whatisburningman sectional graphic


All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2005 Summer Newsletter

Further Experiments in Large-Scale Artistic Collaboration

by Will Chase, aka Playaquest

"The true power of a community lies in its ability to make manifest that which its members could not have individually dreamed."
— Anonymous

Artistic Collaboration and Community

The citizens of Black Rock City have certainly witnessed a phenomenal number of collaborative art projects over the years. Whether it's massive productions such as David Best's temples, Pepe Ozan's famous opera sets, or hundreds of other smaller-scale artworks, more often than not, playa art is a group effort between friends. But a deeper trend toward community-based creativity has been emerging lately, and we're seeing it truly burgeon in 2005. Like Burning Man itself, several projects this year have taken the form of experiments in massively distributed collaboration. They're projecting a Burning Man meme to its next natural phase.

A Cauldron of Community

When "Synapses" makes its debut on the playa this year, more than 60 people from six widely separated regions, including New York, Georgia, Texas, California, Washington, and Colorado, will have contributed to the creation of this sculpture. Metal fire cauldrons standing 12 feet tall will form a pentagon mounted on rails protruding from a central sculpture that that will tower 18 feet above the desert floor. The cauldrons can be individually positioned along the rails and locked down, allowing artists to continually recompose this artwork by adjusting its parts.

During the summer of 2005, each regional group will hold six workshops to construct a single cauldron based on the designs of veteran metal sculptors and project leaders Charlie Smith and Jaime Ladet. The ten participants of each workshop will engage in a hands-on collaborative learning experience, learning welding and fabrication techniques, plasma torch cutting, grinding, and sanding — all the skills required in order to build a sculptural volume from metal. Each of these regional groups will take responsibility for its cauldron on the playa and participate in the overall construction of the sculpture. This installation will create, in Smith's words, "a central space ('synapse') where all of the participants from around the country will get to know each other as they tend the sculpture during its nightly firings."

As with Charlie's previous fire sculptures, such as "Hearth," "Infanity," and "Tunnel of Transformation," Black Rock City's nocturnal explorers will find the swath of playa immediately surrounding these cauldrons to be a welcoming oasis of warmth, music, conversation, and camaraderie. In effect, this installation will create a cauldron of community.

Cogs of the Machine

The Seattle Burning Man Regional Group has taken the initiative to coordinate the efforts of nearly 50 engineers, carpenters, builders, electricians, performers, directors, and project managers to create a great kinetic sculpture. "The Machine" will be 50 feet tall and constructed primarily of wood and steel. It is intended as "a triangulated meta-mechanical temple in the open vista of the playa." Its central core will form a tower housing gears and a transmission. This structure will support an upper platform featuring eight articulated limbs that will gradually extend throughout the course of 7 days. To animate this piece, participants must work together to rotate its massive gears attached to three freestanding drive wheels. As the week progresses, The Machine's articulated limbs will slowly rotate outward from the central core like giant spider arms.

Seattle's Burning Man community will join together to create this prodigious piece, and the community of Black Rock City will supply the energy that brings the Brobdingnagian device to life. The week's activities around The Machine will culminate in a 30-minute performance featuring fire performers, stilt-walkers, acro-balancers, drummers, and musicians. At the culmination of this rite, the sculpture will burn, shudder, and with a wrenching crash, collapse upon itself.

Rising From the Ashes

Following up their stunning "Seven Sisters" fire sculptures from 2004, the San Francisco-based Flaming Lotus Girls will return this year with yet another spectacular installation of interactive fire art. This celebrated group of "artists collaborating... to create exceptional fire art and provide a resource for learning metalworking and other essential shop skills," the Flaming Lotus Girls have been contributing to their community through education and collaborative artistic expression since 2000.

Their piece for 2005, "The Angel of the Apocalypse," will form a 50-foot by 50-foot sculptural environment that rises from the ground in the form of an abstracted bird lying prostrate. Its beak and wings, made of cut, shaped, and welded metal, will form a partial circle 20 feet tall surrounding the bird's body, with a 30-foot by 10-foot assemblage of driftwood.

Participants will move between and around the flaming wings and climb on and into the bird's driftwood body. Some will be invited to operate the propane flame effects. At the end of the week, the wooden body will be burned in an elaborate fire ritual, finishing with a burst of white fireworks, signifying the ascent and rebirth of the Angel. Quoting the artists, "The Angel beautifully conveys a cycle of change, growth and discovery, and the large-scale installation invites Burning Man participants to explore this process."

Well... Just Plain Massive

about this photo

Atlanta-based artist Zachary Coffin, known for his "Rock Spinner" and "Temple of Gravity" installations, will return this year with another interactive sculpture entitled "Colossus." Like Zach's previous creations, it will feature immense masses of rock that test the limits of physics, gravity, and our nerves. Installed in our city's Keyhole, this piece will allow participants to spin three giant boulders weighing a total of 50,000 pounds around a 50-foot tall center pole mounted on a base of steel.

What's Yet To Come?

As amazing as these pieces promise to be, they don't necessarily represent the "best" installations to highlight for 2005. An artwork needn't be particularly massive or expensive to be good. Small, simple, subtle pieces can be have just as impressive Consider, for example, "The Dickey Box" described in this issue's front page feature article. In fact, the artworks described here represent only a fraction of the installations that will appear at Burning Man in 2005. These few are only some of the artworks that we know about, based on information gleaned from proposals submitted for funding requests. [To view more of these funded projects, visit www.burningman.com/installations/05_art_grant.html on our website.] A far greater portion of Black Rock City's art is produced quite independently of our grant program. This activity is the exciting part of Burning Man! We really don't know what's still to come in the months ahead or what will show up on the playa. We just know that, based on what we've seen so far, this year will be a fruitful one for interactive, collaborative and inspiring creations. Perhaps you have an inspired idea burning in the back of your head?

We encourage all participants to create (or be) art at Burning Man. For more information about how to create and register art in Black Rock City, please visit our website at www.burningman.com/art_of_burningman/ . Our volunteer Art Team, headquartered at The ARTery in Center Camp, will be happy to help you.