Larry Harvey created the first theme for Burning Man in 1995, ten years after he had co-founded the event. Ever since, he and his crew have been churning out a new topic every year. I picture him sitting somewhere in San Francisco, puffing away on his ever-present cigarette, and waiting for inspiration to strike. Finally, the proverbial light bulb flashes. Why don’t we make this year The Nebulous Entity, or Caravansary, or Beyond Belief? It would be interesting to track Harvey’s thought process.
The first theme was Good and Evil. Undoubtedly, there were costumed angels and devils wandering all over the Playa and Black Rock City. There still are. I recall one year when every other woman seemed to have sprouted wings. Maybe there was a sale on. I ran into a bit of good and evil myself at 2015’s Burning Man. I spun a wheel of fortune and was told, “you will soon discover if you are the good twin or the evil one.” Did I really want to know? Later I found a graphic sideshow poster of how it might look.
Burning Man invites individuals, groups and artists to participate in and interpret its annual theme through their costumes, camps and creative works. Here’s a complete list of themes since 1995:
2016 — Da Vinci’s Workshop
2015 — Carnival of Mirrors
2014 — Caravansary
2013 — Cargo Cult
2012 — Fertility 2.0
2011 — Rites of Passage
2010 — Metropolis – The Life Of Cities
2009 — Evolution – A Tangled Bank
2008 — American Dream
2007 — The Green Man
2006 — Hope & Fear
2005 — Psyche
2004 — Vault of Heaven
2003 — Beyond Belief
2002 — The Floating World
2001 — The Seven Ages
2000 — The Body
1999 — The Wheel of Time
1998 — The Nebulous Entity
1997 — Mysteria
1996 — The Inferno
1995 — Good and Evil
The 2015 theme was built around the concept of carnivals and mirrors. A city of tents grew up around the Man featuring carnival posters, mirrors and games of chance. Four large gateways invited Burners in to where hucksters pushed their games of chance, or just strangeness. I checked my image in each of the mirrors but skipped the ring toss where the posts took on a definite phallic look. I stopped to watch a show where a talented acrobat displayed her skills, and I helped pull ropes that made a giant skeleton dance.
The 2016 Theme, “Da Vinci’s Workshop,” is designed to draw a parallel between Medieval Florence and Burning Man in terms of art, technical innovation, and patronage. (No one has ever accused Larry Harvey of being shy, modest, or lacking in ambition when it comes to promoting Burning Man, but seeing Black Rock City as the equivalent to Florence, and as “the epicenter of a new renaissance,” is something of a leap.)
Still, the art being inspired by Burning Man is very impressive. And the 2016 Man being “surrounded by a public square, a piazza lined with workshops, each representing a guild…” with the guilds being “self-invented and devoted to the interactive manufacture of whatever participating artists and inventors can imagine, ” sounds like fun.
NEXT BLOG: We will travel into Black Rock City and out into the Playa to explore other ways the 2015 theme of Carnival and Mirrors was represented.
39 thoughts on “Burning Man Themes… Reflecting the Mind of Larry Harvey”
A theme of fertility 2.0? Bet that made for some interesting costumes!
Or lack thereof. (Grin) –Curt
Great pics of some really impressive art. Thanks.
Thanks, Peggy. –Curt
I like the intricate, tattooed looking face. Truly amazing artwork!
Wasn’t it Cyndy. I told another blogging friend that I could hardly resist putting up a lot more photos of closeups. I have bunches. 🙂 –Curt
Must have been fun to wander round early without the usual crowds.
It was, although I was a little bummed when I couldn’t get my early morning cup of coffee at the Center Camp cafe. 🙂 –Curt
Early adopters always suffer 😉
By the way, we were hoping for an entry from you on our latest quiz – regular commenters always get preferential treatment chez nous 😉
Darn, I missed it in the craziness of the past few weeks. Now I will have to go back and find it. 🙂 –Curt
This will help 😉 http://www.animalcouriers.com/2016/01/03/new-year-new-website-new-quiz/
Reminds me in a way of visiting the Savador Dali museum in Figueres!
Excellent, Andrew… the same type of wild, creative energy. BTW, there was a great painting of Dali at Burning Man 2015 that I will be featuring. –Curt
Awesome. (in the true sense of the word)
It always is Sylvia. As often as I have been there Sylvia, I am always eager to go again, to explore the creativity that has been turned loose in the desert. –Curt
So glad you were there early to get these shots for us to see. Wow! Love the theme, love the entrance, but am truly blown away by the detail in the artwork at the Fun House. (Thanks for the close-ups.) The list of themes makes me think of the themes at the Rose Parade. Sometimes I think you can make just about any float fit the theme for that year. Could be the same at Burning Man. Also love the Blake quote on the entryway. Thanks for sharing. I feel as if I’m there!
