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.
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.
A closer look…
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.
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.
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.
I was there, along with 20,000 or so other Burners, when the Temple started to Burn.
Soon, flames were licking away at the top…
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.