The Radical Ritual Theme… Burning Man 2017: Part 10

The 2017 Burning Man Theme of Radical Ritual led to some interesting art including this fellow. If you are wondering what it is, so was I. I decided it was an anteater with a cowbell. Minus the cowbell, I was reminded of the small stick figures found in the cave on the Little Colorado River where the Hopi Indians entered this world according to their mythology.


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.

Art projects are encouraged to reflect the year’s theme. These oil tankers welded together reflected environmental concern about our dependence on oil.

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 Flower Tower was reaching for the sublime at Burning Man this year..

While this five-foot tall toilet was approaching the absurd.

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.

Porta potties lined up in Black Rock City.

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.

La Santisima Muerte- the Lady of Shadows, the Sacred Death, the Skinny Lady.

I found this Shrine of La Santisima Muerte rather interesting. La Santisima is not a saint according to the Catholic Church, but she is gaining in popularity among the poor of Mexico and Latin America because she rejects no one who comes to her— including drug dealers. The horse like creature on the right represents one of the six aspects Quetzalcoatl.

Shrine of La Santisima Muerte at Burning Man 2017

A closer look…

La Santisima Muerte close up at Burning Man 2017

And a close up. Today Latin America, tomorrow the world?

This two-tailed water nymph with Burning Man hair nestles in giant hands as part of the Aquarian Shrine to water by artist Jade Fusco from Austin, Texas,

Artists Andrew Sczesnak and Chris Swimmer from Berkeley claimed that their Shrine of Dough was dedicated to the world’s dependence on bread, but all I could think of was Ghost Busters.

Shrine of the Golden Bunny at Burning Man 2017

And if you have a doughboy, you might as well have a Golden Rabbit. Makes sense doesn’t it? My grandsons, however, said it looks like a dead bunny.

The Gilded Brine Shrimp swims around on the Playa when it is covered with water so it is appropriate that it had its own shrine. Vaughn Perkins of Elk Creek, California created this art piece with its large egg.

A larger sculpture also featured the shrimp of the Playa. Thousands of these little fellows would have been swimming around a couple of months earlier when BMORG was still worrying about whether the Playa was going to dry up in time for Burning Man.

Naturally, a shaman would be included when thinking of radical rituals.

Temple of Awareness at Burning Man 2017

The Utah Builders’ Community out of Salt Lake City, Utah built this rather simple but elegant structure and called it The Temple of Awareness. The 13-sided structure was 35 feet in diameter and 35 feet tall. It was one of several structures at Burning Man that was designed to be burned.

Temple of Awareness Burns at Burning Man 2017 5

I was there, along with 20,000 or so other Burners, when the Temple started to Burn.

Temple of Awareness burns at Burniing Man 2017 2

Soon, flames were licking away at the top…

Temple of Awareness burns 1 at Burning Man 2017

And a few minutes later, it was almost over, which is an appropriate place to end today’s post.


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

    • 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

  1. 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!!

  2. 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

  3. 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

    • 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

  4. 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.
    Thank you.

    • 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

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