space better than when you arrived
9. Participation – change occurs through deeply personal participation
10. Immediacy – seek to overcome barriers
It was founded 32 years ago in 1986 on Baker Beach in San Francisco as a small function by Larry Harvey and Jerry James, who built the first "Man". Since that times it has been held annually, spanning from the last Sunday in August to the first Monday in September (Labor Day). Indeed the event takes its name from its culmination, the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy ("the Man") that traditionally occurs on the Saturday evening of the event.
Left: Larry Harvey, co-founfer of art event.
Weather conditions in the desert are not easy: heat, wind and fine white sand, penetrating absolutely everywhere. Protecting the eyes is the main task of all guests of the festival. In the course are masks, glasses, handkerchiefs and even plastic balls on the head. Costumes for Burning Man are another way of self-expression.
Burning Man might have a reputation for being full of "hippies," but some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley have reportedly attended the event.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, went on more than one occasion. "If you haven't been, you just don't get it," Musk said of the event, according to The New York Times.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook reportedly dropped in to Black Rock City by helicopter for just one day to serve grilled cheese sandwiches to participants, and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin went disguised in full spandex body suits.
Burning Man 2018
"This year's art theme focuses on the many forms of artificial intelligence that permeate our lives; from the humble algorithm and its subroutines that sift us, sort us and surveil us, to automated forms of labor that supplant us," Burning Man's website reads. "Are we entering a Golden Age that frees us all from mindless labor? ... In a world increasingly controlled by smart machines, who will be the master and who will be the slave?"
One of this year's most impressive installations was a 25-meter inflatable sphere called ORB by Danish designers. The reflective planet-like sculpture is an inflated spherical mirror, constructed of the same chromatic fabric as NASA weather balloons.
THE ORB is a tribute to Mother Earth and human expression, a wayfinder for Burners to navigate the Playa desert, and a celebration of the Burning Man community and creativity. "This is a mirror for everyone who loves the Earth, reflecting daylight, the evolution of life and other works of art. It is a new planet under,"says Bjarke Ingels about his creation.
Bjarke Ingels and Jakob Lange, THE ORB, 2018. Courtesy of the artists.
Ocean Tunnel is a 200-foot-long, 8-foot-tall tunnel filled with murals of marine life. As you pass through, it’s as though you’re taking a journey through time—the murals progress through the history and into the future of open ocean ecosystems that are shifting due to humankind’s far-reaching impact on our planet.
Historically, humans have thought of the ocean as a limitless expanse and a bottomless well of resources; in 400 B.C., Clytemnestra asked: “There is the sea—who shall exhaust the sea?” But in reality, the ocean has its own serene balance that is tipped by the weight of Earth’s growing population.
The murals are created by different artists from all over world who hope to communicate with others through collectively re-imagine Earth’s future—to create a shared sense of purpose in the face of a seemingly impossible problem.
Interior view of Madeleine Hamann, Mikey Benaron, Sierra Joy, Ryan Searcy, and Chris Olson, Ocean Tunnel, 2018. Courtesy of the artists.
“Cosmic Voyager” is a sea turtle made from polished stainless steel. On the back of the turtle is a sprawling transparent city protected by a large transparent dome. Like the vast abyss of space, the deep playa is a harsh and lifeless environment. The “Cosmic Turtle” is an ancient and peaceful protector of this tiny world, a mytheme found in Hindu, Chinese, and Indigenous American mythology. This ancient symbolism is combined with reflective futuristic design to conjure visions of a “Spaceship Earth” voyaging through the cosmos into the great unknown.
"I wanted to bring the old and the new together and encourage people to think positively about what sort of future we want to create." - said technologist Martin Taylor from San Francisco, CA.
Render view of Martin Taylor and The Chromaforms Collective, Cosmic Voyager, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
Galaxia celebrates hope in the unknown, stars, planets, black holes, the movement uniting us in swirling galaxies of dreams. A superior form of Gaia in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Galaxia is the ultimate network, the fabric of the universe connecting living beings into one entity.
Galaxia is shaped of 20 timber trusses converging as a spiral towards one point in the sky. The triangular trusses form different paths towards a central space holding a giant 3D printed mandala, the heart of Galaxia. The timber modules start large enough to hold small alcoves in which people can write in peace. As participants walk through the path, the timber modules lift up and become thinner and thinner towards the sky as people reach the central mandala.
