Each year, Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man, determines what the theme for the annual event will be. While it isn’t required, artists are then encouraged to reflect the theme in their work. Most major tribes and many of the smaller ones as well, also emphasize the theme in the design and decoration of their camps. Themes from past years have ranged from the environment, to evolution, to rites of passage. This year’s art theme was Radical Ritual. I pulled the following out of Burning Man’s description:
Beyond the dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical ideas of religion, there is immediate experience. It is from this primal world that living faith arises. In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.
Sacred things appear to come from some profoundly other place that is beyond the bounds of space and time. It is as if a window is thrown open on another world that is more real than real. This absolute uniqueness of all sacred things releases powerful emotions: joy, awe, wonder, dread, and, in its most transcendent form, pure exaltation. The sacred speaks to us of vastness and of union with a power larger than our conscious selves. The sacred gives us access, it is felt, to greater being.
I always look forward to seeing how artists interpret the theme. For example, the Big Rig Jig, which I have included in several posts, was featured as part of Burning Man’s 2007 environmental theme, The Green Man.
As I read this year’s description, I was amused by the sentence: “Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.” That, I thought, provides a heck of a lot of latitude. And I was right. I’ve already provided an example of art that bordered on the sublime this year: The Flower Tower. But where does a giant toilet fit in?
The artists named their large toilet Morning Ritual and declared it was “a dedication to the most unsung hero in our homes.” Okay, I decided, it doesn’t get much more absurd than this. The artists pointed out, however, that the toilet is often used as a place of refuge. Think of the parent wanting to escape from rambunctious kids for a few moments, or a date wanting a break from a boring partner. Or how about when the toilet becomes an absolute necessity, like when you are suffering from a severe case of Montezuma’s Revenge. Is there anything more important in your life at that particular moment than finding or hanging out with a privy? I am pretty sure that Burners who have overindulged— like drank all night— regard the long lines of port-a-potties found throughout Black Rock City in a similar vein.
Martin Luther, the fellow who created the Protestant Reformation, took the analogy a step further. He considered the toilet an important ally in his fight against the devil. He’d sit on the pot, let go, and declare, “Take that Satan.” He was also reputed to use pamphlets that were written in opposition to his campaign as toilet paper.
For whatever the reason, Harvey and Company decided that the toilet deserved a special place among the shrines that were surrounding the Man. Here are some of the other shrines I found placed around the Man and throughout the Playa.
NEXT BLOG: Since we have been focusing on ritual and shrines, I will feature this year’s Burning Man Temple.
25 thoughts on “The Radical Ritual Theme… Burning Man 2017: Part 10”
I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing these interesting art pieces.
Glad you are enjoying them, Lulu.
Great pictures. The toilet and tankers were awesome!
Thanks, Rebel Girl. You and Rebel Guy would go crazy there with your cameras! –Curt
Wow, that Temple of Awareness looks amazing as it burns. Love the tankers too.
Wasn’t it beautiful, Peggy. Some people understandably are concerned about the burning of art at Burning Man. But much of it is built to be burned and the burning is part of the art. As for the tankers, they have always been one of my favorites. –Curt
The Flower Tower looks rather like a Gaudi creation.
Good observation, Andrew. I always feel like a number of the artists at Burning Man have been influenced by Gaudi. –Curt
The la Santisima Muerte sect is from ancient Mexican rituals. The Spanish missionaries joined it to their Catholic teaching so the Mexicans would accept it. Otherwise it has no connection and is a religion in its own right.
But I must say the originality of these artists is incredible!!
Interesting, G. Thanks for the clarification. This is what I read on the subject: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/latina…/7-things-to-know-about-la_b_8385476.html
It’s like trying to figure out politics!! 🙂
And maybe even more complicated. 🙂
These are fascinating! Thanks for sharing so many amazing sculptures. But I must admit, I ‘get’ the toilet. Sublime for some many reasons. 🙂
For sure… 🙂
Do you ever feel like you are in one long, strange dream when you are there? I feel it just from the photos. (I HAVE seen many of your other posts these last few weeks but usually from a hotel room overseas with a spotty internet connection or, now, from home with my elderly parents visiting. Thus, there have been many fewer of my usual comments, but I have enjoyed a quick view of this crazy series on Burning Man.) Oh, and I totally love the tanker sculpture!
It can seem a bit surreal, Lexie. It was even more so on my first few trips there. Now I am a bit more focused and some of the newness has warn off, but I still feel the ‘magic’ and I of course love the art. The tanker is one of my all time favorites. 🙂 –Curt
For such a well attended event, you’ve been very lucky to catch all these wonderful structures with few or no people.
There is so much, AC, that the people can spread out. And I spend most of my time on the art. –Curt
I really do enjoy seeing the art from Burning Man, but I must say, there are times when reading their pronouncements is a little much. Sometimes I wonder if they’re trying a little too hard to be — well, something. There’s a wonderful line from Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet that describes it perfectly, but the language prevents me from adding it here. I’ll find the whole paragraph and pass it on to you.
I do have to say that my first thought when I saw the to photos was: roller skates!
I’m with you Linda. 🙂 I always think that Burning Man takes itself a bit too seriously. The Temple, on the other hand, works. I see the people crying there, I see them forgiving themselves, I see them saying goodby. It strikes me as a sacred place, as sacred as any other place I have been. –Curt
Seriously incredible. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like, watching the temple burn, in that vast company. I wonder how long the flower tower took to build.
The Temple Burn is an experience unlike any I have ever experienced elsewhere, D.
Don’t know how long the flower tower took, but I did read that a whole lot of folks in Petaluma became involved in the project of making flowers. –Curt
Utah Builders Community really was quite spectacular. My favorites here were the Shrine of La Santisima Muerte, and the Brine Shrimp/egg. I am always struck by just how far and wide the varied the imaginations are of those who participate in Burning Man. Your photos of the event are just so spectacular Curt, your descriptions and essays so interesting and well researched. They are a true contribution in the event.
Half the fun, JoHanna, is the incredible variety. The other half is how well so much of the art is done. And thanks. I appreciate your comments. I always enjoy sharing the event in words and photos. –Curt