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.
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.
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.