Around and About Black Rock City: Art, Everywhere!

I don’t want to fill your screen with hyperbole about how totally off the hook the art is this year…but I am going to fill your screen with photos of art that is totally off the hook.

“Serpent Mother” by Flaming Lotus Girls

"Serpent Mother" by Flaming Lotus Girls

“Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea” by The Department of Public Arts, Dream  Community

"Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea" by The Department of Public Arts, Dream  Community

“Dream” by  jeff schomberg

Dream: 360° panorama




“Medusa Madness” by Michelle Ramatici"Medusa Madness" by Michelle Ramatici

"Medusa Madness" by Michelle Ramatici

“Totem of Confessions”  by Michael Garlingto

"Totem of Confessions"  by Michael Garlingto

"Totem of Confessions"  by Michael Garlingto


I can’t find the name of this installation, but it’s really awesome.

More pics soon, check back here or see my Flickr stream or Facebook Page for updates.

2015 Art Tours

The New ARTery sign  photo Sydney Erthal
The New ARTery sign
photo Sydney Erthal

This year, as we have in the past,  the ARTery offers Audio Art Tours for many of the projects that are going up all around us in Black Rock City at this very moment and can be listened to as you wander about the playa. There are over 350 Art Installations for you to enjoy this year so having a description of the art you interact with is essential. Art is appearing everywhere. Be the person in your group who knows something about the art you find while wandering the playa. Get the tour now to have something wonderful to do in line while awaiting entry to Burning Man this year.

The downloadable Audio Art Tour, put together by Jim Tierney, Kit Kat, Evonne Heyning and Dazzle!, will prepare you for your awesome art-filled playa experience. Download the MP3s and listen to them on your way to BRC!

More about ART tours on playa can be found here.

Welcome to the Man Pavilion

Midway TentYesterday the Man Base Crew took a little time off from their steady work pace to hang out in the shade, have some beers and get the low down on what art will be living inside the amazing structure they’ve built. BettieJune from the ARTery joined Kimba and Leslie to discuss the art, performance and otherwise illusory and carnivalesque interactivity that will saturate participants once the event begins. Right now the Man Pavilion is a hard hat construction zone with the Maze being completed and painted, the Illumination crew placing lights and eight Belgian tents (from the Souk last year) being erected to house Regionals’ and other artists’ Midway projects. At each of the four portals into the Man Pavilion, Hugh D’Andrade has created fantastical entrances inspired by carnivals around the world.

photo by Sydney Erthal
Leslie and Bettie June photo by Sydney Erthal

The Man stands tall above a Maze and not getting caught up in all the art in the Maze and Midway will be impossible. The Pavilion is anticipated to be a site to behold, an extravaganza of the odd, unusual and entertaining  where you can become one with the carnys who bark to you and bathe in the veritable glow of a Carnival of Art. The Maze structure entrance is to be covered with the “Bannerline Project” by Killbuck. His art once graced Defenestration in San Francisco and now we will have his sardonic Carnival banners in Black Rock City for the week. At the Maze entrance is an installation by Tony Spiers and placed around the Maze look for “Colossal Skeletal Marionette” by Christian Breeden, which is a big skeleton puppet. You will also encounter the “Hall of Mirrors Arcade” by Wolf, “Larger-than-life sized arcade pieces including Giant Pinball, Foosball Reimagined and Jumbo Pachinko.”

Klaus Putting up Lights
Klaus Putting up Lights

“Be the Managerie” by Michael Koi, featuring exotic animals where one can put their face through a hole to become the animal, is inside the Maze and the ARTery is referring to these openings as “Noggin Notches.” “Laffing Sal” by Dana Albany, Haideen Anderson, Flash Hopkins and Tom Kennedy has returned to entertain the little ones with maniacal laughter. “The Church Trap Organ” by Rebekah Waites & crew has been re-imagined Coney Island style and has arrived on the playa. It is being installed today.

Meeting with the Builders“Lumiphonic Creature Choir” by Mark Bolotin and Synarcade  is a 17-foot-wide sculpture with projected faces that promises to be an interactive audio-visual collection of heads that will sing, beat-box or recite fragments of prose. Barron Levkoff’s “Mystical Midway” promises to delight you with all manner of cosplay and invite you to join in on the Mythic Play.

photo by Sydney Erthal
Dana Albany photo by Sydney Erthal

The Midway tents will house Burning Man’s Regional projects, and this year, as with last year’s Caravansary, the projects highlight one-on-one interactions. The CORE began in 2011 with large wood sculptures circling the Man that were burned on Thursday of the event. Burning Man also burned the CORE in 2013 and in 2014 Burning Man brought the Regionals closer to the Man and stopped the large CORE burns to provide more human interaction and cross pollination than sculptures could provide.

