On the playa of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada USA – the sun rises and sinks over flat, barren landscape whipped by hot winds into dusty brown haze. Once a year, this harsh environment host one of the most ambitious and unique intersections of music, art and community - Burning Man. For ten days in the late summer, thousands of dreamers and doers meet in the Nevada desert to create a metropolis of participation called Black Rock City.
This community of creativity is built on values like self-expression, gifting and self-reliance. With those ideals in mind, attendees build vast camps dedicated to Burning Man installation art and performance art. Limited only by the bounds of their imagination, participants create Burning Man sculpture that range from luminous figurative pieces to gritty, menacing steam punk inspired designs.
The playa is a blank canvas where artists, designers and architects can design Burning Man installation art to any scale. On a micro level, each participant can become a work of art themselves by employing elaborate costumes and adopting conceptual personality traits during the event. Burning Man Camps frequently adopt themes that become the inspiration for everything from costume to Burning Man art car design.
The landscape of Black Rock City is populated by many Burning Man sculptures which are often 10:1 human body size. These Burning Man Installations are sometimes interactive or kinetic and must be activated by the group effort of participants. The communal nature of these Burning Man Sculptures frequently refers to biology, nature, stewardship or conservation. These diminutive installations are popular Instagram fodder, which can frequently be seen populating your feed at the end of any summer.
Many artists and designers utilize the expansive playa to create Burning Man Installation Art that uses scale to create impact. Looking back on popular Burning Man art installations from the past decade, a few stand out installations eloquently create meaning with context and materials.
In 2015, artist Alexander Milov created a Burning Man sculpture called ‘Love”, an expression of conflict between a man and a woman (the work also references mankind in general). When night falls of the cage like human forms, child-like sculptures glow from within. This burning man sculpture articulates hope in times of darkness.
Burning Man art cars often referred to as Mutant Vehicles in Black Rock City, are either built from scratch or modified existing vehicles. If a Burning Man art car is a vehicle customized from an original car or truck form, it cannot resemble the former vehicle at all. You will not see dune buggies, low riders or monster trucks driving through the dusty camps of Black Rock City.
The Burning Man Art Cars you will see can be anything from a land shark to a space ship and sometimes have a sound or fire component. These mutant vehicles contribute to the surreal visual quality of Black Rock City.
In 2016, Foldhaus Art Collective constructed a whimsical, glowing forest of mushrooms forms called “Shrumen Lumens”. This playful Burning Man Art Installation conjures the unearthly and dreamlike experiences of Burning Man, creating a “Alice in Wonderland” effect. The Burning Man sculpture is also a cheeky wink to the altered states that many participants engage in during their stay in Black Rock City.
Every year artists submit designs for larger Burning Man art installations called The Temple that can require hundreds of volunteers to complete. In 2018, the design of French Architect Arthur Manou-Mani was selected for The Temple in Black Rock City. “Galaxia” was a massive wooden spiral construction that offered participants a sheltering refuge for peaceful contemplation and reflection.
These Temple Burning Man Installations have a slightly different tone than the other art in Black Rock City. “Galaxia celebrates hope in the unknown, stars, planets, black holes, the movement uniting us in swirling galaxies of dreams,” says the Burning Man Journal.
On the final day of the event, The Temple is burned on Sunday night in a quiet and somber ritual. The burning of The Temple is a magnificent spectacle to signify the beginning of the end of Black Rock City for the year.
Subscribe to the mailing list to get more Burning Man arts