Medusa at Burning Man… Where Snakes, Art and Myth Join Forces


1 Medusa at Burning Man 2015

The Medusa by Kevin Clark and the Rhino Redemption Camp was one of the most impressive sculptures at Burning Man 2105.

You are probably familiar with the myth of Medusa. She was one bad dude-ette. The story is told that Medusa, a beautiful woman, had sex with Poseidon (Neptune) in Athena’s temple— an event that seriously irritated the goddess, which was never a wise thing to do. Athena responded by giving Medusa a permanent bad hair day, turning her beautiful locks into a nest of squirming snakes. Even worse, she gave Medusa a look that transformed people into stone. Neither of these actions was conducive to encouraging normal human contact and Medusa developed a nasty attitude, using her newly acquired powers willy-nilly.

The Greek hero Perseus was tasked with chopping off Medusa’s head. The gods helped. He set off for battle armed with a sword from Zeus, a polished shield from Athena, winged slippers from Hermes, an invisibility cloak from Hades, and a sack from the Hesperides. The latter was to stuff Medusa’s head into. Three old sea goddesses with one eye and one tooth between them, the Graeae, told Perseus where to find Medusa when he stole their eye. By cleverly using Athena’s shield as a mirror, he approached the snake-haired woman and hacked his way to success. Afterwards, Perseus used his grisly trophy to do in enemies. He’d yank her head out of the sack and point it at them. Zap, you’re a rock.

Burners from Petaluma, California, creators of one of my all time favorite mutant vehicles, the Rhino Art Car, were responsible for bringing Medusa to Burning Man. Kevin Clark and his fellow members of the Rhino Redemption Camp, felt that Medusa with her mirror tie-in was a natural for the 2015 Burning Man Theme, Carnival of Mirrors. Burning Man honchos agreed and Clark went to work in his Petaluma workshop. He used a cast of the face of his friend and co-worker on the project, Michele Ramatici, as a model for Medusa’s face, and set about gathering 800 barrels for making 25 snakes. The snakes would reach as high as 27 feet into the sky; Medusa’s face, close to 15 feet.

2 Rhino Art Car at Burning Man 2014

The Rhino Art Car crosses the Playa in 2014.

3 Rhino Art Car camped out at Medusa Burning Man 2015

This is the Rhino Art Car in 2015 as it provides a temporary home for the crew that was working on Medusa.

4 Horn of Rhino Art Car at Burning Man 2015

A view of the Rhino’s horns. Also note its eye.

When I arrived on Sunday, the first day of Burning Man, work was still underway on the giant sculpture. Bits and pieces of snakes and snakeheads were still strewn all over the ground. (It isn’t unusual for large-scale art projects to be under construction the first few days of Burning Man.) I watched with fascination as a tall crane lifted snake sections into place. Even partially complete, the sculpture was impressive. It became more so as the week progressed.

5 Building Medusa at Burning Man 2015

A snake head up close… complete with wicked looking fangs. Eventually, it would connect with its body.

6 Medusa being built at Burning Man 2015

The ground, in fact, was still strewn with snake parts when I arrived at Burning Man 2015 on opening day. 

7 Building Medusa at night Burning Man 2015

Work continued far into the night as the Rhino Redemption Camp worked to have Medusa’s snakes up and ready to strike. 

8 Early Medusa with white face at Burning Man

Even partially finished, Medusa was impressive. Eventually, the white cover of Medusa’s face would come off.

9 Early building of Medusa at Burning Man 2015

But first, she had to grow a lot more snakes, as shown in the next two photos.

10 The snakes of medusa

11 Medusa close to being finished at Burning Man DG

My friend, Don Green, captured this photo of the almost completed Medusa. All that remained was to remove the white cover. I liked the contrast of the red umbrella.

12 Medusa's Cobra at Burning Man

A different kind of snake was found just above Medusa’s head: a King Cobra.

13 Night view of Medusa's face at Burning Man DG

Night provided a totally different perspective. (Photo by Don Green.)