photo by Sydney Erthal
Kimba working photo by Sydney Erthal

This year the Theme invites us all to create “panoply of strange and enchanting wonders” and Thursday morning pre-event, the Regionals and other non-regional artists will begin setting up their unique Carnival of Mirrors art and interactive performance. There will be 29 Regional groups that celebrate what makes them specifically unique in our vast Burning Man network and some installations include the “Pinball Machine” from our Wisconsin Regional group, “The Gallery of Infinity”, a sideshow of LEDs and infinity panels from Santa Cruz, “The Baltic Altar” from the Baltic States – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia Regionals that involves immersing yourself in a cube structure where you can compose unique melodies, the “Philly Phreak Show” which is a collection of oddities and “FoxCarn & the Betel Store” by the Taiwan and China Regional that will let “burners experience both forms of capitalist exploitation.”

The Man Pavilion is a saturated hyper microcosm of the entirely of Burning Man. This year it promises to be a fertile art space and a place for reflection and participation so be sure to make your way out there add your spice to the stew. They start installing tomorrow and this is just a sampling of what awaits you. Many more mysteries will be revealed.

Early Art, Insects and Clowns

photo by Sidney Erthal
photo by Sidney Erthal

As our esteemed “Burning Man Organizer” Mr. John Curley has communicated, evidently the insects have run their course. At least that is the official story. The billion wood-boring beetles that descended on the Man’s legs at Man Base have evidently been exterminated. Burning Man will not be brought to you by Citronella and DEET  this year. Behind us are the horrific fear-saturated nights of swarming green beetles, clouds of fluttering moths, biting flying ants, stinging noseeums and locusts so thick we had to don Hazmat suits and run in sheer terror from container to container to avoid being eaten alive.  No more do colonies of bats descend from the sky so thick that they obscure the moon and the hordes of kangaroo rats, ravens, crows, scorpions, snakes and coyotes have also moved on. There was a moth as big as a baby chicken in my camper the other night that had fangs and I finally chased it away with a machete. I haven’t seen it since.

We aren’t sure if it was the water trucks spraying vegan and gluten-free Malathion that did the trick. Or it may have been the initial deployment of our BRC Drone Bug Zappers that took out the first wave of stink bugs on Wednesday. They rose from the Depot,  all flying in formation into the incoming swarms trillions thick,  zapping blue and littering the playa with millions of twitching sizzling bug corpses. Some attribute our victory to Ranger Rico and his Roughnecks who were equipped with armor exoskeletons and flamethrowers that allowed them to capture the Brain Bug. We may never know, but somehow we prevailed. We witnessed, persevered and we survived.

craneWith the bugs gone, Black Rock City infrastructure is going up fast.  Center Camp Cafe is framed and rigging is in place. The Man Base is coming together nicely. Everywhere you hear the happy hum of machinery and the DPW is, as always, working their asses off in the hot sun to put together the canvas for this year’s Carnival of Mirrors.

Speaking of Carnivals, this is not going to be a good year for clown fearing folks. They wander around town even now, shapes in the darkness, ducking behind containers, appearing then disappearing at meetings. They’ve applied their make-up that is becoming caked with alkaline playa dust and is slowly fading each day. Prepare for Sad Clown Town. And beware Plug and Players, the clowns have your number. Locate, Tag, Track and Acculturate. Participate or clowns will eat you. My advice is to befriend a clown as soon as possible upon arrival. They are a hive mind and they can sense your intentions and fear.

Bugpocalypse was just a warm up to our possibly most menacing problem. The clowns are waiting with painted smiles to welcome you to Black Rock City.

But enough about bugs and clowns. The ART this year is going to blow your desert addled brains. There are currently 320+ registered art pieces and with all the pestilence subsided, some of the big art protects are taking shape.

Mazu DragonsMoving out onto the playa from Center Camp you first encounter “Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea” by The Department of Public Art and the Dream Community. Their main Temple pavilion is being finished. There is a huge lotus that will crown it, and impressive shining fire breathing dragons are all lined in a row awaiting placement. Today at their build site shingles were being added to the roof and the Temple structure was being readied for the Lotus to be placed.

Not too near Mazu stands a frame for the Trebuchet that is returning to the playa after a six year absence. I’m told they will be attempting to break the previous world record for distance hurling a flaming piano, a record I believe, that is held by them.