Galaxia. Arthur Mamou-Mani
London, United Kingdom, 2018
London, United Kingdom, 2018
RadiaLumia is a five-stories tall geodesic sphere covered with a breathing skin of origami shells and radiant spikes. Its shape nods to radiolaria, a tiny protozoa with intricate mineral skeletons that covered the desert thousands of years ago, when it was once the sea floor. From the outside, you can see the folds of the shells, made of corrugated polypropylene and illuminated with over 100,000 LEDs. Inside the sphere, a platform offers a place for people to retreat and look out to the surrounding landscape. The shells open and close in response to visitors’ presence, constantly in motion, sometimes protecting the intimate interior of the sphere, sometimes revealing a glimpse of its heart.
FoldHaus Art Collective, RadiaLumia, 2018. Courtesy of the artists.
The creators honestly said they started building these pieces for the joy of building, and for the increasing technical challenge. Many of us work in design and creative fields, but rarely do we get to build a product entirely with our hands, and for no other reason than for the joy of coming together and building.
From early works (the first installation Blumen Lumen (2014), three shade structures for Burning Man) we learned how to install in the desert, how to create the mechanics for large-scale origami to be moving, etc. Each year, we increase our ambition.
1.2. Blumen Lumen by Joerg Studer and Jimmy Chion. 2014
A 34 foot polar bear made of car hoods to show the connection between carbon footprint and habitat loss. The polar bear is an unlikely visitor to the Playa made from materials transformed from another time and place. Manifesting forces of climate change, she is searching for allies. Taking the “Long View” is crucial to survival. Combining content and joy, we ask the viewer to develop a relationship with the animal. Polar bears help humans imagine a faraway place, a place most will never visit.
Left: Progress image of Don Kennell and Arctic Burn 505, Long View, 2018. Courtesy of the artists.
Let U.S. Prey
Let U.S. Prey is a to-scale bald eagle with its head set at the height of a participant’s face. Wing tips will rise to about 8 feet, with a curved wing spread of 16 feet. The techniques learned from our three previous installations in layering pennies will be used here to create feathers and enhance the dimension of surface height through sculpting tiers of the feathers and body into styrofoam core. White feathers on the head, tail, and wings will be created with silver gleaming nickels and dimes. It is likely the count will be over 150,000 coins. The eagle beak will be made from formed brass and the eyes from blown glass.
Let U.S. Prey. Mr and Mrs Ferguson
Alameda, CA, 2018. Source: Instagram
Alameda, CA, 2018. Source: Instagram
“Listen” is a large scale human heart made from used speakers on the exterior and lined with mirror mosaic on the interior. Participants are invited to enter the reflecting inner heart space where they will find stethoscopes hanging from the ceiling that are connected to the speakers on the exterior. When activated from within, the sculpture will emit deep, layered beating sounds, as participantes stop to listen to their hearts and the hearts of others.
Left: Listen. Aaron Fowler & Erin Desmond. Los Angeles, CA, 2018.
Robot Resurrection is towering 30 foot tall, human piloted, articulating sculpture made from reclaimed
airplane parts and found objects. From the torso cockpit, the operator(s) manipulate the Robot’s motions and fire effects. This piece is a representation of we all have become… Robots. It is a wake-up call of how large these problems are. We have been controlled for too long. Robot Resurrection was born from what we as a society have discarded. Our hope is that this 28′ Robot will inspire reflection upon one’s self and be a reminder of the power we all hold. We hope it awakens some awareness of our situation and encourages some small change on a small scale that leads to big change in the massive system.
Shane Evans, Robot Resurrection, 2018. Photo by Todd Powell. Courtesy of the artist.
The figure of "Man" was traditionally burned at night on September 1 (Labor Day), accompanied by a grandiose fireworks. Another tradition is the cleaning of the territory from debris and any traces of the fire show, which from year to year is supported by volunteers, "burners" from among the guests of the gathering. Funds are also allocated to observe the principle "Leaving No Trace", but the final cleaning is done by a team from the Department of Public Works.
Left: Burning Man, 2018.
Galaxia temple was also burned at Burning Man Sunday night. As the flames heated the wooden structure, large trusses cracked and popped loud enough to echo across the playa.
The silent audience sat in a series of circles around it. Their faces held solemn, serene looks. Thousands of people created monuments to loved ones who died, to relationships that ended and to family members who changed them. The temple is a non-secular place of mourning and healing for many burners.
Eventually groups of people shouted, “For Larry!” at the burning temple.
Burning Man founder Larry Harvey died earlier this year, and memorials to him appeared throughout the weeklong festival.
Based on materials from official site Burning Man, Artsnet.
Title illustration: Robot Resurrection, 2018 (detail).