The State of the Art

Minaret in the Keyhole with people
Minaret in the Keyhole with people

This morning we woke up to the light patter of rain on our dome. It was a fresh morning on the playa, one that sharpens your mind as you take a walk to check out the progress our ARTISTS are making beneath a cold blue sky speckled with dabs of white clouds.  The weather has been cold And there have been long white outs but our valiant artists have persevered and a huge array of projects are being completed.

We made our way towards the 2 o’clock side of the City and visited with Karen at Infinitarium. The sculptures are in place and they’re building out the fire effects. The Garden is a beautiful layout of plants with the tallest being the Fleur. There are some Willows, the Lovers (Two leaves), Trumpets and some Dandelions. Like I said, the weather has been rough on all the artists this last week, and this morning is was cold, cold, cold. Karen said, “Look at us. Who wears thermals at 10:30 in the morning on the playa? Who’d have thought.” Indeed, and that makes it all the more wonderful to see all the people out here trudging through the long hours to finish their projects.

Bliss Dance
Bliss Dance

We wiped the dust from our goggles and wandered out to the Keyhole where yes, Brian Tedrick’s Minaret is as beautiful as you hear it is. At night it is illuminated with rings of color and during all hours of the day and night our bold citizens climb up Minaret’s vertebra, then midway they go inside and make their way to the see-through sphere at the top to revel. It is truly a worthy Keyhole piece. Last night we met some folks who say it isn’t finished yet though. Still to be installed are misters in the top steel orb. These misters will release BBQ sauce and flame effects are still to be installed also that will, with the touch of a button at the bottom, instantly incinerate the revelers in the sphere, thereby creating a fine hourly grilling bonanza of our bountiful supply of citizens. They may have been joking but I say it sounds delish!!

We hear there was supposed to be snow on Donner pass today. Crazy.

If you want some beauty, this year make sure to get out to Bliss Dance by Marco Cochrane. She is a sublime form, twisting and flowing and simply divine. Today they were putting on her finishing touches.


The Temple: Sacred Heart of Black Rock City

[Lee Gilmore teaches Religion & Anthropology at California State University Northridge and is author of Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

As travelers, historians, and archaeologists can tell you, great cities contain spiritual and ritual centers–physical manifestations of the human quest for the transcendent and magisterial.  Grand cathedrals, imposing temples, and mosques with soaring minarets–each an attempt to intersect both divine and earthly powers.  For Black Rock City, that heart is perhaps best identified with the annual Temples–each an ephemeral locus of memory and mourning.


Rod Garrett tells us that the origins of BRC’s famous layout of concentric circles lay in pragmatic and organic decisions.  Nevertheless, when viewed through a symbolic lens, its template readily suggests a labyrinth or mandala.  The placement of the Man at the BRC’s center readily evokes what historian of religion Mircea Eliade called the axis mundi–a symbolic manifestation of the sacred center of the cosmos and the location of hierophany–the eruption of the sacred into the profane world. As both the spatial center and temporal apex towards which each annual event is definitively aimed, The Man forms axis of space and time in Black Rock City.

Yet over the course of the past decade, the sacred heart of Burning Man has shifted a few hundred yards outward.  Where the Burning of the Man can bring joy, catharsis, and transformation sharpened into a singular, ecstatic moment, Temples’ rites can engender a deeper and perhaps more difficult self-examination in asking us to consider our own mortality.

The Temples grew out of tragedy and immediacy when Petaluma artist David Best first transformed his 2000 playa installation called the Temple of the Mind into an impromptu memorial for a friend who had died in the weeks just before the event that year.

Temple of Tears, 2001

In 2001, a similar but significantly expanded structure would be called the Temple of Tears where all Black Rock Citizens were invited to inscribe memorials upon ornate wooden walls and to leave behind photos and other objects of personal significance. As my friend and colleague Sarah Pike has noted, through the physical inscription of memories on the Temple’s walls, and in turn through reading the inscriptions of others, participants were able to share, ritualize, and transform private grief into public expression in ways that are generally unavailable to many contemporary Americans.  Finally, on the festival’s final night, the Temple and its tokens were ultimately offered up in flame, dust, and ashes as thousands looked on in reverential silence.


To Build A Temple for Metropolis


The building season has begun.  As Moze posted recently, the Honorarium List is out.  As one of this year’s honorarium artists I thought I’d give a little insight into how one comes to the conclusion to take on the monumental project of building The Temple for Burning Man.