15 Night view of Medusa's snakes at Burning Man 2015

The snakes were quite colorful.

16 Close up of Medusa's snakes at Burning Man

The ‘tongues’ were designed to shoot out flames. Unfortunately, I was never around to witness the phenomena. 

17 Threatening Medusa snake at night, Burning Man

It wasn’t hard to imagine that this fellow thought of me as dinner.

Starting with ancient Greece and then moving on to Rome, the Renaissance and modern times, there must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of images of Medusa created. I even found a GQ magazine cover that featured Rihanna wearing Medusa hair. Regardless of all the art generated since the beginning, I believe that the ancient Greeks would have loved Kevin Clark’s version.

18 Medusa's face revealed at Burning Man

Medusa’s face unveiled was made of burnished steel, which created a perfect mirror.

19. Medusa and her snake hairdo

Medusa, hiding out in her snake hair. 

20 People admiring Medusa at Burning Man 2015

A final view as Burners check out the sculpture. Even a dragon fly had stopped by to visit. 

21 thoughts on “Medusa at Burning Man… Where Snakes, Art and Myth Join Forces

  1. I always try to find something to appreciate in your Burning Man posts, Curt. When it comes to Medusa, what really makes me happy is that you appreciated it. That’s about as far as I can go with this one. They certainly get an “A” for effort, though. It’s a heck of a story, and if it was a forced choice, I’d take their rendering over the GQ cover, for sure.

    • I am laughing here Linda. Snakes were a little far out, eh. I am something of a fan of Greek Mythology, for all the twists and turns if nothing else. Athena, BTW, ended up with Medusa on her shield. Maybe Perseus ran out of enemies! –Curt

  2. Don’t muck around with any of Medusa. As for Poseidon. It reminds me of one of the biggest share-market debacles ever. It was a mining venture where the share-price kept rising and leapt up to unbelievable heights. Everybody jumped in and even the street sweeper became an over-night millionaire. Of course, most people got burnt and the snakes followed. The company was called ‘Poseidon’.

    • Right you are Gerard! Don’t mess with Medusa. Hope you didn’t get caught in the Poseidon bubble. Or got out with a bundle. Reminds me of the big tulip bubbles of yore. Or property in the US 6 years ago. –Curt

  3. The medusa head is incredible and reminds me of a more sinister version of Niki de Saint Phalle. The Rhino car is pure magic, I agree with you. Awesome photos and creativity Curt.

    • Checked out Niki’s work, Cindy. It’s wild. And yes, I would say the Burning Man version is a bit more sinister. I’ll be showing a number of fun art cars but the Rhino always makes my top five! –Curt

    • Which is sort of the beauty of our blogs, right, Alison. We get to travel along on adventures we might not make otherwise. Or we get to relive adventures we have had through someone else’s eyes. –Curt

  4. Thank you for dedicating so much space to this single exhibit (and their other creation, the Rhino car). This Medusa warrants the attention. I got a sense when looking at the very first photo, that fire would be perfect. I’ll bet that would have been a great sight: flames leaping from the mouths of the snakes. I didn’t make the connection to mirrors at first, so I’m glad you reminded us of the story.

    • I did see a u-tube video of the fire, so apparently they finally got it up and running, Crystal. I read that Medusa was capable of consuming 100 gallons of propane per hour!
      I have a few other subjects that I will devote a whole blog to as well. Some just seem to deserve it. Burning Man placed Medusa in one of its prime locations, just in front of the Center Camp Cafe before Burners journey out on to the Playa. –Curt

  5. Totally unbelievable. Medusa is one of my favorite structures in all of your posts. And I agree with “Chips Off the Old Block”: much of what you’ve shown us in your blogs could have influenced Mad Max or vice versa!

    • Wasn’t Medusa grandly scary? I couldn’t seem to catch her at night when all of her snakes were sporting fire.
      There are always aspects of Burning Man that have a Mad Max feel. I think BMO may limit the number of Mad Max type vehicles. –Curt

  6. Pingback: We begin our build » Building ~ Sound ~ Community

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