When it comes to Burning Man art, pretty much anything goes
Story and photos by Kris Vagner
Some definite art idioms have arisen over the years at Burning Man, such as interactivity (push a button and make it do something), flame effects, patterned LEDs, vehicles shaped like ships, tripper traps (art that’s irresistible to anyone on hallucinogens), and a general impetus to build it bigger. Whether artists work within those idioms or not, they keep collectively demonstrating that the creative possibilities on this huge blank canvas of a desert are practically unlimited.
Artists are confined by a safety rule or two—but other than that, they’re free to dream as big as they can, assemble as many team members as they can, raise as much money as they can, and, when they’re done showing their work for a week, they can either pack it up and bring it home, or rig it with explosives and throw as big of a bonfire as they can.
After a couple of decades of all this dreaming, building and burning, the artists keep the raising bar. Among the most ambitious pieces was “Black Rock Lighthouse Service,” a cluster of wooden lighthouses installed at several different angles from the ground, exteriors decked with mosaic-like shingles, by a large crew led by Jonny and Max Poynton of Oakland. (They also made “Bottlecap Gazebo,” a 2012 piece that was later installed in a park in Fernley.)
Brian Tedrick was back in Black Rock City this year from Glen Ellen, California, with “Lord Snort,” a 20-foot high steel assemblage in the shape of a wild boar. When the event opened, the boar spun on a shaft like a huge piece of otherworldy playground equipment, but after a few reported injuries, those darned safety rules kicked in, and the boar was altered to remain stationary.
Even though sculptures, structures and mutant vehicles arrived from all over the world, Reno made a noticeable showing. Sculptor Mischell Riley, who works in Reno and casts realistic bronze work, responded to this year’s theme—Da Vinci’s Workshop—with “Inside The Mind of daVinci,” a realistic, climbable concrete likeness of DaVinci’s head with a bronze-like patina.
Another piece by Reno artists was “The Space Whale,” a mother humpback whale positioned as if she was diving from the sky, attending to her calf. Both whales were made of ridiculously complex webs of welded steel, and the mother whale was paneled in custom-made stained glass. (Disclosure: I’m friends with the artists. I’ve volunteered at the Generator, where the piece was built, and once made the crew dinner and brought them Gatorade.)