A Dusty picture by Rick Egan

It all began Sunday last year on the playa. Sunday for me has always been a day of reflection. Last year I woke up in a very reflective mood as the dust storm was raging…”Why on earth do I come out to this god forsaken hole”… <cough, cough> …”Why do I insist on making art in this inhospitable place”.  Just as my pity party was in full swing my favorite art partner Rebecca Anders finds me and suggests we go on an OPA tour (Other Peoples Art tour).  She had been having a similar morning of woe and needed to get away.  Joined by Don Cain, of DSC, we went on a deep playa excursion to see what treasures we had missed during the week while we were installing Fishbug.

Fishbug aka Chimera Sententia by Rebecca Anders & Jessica Hobbs
Fishbug aka Chimera Sententia by Rebecca Anders and Jessica Hobbs photo by nightshade,


That Heavy Sunday Moon

El Dorado
I’m writing from Room 906 in an undisclosed Reno hotel casino, or as we like to call it, 9 o’clock and R. It took me 20 minutes to get to the truck and back because every dusty Black Rock City refugee stopped and wanted to talk about Exodus and whether theirs was good or not so good. You can spot Burner cars in Reno, the really, really dusty ones loaded with all manner of camping necessities; the ones that other Burners have traced images of the Burning Man through the playa dust onto the clean paint below.

Sunday was a great day as we tore down the Man Museum so that our long timers wouldn’t be stuck with all the loading on Monday and Tuesday. As we were taking apart the shade, two bikes collided on the Esplanade out front and we ran over to them. The two girls involved stood up and hugged each other. No one was hurt and they went on their merry way. Only in Black Rock City do you have a “Hit and Hug”.

Man Museum 2009 Exactlee and Crew
Man Museum 2009 Exactlee and Crew

Yes, there were intermittent dust storms Saturday and Sunday, but that didn’t slow us down. Sunday was a party to celebrate cleaning up after our last party, which was a celebration of the previous party and so on.

Then we began getting ready for the night’s festivities and THAT MOMENT came about, the time when….

… the dry-pulverizing desert sunshine suddenly disappears with a pop, as the sun dips behind the Granite Range to the west of 34, and that harsh white daytime baking spotlight on the playa is replaced with a breathtaking cool gentle sky of gorgeous uterine pinks and blues that enchants and makes everyone so beautiful; makes the colors come alive, then it all slides slowly into a purple gray slate sky, and Black Rock City suddenly comes alive.

Dinners and cocktail parties are in full force and the Esplanade is packed with those going to and fro, all fabulous. Photographers live for that brief moment and they save up their shots to get there and shoot the Art. In camps, lights shake off the day’s dirt and start their twinkle and costumery is suddenly warm as shadows play tricks on the eye. Daytime sculptures go to sleep and the night time Art comes into focus as El-wire cars passing light up and suddenly make sense and take shape and everything is transformed as we slowly slide into the night time world where planets and grand constellations rise and dance across the sky with much felicity above our temporary bacchanal.

Sunday night the Moon rose full and heavy up over 2:15 to the south east and as citizens beheld it, a great howl arose from all parts of the City, a primal howl that made you look to the sky and see what they saw and in turn, howl yourself, because it felt right and good after all the time out here in this magnificent City.

If only all cities howled when the large moon rose close to the ground all around.


Creativity, Collaboration, and Catharsis

For those familiar with the emotional catharsis that can be discovered through the Burning Man experience—resonating both on and off the playa, and effecting real change in the worlds beyond Black Rock City—this story may strike a chord.

A couple months ago, Harley DuBois, longtime BRC LLC member and City Manager, was invited to serve as an “Instigator” and lead a workshop for museum professionals attending a “Creativity and Collaboration” retreat at Asilomar. (Other “Instigators” included representatives from the Exploratorium, LucasFilm, and an “Alternate Reality Game” designer, among others).

For Harley’s session, she worked with participants to build a Shrine dedicated to memorializing loss, with the plan to collectively burn it that evening. (Sound familiar?) Prior to the workshop, she sought the support of David Best—well-known to many Burners for initiating the annual tradition of building memorial Temples on the playa—in order to obtain materials and to learn tips on Temple construction from the master.

In facilitating the Shrine’s creation for retreat participants, Harley had them organize themselves into four groups—sorters, builders, decorators, and mavericks—in order to expedite various aspects of construction. createcollaborate But perhaps most importantly, she asked them to talk with one another about loss as they worked in their groups to create the Shrine, and to “get it real in their bodies.” For some—the great majority of whom had never been to Burning Man—this was more than they had bargained for.

Harley reports that some participants were soon sobbing out their grief, as they confronted various losses and deaths encountered in their lives. Later, the small groups were asked to report back to the rest. Harley recalled one woman in particular who spoke of “emptiness” and the difficulty of holding on to people and memories, as she held her hands gently cupped.