Placing Art in Black Rock City

[Christine Kristen (aka Ladybee) was Burning Man’s art curator from 1999 to 2008, where she dealt with all things visual and aesthetic, including managing the art and the art grant program, photo-editing the Image Gallery, writing art content for the Burning Man website, working with the ARTery, managing the archives, and lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man. She has a MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

Authorities are Baffled, by Vince Koloski
Authorities are Baffled, by Vince Koloski, 1993

Integrating hundreds of art installations into the layout of Black Rock City is a challenging task which has evolved over the years from very little management back in the mid-90’s, when art was scarce, to a complex system that accommodates all art installations on the open playa, installations with flame effects in theme camps, and art placed in the city infrastructure, including the Keyhole; the airport; the 3:00, 4:30, 7:30 and 9:00 plazas; the Man base; and the Center Camp Café.

The Bone Tree, by Dana Albany, 1999
The Bone Tree, by Dana Albany, 1999

In 1999, our theme was “The Wheel of Time,” and for the first time ever, the newly-formed Art Department decided to map the art in a theme-based pattern. We created a map that represented a clock face, with the Man at the center, and twelve major installations mapped at the hour locations just off the Esplanade. On Friday night we staged a series of performances, starting at 6 PM, at the 6:00 position. Dana Albany’s Bone Tree led participants around the clock face, where a performance awaited them every hour, on the hour. Of course by about 3AM it was freezing, and the weather put an end to our grand cavalcade of performances. We did learn, however, that arranging the art installations in some sort of logical pattern added theatrical significance and prominence to the art. In 2000, the art was mapped in the shape of a gigantic human body with the Man as its navel, to reinforce the Body theme. Russell Wilcox’s laser installation illuminated this body, although perceiving it from the ground was a bit abstract- aerially it would have looked like a large stick figure in laser beams.