Mike Garlington and crew
Mike Garlington and crew

The playa is wide open at present, sparsely occupied by only a few projects. They are collections of freshly delivered loads of wood, odd sculptures in crates and containers full of tools and art. There are work lights and organized chaos. The installations are in various states of construction, and all are accompanied by small camps of trucks and kitchens, tents and trailers in various states of disrepair to house exhausted artists.

Near the 3 o’clock promenade you will encounter Michael Garlington’s “Totem of Confessions” that’s already impressive as hell even though it is only about half way constructed. Inside they have already begun affixing all manner of plaster facades. “Beauty and chaos of black and white photography in assemblage with salvaged and re-purposed mixed media”. Mike’s art is darkly bewitching and entirely his own unique expression. To see what he’s done this early and walk away a little overwhelmed by his vision guarantees that the finished vision is going to be amazing.

The “Life Cube Project” by Scott “Skeeter” Cohen is also near 3 o’clock and Esplanade and they are finishing up the Esplanade facing wall. It will be a structure of rooms and stairs where Black Rock City participants can inscribe their dreams on the walls .

Further out, past the Man Base, Marco Cochrane’s “R-Evolution” stands in three pieces. I was fortunate enough to visit it last night and I can only say, people will be talking about this sculpture at the event this year. It has to be seen to be believed.

Temple of The “Temple of Promise” by Dreamers Guild appears to be coming along nicely. The tail of the structure’s arches are built and heavy equipment is currently lifting the larger arches and a crew of temple builders are putting them into place. The encampment is a frenzy of activity as most Burning Man Temples are, with various activities happening all at once.

Beyond the Temple and towards 10 o’clock two projects are being built; Ardent Heavy Industries’ “Straightedge”, a 2.7 mile long edge that will be LED lit to show the curvature of the earth, and “Dreamland“, a FLUX Foundation piece “inspired by the wonder of childhood carnival rides” that will feature light and flames. Kate Raudenbush is working with FLUX to create the most sophisticated system FLUX has ever built.

photo Sidney Erthal
photo Sidney Erthal

As you move back toward Center Camp the beginnings of “Own Way” by Sasha Mornov and Sema Payain who built “Cradle of Mir” in 2014 is growing from the playa layer by layer. Inside the Man Base, Dana Albany, Haideen Anderson, Flash Hopkins and Tom Kennedy’s “Laffing Sal” stands all alone smiling somewhat disturbingly sweetly at the maze that will eventually be filled with all manner of Carnival of Mirrors insanity.

But now, occasional dust devils scamper. Lonely crows fly over and land to pick up the last insect carcasses from Bugpocalypse. Activity is at the installations or at the ARTery, the Depot and Commissary, or spread about as work crews erect more shade and infrastructure.

The ARTery is braced for the influx of another 310+ installations to begin arriving today from all parts, including The Generator in Reno where some fifteen artists from all over the world are putting finishing touches on their projects before a stream of trucks tow them out here.

With the City laid out, thousands of creative makers and artists, participants and pilgrims will land like so many moths drawn to a flame. Swarms of us will land to share our visions and gifts. We live in exciting times and Burning Man is a vehicle for what is good and expressive in us. So use this time to paint this canvas.  Bring your art, bring your gifts and let us all make this Carnival of Mirrors a year to remember.

And don’t worry about the bugs. Clowns are far scarier.

Amazing Burning Man audio journey through 2014!!!

This is amazing.

For the second year in a row BMIR station manager J Kanizzle and Jex of Subatomica have been taking field recordings of every live sound at Burning Man – from wind and bikes to construction, conversation, and live music – and putting them together into an “audible journey” through the past year’s Black Rock City.

Then they give it give it away as a free download.

Check.  It.  Out.  It’s riveting.

(And yeah, that is my voice, now that you mention it.  These bastards catch EVERYTHING.)



Meet the Children of Black Rock City


A city has no future without its children — and that goes for Black Rock City, too. Burning Man’s wee dusty denizens are as much a part of this community as their sunscreen-slathering parents, but they’re not always in full view (unless you park yourself by the trampolines in Kidsville). Photographer Zipporah Lomax wants to change that by capturing BRC’s “littles” in a new book called Dusty PlayGround, which has just five days left to reach its fundraising goal on Kickstarter. (more…)

Primal Screaming over Burning Man (and the war of cultural appropriation)

The_ScreamOne gets the impression that many Burners thought that when Burning Man got big enough for the forces of liberal consumer capitalism to notice it, that those forces would just roll over and plead for Larry Harvey to rub their belly. Or that the New York Stock Exchange would hang the 10 Principles on the wall and replace the opening bell with dub-step.

