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BURNING MAN JOURNAL: 2007 Summer Newsletter


Newsletter Contents:

The Art of Burning Man 2007
Explorations in Environmental Conscience

by Will Chase (aka Playaquest)

Burning Man’s art theme for 2007, The Green Man, was announced on the day after the Man burned in 2006, the earliest this guiding artistic principle for the event had ever been announced. This proved fortuitous, since this year’s theme, wherein we explore humankind’s relationship to nature, has been a siren song for artists, scientists, inventors, and environmental innovators around the world. They’ve needed extra time in order to complete ambitious work.

The Nature Of The Theme

More than a gentle nudge towards a suggested artistic subject matter, the admittedly political nature of the theme represents a shift from what has sometimes been criticized as a “navel gazing” playa perspective. Artists are bringing the “real” world into Black Rock City, adding their contemplations, criticisms and celebrations to a dialogue in which both science and conscience address the global climate crisis.

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate platform for this discourse: a place where human life is so uniquely and immediately connected to the natural environment.

Artwork

This year Dan das Mann and Karen Cusolito return with their most ambitious project yet, entitled “Crude Awakening”. Given their past work, including “Passage” (2005), “Leaping Giants” (2006), and playa-famous works (like “One Tree” and “Faces of Man”) since 1998, the term “ambitious” speaks volumes. This year, they are collaborating with an impressive collection of designers, carpenters and welders to create 9 large-scale steel human figures in various devotional poses — each with a unique interactive fire component — paying homage to the Oil Religion, in the form of a massive oil derrick. On Friday night of the event, the derrick will be dramatically consumed by fire, at the hands of longtime pyronaut Nate Smith (“Singularity Machine”, “2BLEVE”).

“Big Rig Jig”, by an Oakland-based team led by artist Mike Ross of Brooklyn, NY, features two oil tanker big rig trucks: one standing upright on its cab, performing a graceful backbend, and the other doing an equally unlikely backbend atop the first. This structural marvel celebrates humankind’s formidable creative and destructive capacity, with an undeniably visceral visual impact. Repurposing symbolically potent oilrigs into a nimble pas de deux presents an ironic juxtaposition of power and poise, and “a visual metaphor for sustainability,” says Ross.

Long-time Burners and provocateurs Jim Mason, Chicken John, and Michael Christian have joined forces to create a living, breathing example of alternative fuel production, making fuel out of common garbage — a process called gasification. The project’s goal is to “artistically recast the technology and cultural associations of alternative energy scenarios.” Entitled “Mechabolic”, this exploded assembly of digestive and respiratory organs takes the appearance of a massive slithering slug-like creature. In Mason’s words, it’s a “large-scale bio-imitative installation of hydrocarbon based fuel production, transformation and consumption. Our goal is to create a fantastical, bio-machine hybrid environment — a burlesque of the ‘synthetic metabolism’ of machines — recasting internal combustion engines and petroleum fuels as their parallel animal organs and plant generated carbohydrate foods.” More simply stated, it exposes the mechanics behind taking garbage (or “biomass”), turning it into fuel, and using it to power its own locomotion and flame effects.

Oakland-based artist Sean Orlando and his crew ask us to imagine: what if “the memory of a tree is so far gone ... that people try to recreate what they imagine they’ve lost using another sort of Romantic image, one of machinery, scavenged gears, gathered belts, hunted steam pipes, gleaned gauges, rusty metal and gobs of steam.” The result is the “Steampunk Tree House”, a 30-foot tall Verne-esque construct, at once an imagining of a post-apocalyptic neo-Victorian house, and an invitingly serendipitous treasure chest of curios and architectural surprises — including a tire swing.

Watch the playa for several mobile art installations, including Robin Frohardt and the Ren Jinn Bao Puppet Troupe’s ancient and fantastical “Apocalypse Stagecoach”, a bicycle-powered puppet performance stage. “Acavallo” (“by horse” in Italian) is a LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) hybrid-powered platform-cum-stage, graced by seven saddled horses, gently undulating in an elegant flying gallop, underneath a towering crow’s nest. Quill Hyde of Brooklyn, NY brings us this “carousel from somewhere in the future’s past ... (a) dreamcraft of steel, leather, and wood, with spewing flames and incandescence ... part Coney Island, part ship off-course — a mechanical cloud for any and all to drift upon from point a to point 9.

You may also see a giant ant carrying equally giant “sugar” cubes across the playa throughout the week, slowly constructing a beautiful glowing sugar cube palace, in a piece artists Ben Shearn and Tim Kirwan fittingly titled “The Ant”. Beware of a self-propelled flock of filigreed steel spheres entitled “Swarm”, the brainchild of San Francisco-based artist and scientist Michael Prados. “They will flock, flirt, dance and interact, and their actions will surprise and astonish even us, their creators. They are simple, but together they will behave in ways more complex than we can predict. A lot like LIFE,” says Prados.

Black Rock citizens will be gratified to see the return of long-time playa artists David Best, who will create the “Temple of Forgiveness”, Kate Raudenbush (“Guardian of Eden”), Mark Lottor (“Cone Cubatron”), Charlie Smith and Jaime Ladet (“Cornucopic Contraptions of the Green Man” fire cauldrons), and the Kinetic Steam Works crew (“Neverwas Haul”).

It can safely be said that there are few other places in the world where art, science, ingenuity and opportunity combine to such triumphant effect as they do in Black Rock City. As evidenced by the artworks we know of as of this writing, the Green Man theme has clearly energized old and new Burning Man artists alike, and spurred a collaborative alchemy between scientists and artists that will undoubtedly leave its mark on Burning Man participants and beyond.

As we employ the power of art to bring into focus the moral imperatives of the global climate crisis, the art of Burning Man 2007 will surely help to germinate a global and environmental consciousness and conscience.