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All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2006 Summer Newsletter

Art at Burning Man: A Preview of 2006

by Will Chase aka Playaquest

Art Grants

Every spring, the Burning Man Project awards grants to artists. While examining each proposal, the 6-person Burning Man art grant team looks for interactivity, overall impact on the community, possible relevance to each year's theme, and originality of form and content. Funding is drawn from ticket revenues, and this year the pool was $400,000, approximately the same amount awarded last year. In 2005, the team received 175 proposals, of which thirty were awarded funding. As LadyBee, a member of the art grant team, said, "We were very excited by the large number of well-thought-out and inspiring proposals, and it's clear that there is a lot of momentum for the creation of art at Burning Man this year. In particular, the 2006 theme, 'Hope and Fear: The Future', seems to have tapped a deep creative vein for many artists."

Returning Artists

We are pleased to see some notable Burning Man artists returning this year, including Pepe Ozan, The Flaming Lotus Girls, Michael Christian, Gary Stadler, DoLab, Kate Raudenbush, Luke Egan and Michael Matteo.

The Flaming Lotus Girls return with "Serpent Mother", a 168-foot long flaming snake guarding her egg. This installation is sure to evoke the same community-gathering atmosphere as their highly-successful 2005 offering, "Angel of the Apocalypse". Encouraged by the response they received, the Flaming Lotus Girls were moved to conceive a space that will again inspire participants to commingle and connect around the warming flames that flow from an enormous metal creature.

Renowned metal sculptor Michael Christian will bring his fifth large-scale creation to the playa, entitled "I.T.", allowing participants to climb and crawl their way up three curved tubular legs into an elevated central pod. Michael has become known for contrasting the strength of steel with the flowing forms of Seuss-esque fantasy.

International Representation

It's gratifying to see more international artists bringing artwork to the playa, reflecting the globalization of Burning Man culture. Gerard Minakawa of La Paz, Bolivia will construct "Starry Bamboo Mandela", a 55-foot tall, 3-dimensional interpretation of an ancient legacy of sacred spaces. Mandela is Sanskrit for 'container of essence,' symbolizing a microcosm of the universe. Participants will be invited to climb the structure and view Black Rock City from an aerie observatory.

Diarmo Harkan of Dublin, Ireland will install Metalusela, a 10-foot tall metal sculpture of a wizened old man, peering down on participants who come upon him, his soul glowing with the inner wisdom of fire and electroluminescent light. Metalusela, Harkan says, "is a representation of mortality, come traveling to us from the far future to remind us that, though we will eventually die, we have started on a path … that will allow us to look back on a life well lived and feel only love and gratitude."

"Mondo Spider", brainchild of Jon Tippett, Charlie Brinson, Leigh Christie, Brad Buss, Ryan Johnson and Tony Geluch, of Vancouver, B.C., is an 8-foot long 8-legged robotic spider constructed of aluminum and steel that will roam the playa, giving rides to participants. It's just one of six mobile projects that were funded this year, including the return of The DoLab crew's beloved "Miracle Grow", informally known as "the flower", whose creative innovation made a deep impact on participants' psyches in 2005. This year, its uplifting energy will be countered by a fearsome venus flytrap dubbed "FearTrap".

Interactive Inspiration

Interactive art promises to play a major role on the playa in 2006, with a large number of installations offering opportunities to play with sound, light and fire through a variety of interfaces. Always a standard of Burning Man art, interactivity serves to dissolve the barrier between artwork and viewer, fostering a deeper sense of immediacy and connectedness. With many of these installations, the viewer — cum participant — either enhances or, in fact, becomes the art.

San Francisco's Dan Macciarini will be constructing 20-foot long mobile "Dragon Smelter", featuring a can-crusher and a smelter, inviting participants to make aluminum castings from recycled cans. "Cat's Cradle" by Tomi Paasonen and KunstStoff Dance Theater of Helsinki, Finland, New York, and San Francisco, invites participants to work with dancers to weave a cat's cradle within four large-scale hands.

"ManIC" is an array of 13 poles upon which are mounted LED globes and a surround-sound system, with which participants will create collaborative audiovisual performances of their own devising. Several installations, including "Flame Dance" by Seattle's Michael Conner, "Burninator" by Bill Codding of San Francisco, and "2PiR" by Nicole Aptekar, Reed Kennedy and Melissa Piercey, will enable participants to create fire performances by way of innovative bio-kinetic interfaces, including touch pads and infrared proximity sensors.

Explorations of Reverence

Turning from the exhilarating to the reverent, two temple structures will offer modernized takes on traditional themes this year. Mark Grieve's temple crew return to construct the "Temple of Hope", a complex grouping of Moderne-inspired structures surrounding a central stupa, manifesting an art deco take on Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

Bringing their talents from their theme camp out onto the open playa, Gunther Jones and Dan Dunkle will work with members of their Conexus Camp to build a stunning open-air gothic cathedral, dubbed the "Conexus Cathedral". Juxtaposing evocative traditional religious iconography with the expanse of the playa, it recasts the common conception of "church" as being wherever one finds oneself in the world.

Playa Serendipity Abounds

Other surprises await the wandering Burner on the playa, including a field of robotic sunflowers that automatically turn to track the sun as it traverses our sky. At night, they will rotate to follow the myriad lights (blinking and otherwise) of bypassing participants. Watch out also for an articulated el-wire praying mantis roaming the playa, as well as "Dragon Love", a 45-foot long, illuminated sea dragon with a soaring 20-foot wingspan, pulling a glowing heart, and surrounded by four radiant dragonflies buzzing at its side. This is the craftwork of DoLab crewmember Sean Sobczak of Los Angeles, CA.

Pepe Ozan, creator of the giant sunken head dubbed the "Dreamer", continues his tradition of devising stunning installations for the playa by bringing to Black Rock City "Manigotes", featuring a variety of colorful surreal creatures, from 5-feet to 14-feet tall, surrounding a central fire pit.

With their piece "Exothermia", Oakland's Vince Cearley and Andrew Sano (of the Therm crew, creators of "Thermocraken") explore humanity's internal conflicts through the juxtaposition of fire and ice. To represent how our best intentions are so often foiled by the workings of our inner struggles, their installation will feature large blocks of ice, melted by flames buried within. As the artists note, "To be seduced by the beauty of things that may ultimately prove our undoing seems a fundamental human trait. [We are] stone in love with our own doom."

Just the Beginning …

These are merely the installations that we know of as of this writing. Spurred on by the creativity displayed on the playa in 2005, many other participants will be moved to create art for Burning Man. And remember, creativity is not limited what you craft from physical materials. It's also about how you are in the world, the gifts you bring to it, and the ideas you make manifest. In this sense, all of us are artists. Perhaps you hope to be such an artist and express yourself, and, maybe, you fear that you might fail. Just remember, at Burning Man, you'll never have a better chance to try.