That was never going to happen. Burning Man’s entry into the world as a genuinely large scale movement was always going to be a complicated, messy, clash of ideas.

And now that Burning Man has grown big enough and popular enough to be co-opted by market forces, those forces are trying their level best.

Burning Man has been imitated – on the surface – by people trying to make money for some time. This attempt at full-on appropriation is beginning in earnest now, as opposed to 10 years ago, because without a merchandizing arm (which Burning Man has always refused to do, its recent asinine experimentation with scarves as donation premiums aside), it is difficult for appropriators to make money without scarcity. Not impossible, but difficult enough that the massive machine of the marketing/lifestyle complex didn’t really turn its sights on Burning Man.

Now that we’re living in an era of ticket scarcity, however …

Yet as the conflict is joined, the many Burners who talk about Burning Man as though it had “sold out” – as though it had been defeated – are confusing the ending with the beginning.   They are declaring that the civil war has been lost because shots have just been fired against Fort Sumter, when in fact this is a prelude to the massive conflict to come.

Burning Man culture and the Burning Man organization haven’t lost a fight against liberal consumer capitalism – they’ve only just begun it.

This – what Burning Man is going through right now – is what that looks like at the beginning. The early stages.   When market forces decide not to care that we have 10 Principles or that some people put their life into a theme camp for others to enjoy and now can’t get tickets.

What’s happening now was not only inevitable, but predictable: from Walter Benjamin to Theador Adorno to every fucking post-structuralist some of us were forced to study because we took an English class in the 90s, there is a huge body of literature and research showing that yes – yes indeed – when a counter-culture gets big enough, the forces of liberal consumer capitalism try to appropriate it for their own ends. And, so far, they have been successful every time. That’s how Che Guavara ends up on T-shirts made in third world factories and sold to college students whose dorms are cleaned by immigrants making minimum wage.

The fact that it’s happening is why discussion about Burning Man has largely transformed from a dialogue into a primal scream. (more…)

Envision, Burning Man, and Beyond: One Worldwide Movement?

There’s something special happening in Costa Rica.

I recently participated in my first Envision festival on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, just outside of the small town of Uvita. Now in its fifth year, Envision came into being in 2011 as a gathering of about 100 people in the nearby town of Dominical. This year, population neared 6,000 and tickets sold out several days before the gates opened.

Envision event site (Photo by Aerial Media Costa Rica).

For those that planned ahead or were lucky enough to score a last-minute ticket, the experience was well worth the trip.

Envision offers a smorgasbord of sights, sounds and learning opportunities: stellar musical artists, yoga classes, workshops, a series of talks and panels, large-scale works of art, and delicious organic food and bevies. All set in the lush Costa Rican jungle, on a protected wildlife preserve owned by a local family. And yes, there’s a beach.

At Burning Man, we go to great lengths to distinguish ourselves from other ‘festivals’. We don’t allow vending or have corporate sponsorships – Burners are not passive recipients of an experience; they are active co-creators. And we are proud of this. But some events are starting to blur this line, and sometimes in quite powerful ways.

For its part, Envision seeks to encourage people to take stock of themselves – materially, emotionally and spiritually, to think about the impact of their lifestyle on the world around them, and to make very deliberate choices about consumption.

By bringing people together through music, art and sacred movement Envision presents opportunities to celebrate our spirits, heal our bodies and minds, and revitalize our souls to face the challenges and realize the opportunities of our rapidly changing world.” [From the Envision website]


Luna stage design by Tigre, Hoodie, and crew. (Photo by Luke GS)

Envision places a strong emphasis on sustainability and eco-consciousness. With deliberate messaging and design, the festival encourages participants to consider their use and disposal of resources. Single use is decidedly out. Everyone is asked to bring a water bottle and reusable cutlery of their own. Those that don’t can participate in a dish rental program (for a $2 deposit you’re given a plate to use at any of the event’s vendors and return to a dish washing station when you’re done).

I was deeply impressed with the way people at Envision took responsibility for the environment around them, and for the experience had by themselves and others. I didn’t see a single piece of out of place trash on the ground (also called ‘MOOP’ by Envision-ers). I saw people jumping in, helping out, and bringing what they had to offer the collective experience.

While there were goods available for purchase in the tasteful marketplace and food stalls (no huge corporate banners, here), everywhere I turned I witnessed people genuinely enjoying acts of gifting. At times I found myself searching for price listings only to realize the activities didn’t cost any money – these included a face painting booth, a place to immerse yourself in blue clay, and a treehouse slide made of bamboo straight out of some kind of Swiss Family Robinson jungle paradise.


