The Fire in the Desert
Written by Steve Arnold on February 21, 2016
Burning Man 2015 saw a return to the playa of old … gone were the placid, pleasant days and temperate weather we enjoyed in recent years, replaced by the Black Rock Desert’s wrath of high winds, hours-long dust storms, and near-freezing temperatures testing the mettle of 67,564 participants over the course of the week. But hey, we never said this thing was gonna be easy. The Principle of Radical Self-reliance certainly competed with the other nine for primacy this year.
The 60-foot tall Man stood center stage to the proceedings, immediately surrounded by a mind-bending maze and a bustling Midway experience in the spirit of 2015’s Carnival of Mirrors art theme. The Midway’s carnival booths were activated by shuckster participants determined to hoodwink unsuspecting rubes, who risked losing their pants in games of chance — if they were wearing pants in the first place, that is.
Beyond the Man’s Inner Circle perimeter, more artwork graced the open playa than ever before. And while normally there are a small handful of seminal art installations to which beat a path, this year’s art truly leveled-up across the board, and an art wander was more like a walking connect-the-dots between one amazing piece and the next … and the next … and the next.
Marco Cochrane returned with the third of his Blisssculpture series, erecting another stunning — and breathing — R-Evolution, a female figure constructed of a welded rod and pin infrastructure skinned with steel mesh. Mike Garlington’s mystical Totem of Confessions was a 50-foot tall edifice reminiscent of ancient Khmer and Vedic architecture, steeped in black and white photography assemblage and re-purposed mixed media. In the middle of its great room, a golden confessional stood as a portal to revelation and interaction. The Charcade featured dozens of flame-oriented games of chance, and wonderful opportunities to singe one’s arm hairs (read the back of your ticket, people), and Flaming Lotus Girls’ iconic Serpent Mother returned to celebrate its 10th anniversary of first appearing on the playa.
International artists were well-represented, including the standoutLove by Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Milov, depicting two wire-frame adults sitting back-to-back with their inner children illuminated and reaching out to each other from within. The Department of Public Arts from New Xishi City, Taiwan constructed Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea, a stunning pan-Asian Buddhist lotus temple of interactive fire art, fortune telling and performance art. Teams of UK-based design students created a number of geometric wooden structures including Reflection,The Infinity Tree and Bismuth Bivouac, a pavilion inspired by the geometry from the crystalline growth pattern of the element Bismuth — as you do. Lastly, Own Way by Russian artists Sasha Mironov and Sema Payain featured five interlocking stairways surmounted by a rainbow.
The spiritual center of Black Rock City was embodied in a soaring, spiraling cornucopia-like structure dubbed The Temple of Promise by Jazz Tigan and The Dreamers Guild from Oakland, California. The community gathered around the Temple on Sunday evening to watch it go up in flames, along with the missives and messages of tens of thousands of Burning Man participants.
In support of these efforts, Burning Man Arts broke the $1 million mark for the Black Rock City Honorarium grant program in 2015, gifting approximately $1.2 million to more than 100 art projects, in addition to other non-financial support offered to honoraria and self-funded artists.
Some of the most impressive creative efforts these days move about the playa in the form of Mutant Vehicles, and this year hundreds of these fantastical mobile sculptures dotted the landscape. The Deep-playa Music Zone, or “DMZ”, was created in concert with Mutant Vehicle owners, the city planning team and Burning Man Arts — after an uneven start, it successfully mitigated public safety and sanitation issues for large-scale, long-term Mutant Vehicle parties on playa.
Completing the creative canvas of our city, participants built 1,150 placed theme camps of all sizes, providing an incredibly wide variety of interactive experiences for their fellow Black Rock Citizens, from large scale sound camps to waffle fries, scientific talks to yoga — and everything in between.
The Black Rock City Event Operations team coordinated thousands of staff and volunteers throughout the year to execute on the incredibly complex plan to create the essential infrastructure of Black Rock City, including city layout, emergency services, heavy machinery, transportation, sanitation, playa safety services and ticketing — and possibly most importantly, playa restoration at the end of the event. These hard-working folks lay the foundation on which Black Rock City will come to life and then disappear.
The Community Services, Communications and Public Works crews (including the Black Rock City Airport, Playa Info, Earth Guardians, Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR), Lamplighters, Volunteer Resources, Center Camp Cafe, Camp Arctica ice sales) provide essential services and civic infrastructure to Burning Man participants. We encourage you to read each of the individual reports in this AfterBurn — taken together they paint a broad-strokes picture of the efforts that go into facilitating the creation of Black Rock City.
But Black Rock City is nothing without the incredible creativity, dedication and fortitude of its citizens. Thank YOU, Burners, for everything you do to support and co-create this incredible, ongoing experiment that is spreading around the world and having a lasting, global impact. We’re excited to see how it will play out as this community grows.