Thanks Rusha. Good analogy with the Rose Parade. I’ve always felt that Burning Man is like a three ring plus circus anyway. It is like Harvey was acknowledging the connection. The detailed art blew me away as well. It was all I could do to not post another five pictures on it that I took. –Curt
The art is way coo, Curtl. Carnival stuff is kind of freaky scary to me. Could be from watching American Horror Story last season. ;). And I’m not fond of clowns either.
Ah, the clown is coming Bridgette. Hold on to your seat. (grin) There is more about the theme on my next blog, including a really cool mirror doohickey that folks can’t resist performing in front of. 🙂 –Curt
Arresting images and sunshine too!
The sunshine goes with the desert, although it is surprising how many times over the years I’ve been caught by rain at Burning Man. Everything stops, Dave, because you instantly have inches of mud on your feet, tires or bike tires if you try to travel. They even shut down the traffic entering the event until things dry out. It can be a couple or more hours. –Curt
Having been to a few countryside festivals, I can well imagine. Best story is watching Van Morrison fall out with his microphone stand at the Bishopstock UK blues fest 2000 AD. Great, actually, but the missus wants out of there and we drive out of the muddy bottom-field car-park (spot the problem!) before everyone else. They were hours (days?) trying to get out. Smug or what, and I wanted to give Van the Man a 2nd chance …
Great timing, Dave. And timing is all important at Burning Man where 2-4 hours is not at all unusual for getting out of the event. I left at 3:30 AM this past year and managed to get out in 45 minutes, which was something of a record for me.People leaving a couple of hours later had at least a two hour exit time. –Curt
It took me forever to stop looking at each picture and the detail put into each display!! The Burning Man will always amaze me. [and i do believe I say that every year, don’t I?!]
OMG. Curt. That squirrel T-shirt. I burst out laughing when I got to that point. I have to try and find that one.
I am totally mesmerized by the woman’s face with all the drawings. I can’t help but think of Madame Chinchillla since I’m reading through your old posts and just read about tattoos a little while ago.
Ok, on to the next one. I want to see more mirrors.
Madam Chinchilla and Captain Don fed right into the Burning Man series, Crystal. I will refer back to the blog at some point. Thanks for reminding me. As for the squirrels, my daughter picked it up in Tennessee somewhere. It is one of my favorite T-shirts! More mirror are coming. 🙂 –Curt
When I got to the fun house, I suddenly was back in the 1950s, when my dad would take me to the carnival when it came to town. All of those memories — penny pitching, cotton candy, the people running the rides — and the fun house, with all of the oddities that made me want to hold my daddy’s hand! Perhaps those connections are what make this one seem less…ummm…overdone and weird. I’m eager to see what else was around.
DaVinci’s Workshop sounds like an inspired theme, actually. That should really be a splendid one.
I was reminded, Linda, of an experience from my youth when you mentioned penny tossing. We tossed dimes, both for glassware (people collect carnival glass now) and stuffed animals. To win glass, the dime had to land in the glassware. For the stuffed animal, it had to land in a small circle. A month before the fair one year, when I was maybe ten, I bought five dollars worth of dimes and spent an hour every night practicing. The fair came and I went armed for bear, so to speak. After I had won five of the fluffy fellows, the Carny wouldn’t let me play at his booth any longer. An older boy traded $10 for 3 of them to impress his girlfriend. It was a very profitable year.Oh, and I also supplemented my mom’s glassware. She was quite pleased. –Curt
That woman’s face! Amazing! As usual I’m enchanted by your BM posts. Looking forward to the next one.
Burning Man makes photography and story telling easy, Alison. I have long thought that you and Don would be a natural for the experience. –Curt
Don wouldn’t tolerate the dust 🙂
Ah yes, I think maybe you’ve told me that. The wife of my friend Don Green (who always goes) has a similar problem and has never been. –Curt
These are just amazing photos. I really got tangled up in the detail of the tattooed face.
As did I, JoHanna. You can stare at it for a long time and still find new things. –Curt
Curt it is absolutely fascinating. The huge mouths as gateways really are attention grabbers, no to mention absolutely every other eyeful. You are convincing me I may have to find a way to attend one of these. Wow!
In many ways, Sue. I’ll be doing a number of blogs over the next two months that try to capture what I like about the event— the things that keep me coming back. It is definitely worth a visit. But watch out, it can become addictive. 🙂 –Curt
Really unusual photos. I love the capturing of eccentric and impressive art. Very different to most Burning Man pics! Very surreal. Thanks!
Glad you enjoyed them, Peta. Thanks. –Curt