Fire performance on the beach (Photo by Andrew Jorgenson)
Fire performance on the beach (Photo by Andrew Jorgensen)

The connections between Envision and Burning Man run deep. One of Envision’s 6 Co-founders, Stephen Brooks, has been attending Burning Man for the past 14 years (his father has been ten times!), and you could see and feel the connection between the two communities everywhere.

Village Stage schedule (Photo by Zac Cirivello)
Village Stage schedule (Photo by Zac Cirivello)

There’s a strong theme camp presence – leadership from Fractal Nation, Sacred Spaces, Abraxas, and others are interwoven into the fabric of Envision. Members of various on-playa departments work as Envision staff and volunteers – DPW, Gate, Rangers, Café, Media Mecca, ESD – they’re all there, putting to use the skills they’ve mastered on the playa. In the Costa Rican jungle.

It’s not a tough sell, really. “Sort of like Burning Man? But on the beach?” Say no more.

Being at Envision gave me the immediate sense of being part of a large family – similar to the sensation I often have on playa, it truly felt as though we were ‘all in it together’ and that the actions of one affected – and mattered – to the many. It is also a decidedly kid-friendly affair. Everywhere I looked, the little ones were laughing and playing, taking in the sights and sounds around them. And, like Burning Man, there was also a strong element of whimsy. People were consistently engaging each other in playful and spontaneous interactions, such as carrying nonsensical signs just for the heck of it.

But Envision isn’t just about having a good time. Like Burning Man’s year-round nonprofit efforts, the intention is clearly to have an impact beyond the event.

The event organizes beach clean-ups, boasts several banks of compostable toilets, and for those who signed up ahead of time, the Polish Ambassador (a favorite artist at Envision and many music festivals) led an Action Day – a hands on opportunity for festival goers to learn about permaculture through participating in a day of community service at a local school.

"Designing our Future" panelists Klaudia Oliver, Daniel Pinchbeck, Burning Man's Megan Miller, Stephen Brooks, Elias Cattan and moderator Katherine Berglund (Photo by Zac Cirivello)
“Designing our Future” panelists Klaudia Oliver, Daniel Pinchbeck, Megan Miller, Stephen Brooks, Elias Cattan and moderator Katherine Berglund (Photo by Zac Cirivello)

And on Saturday of the event I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion titled “Designing our Future” along with Stephen Brooks, Daniel Pinchbeck, Klaudia Oliver and Elias Cattan. I was inspired by the work these incredible activists, authors and thought-leaders doing for our global community.

Burning Man has been referred to as a ‘permission engine’ or a ‘container of possibility’. It gives people opportunities to realize dreams that previously seemed unachievable.

But we are certainly not the only one.

In Costa Rica people are waking up to their own potential. They’re building community, collaborating on powerful projects and enabling each other to accomplish more than they thought possible. They are radically expressing themselves. They are setting aside differences in social and economic status in order to connect human to human. They are tapping into the creative potential of the collective whole. It’s pretty special stuff, really.

Unlike Burning Man, the Envision experience is intentionally curated. While there’s plenty of room for exploration, the speakers and the teachers, the food, the music, and the artists are carefully selected to take people on a journey, to open their eyes to new things and to give them a new lens through which to see themselves and their relationship to the world around them.

While I take great pride in the fact that Burning Man doesn’t book acts or build a ‘main stage’, at Envision I came to have a new respect for events that have more intentional focus. This gives Envision the ability to educate and challenge participants in a particular direction, in contrast to the completely Choose Your Own Adventure experience of Black Rock City. And I truly believe we – the big we – are stronger with both kinds (and all types of personally transformative experiences. We are more together than we are apart.

There is a hunger for this kind of community, for ritual and connection, and for time away from the ever-growing insistence of electronic communications. Different events may have their own unique flavor and focus, but there is strength in this diversity. To build the resilient communities of the future we need all kinds – all skills, all people, all points of entry. Taken together, this ecosystem of events is helping lead us to that brighter future. We have a long way to go, but I see evidence of progress everywhere.


Emancipator on the main stage (Photo by Cody Edwards)
Emancipator on the main stage (Photo by Cody Edwards)

As the sun rose on the last morning of Envision, I looked out over the joyous crowd and the gravity of the work we all are doing suddenly washed over me. The impact we are making collectively on thousands, arguably millions of lives. They are waking up. They are reaching out. They are connecting the dots and encouraging each other to dig deeper, reach further, and become more than they thought possible. We are all helping to build what might become a truly global cultural movement.

From Burning Man to Envision, we tip our dusty hats to you.