2009 ART THEME: EVOLUTION
Illustration from portrait of Charles Darwin, by "DA" Dominic Tinio
The Origin of Species
Nature never made a plan, nor does it seem to copy very well. No living thing is ever quite the same as others of its kind. Charles Darwin called this Natural Variation. There is a kind of subtle chaos, a supple element of chance and change, residing at the core of living things. We've learned that DNA, the code that programs life, is subject to continual mutation. This enables generations to evolve within a changing world. This year's art theme contemplates the power and the meaning of the process we call evolution.
Design by Rod Garret and Larry Harvey. Rendering by Andrew Johnstone and Rod Garrett.
In 2009, the Burning Man will rise above a 'tangled bank' consisting of irregular wooden triangles. No two elements of this organic composition will be quite the same; together they'll create what's best described as a chaotic truss. At night the tangled bank will come alive with luminous life forms scratching, crawling and slithering their way through it. This space will also house a pond known as the Gene Pool. Strange Ur-creatures will peep outward from the surface of this primal soup. The central tree supporting Burning Man, beribboned with a double helix, will exist in flux: switching on and switching off, changing colors unexpectedly.
Photograph by Michael Garlington
The human species, Homo sapiens, has existed for approximately 200,000 years. The genus known as homo has a lineage stretching back two million years. Homo erectus, the first human ancestor to walk upright, and Homo habilis, the toolmaker, are among our relatives. We are a bud belonging to a twig of this ancestral tree.
The process of trial and error that has made this possible is called Natural Selection. Genetically encoded traits that aid survival tend to spread throughout entire populations. Living entities that bear these genes endure and reproduce, but maladaptive traits are not passed on. This causes species to evolve to better fit the world in which they live. However, this rigorous weeding out of 'unfit' individuals has gradually ceased to occur within our species. Medicine and mutual aid assure that nearly anyone is able to survive and reproduce.
Now adrift in our own gene pool, we have encountered a new phase of evolution. We've become a conscious breed of culture-bearing animals. Black Rock City is a kind of Petri dish, and Burning Man is an experiment in generating culture. We've learned that culture's a spontaneous phenomenon. It thrives as a result of numberless and unplanned interactions. All that's really needed is a fitting social vessel to sustain it. This happens best within communities that harbor many different modes of self-expression. We've also learned that cultures effloresce when human beings feel free to offer up their gifts.
Our theme this year prompts three related questions: What are we as human beings, where have we come from, and how may we adapt to meet an ever-changing world?
To apply for a grant to fund the creation of artwork for Burning Man 2009, please see our art grant guidelines.