I am wrapping up my coverage of Burning Man art today. Only the Man remains. This post will be mainly photos. Enjoy.
NEXT BLOG: The Man at Burning Man and his fiery end.
I am wrapping up my coverage of Burning Man art today. Only the Man remains. This post will be mainly photos. Enjoy.
NEXT BLOG: The Man at Burning Man and his fiery end.
It seems strange to talk about the trees in the Black Rock Desert. The Playa stretches out to the distant mountains, flat and featureless, immense in its nothingness. But this year’s theme, Radical Ritual, encouraged a number of artists to imagine trees in the desert. And they imagined some very interesting ones. They ranged from Methuselah, a 4,848-year old Bristle Cone Pine that lives in the White Mountains of California, 325 miles south of Black Rock City, to the Tree of Ténéré, a solitary acacia that was once described as the most isolated tree on earth and lived some 7000 miles from Burning Man in the vast Sahara Desert of northern Niger.
Sysimetsä was a poignant reminder of the forest fires that have been plaguing the West for the past several years. Put together by artists from Lake County in Northern California, it was a memorial to a fire that had destroyed their county and the Raven’s Landing Art Space in 2015. As I walked through the display at Burning Man, fires were threatening my home in Southern Oregon. As I write today, the terrible conflagration that has destroyed so much of California’s beautiful wine country and taken numerous lives, still rages.
Malcolm Tibbett’s’, Wood Carver’s Dream, reminded me of the beauty of wood. This gracefully curving art piece is made up of wood from a number of different tree species reflecting their different colors, textures and grains. As Tibbetts notes on his Web site, “Segmented woodturning is an art form with few limitations. By combining components, I can create just about any shape or size and by arranging different wood species, I can create just about any type of surface design. There are few art forms with this much freedom.”
Machina Naturale by Dave Boyer from Reno, Nevada brings us forward in time to a kinetic wind sculpture that resembles a tree and captures the wind, mimicking, or bringing together our natural and mechanical worlds.
It isn’t hard for me to imagine trees as being sacred, to understand how they have been involved in humankind’s rituals down through the ages. The heat from their fires provided warmth, a means of cooking, and a way to keep wild animals at bay on dark nights for ancient peoples. Spreading limbs and leaves provided shelter from rain, snow and hail— and the wood itself was used for making shelters. Many trees provided food necessary for survival. And finally, there is the awe that the size and beauty of trees can bring.
Being ‘out on the edge’ at Black Rock City can mean many things. For example, you might take a class in quantum theory. There are a number of serious scientists at Burning Man and they are eager to share their knowledge, to introduce you to the world of Schrodinger’s cat and ‘spooky action at a distance,’ as Einstein described quantum entanglement. Science doesn’t get much edgier.
But I mean ‘being on the edge’ literally. I am talking about the far-out border of Burning Man where only a plastic fence separates you from the seemingly infinite desert, out where the pounding beat of industrial music and crowds are a distant memory, out where the buffalo roam. Except I’ve never found any buffalo. I have, however, discovered many weird things over the years ranging from bizarre cats to strange aliens. Heading out there is a must for me. And Horse with No Name is always raring to go. “Clippity clop, clippity clop, neigh, neigh, snort, snort!” (Remember, that’s the sound he makes when you pinch his ear.)
This year, I found the amusing border sign I placed at the top of this post, the gorgeous Flower Tower, a giant Victrola, a speak-easy/den of inequity, and range cattle— the latter two are something you expect to find in rural Nevada. But first, the sign. I was assuming I’d find a fair amount of Anti-Trump stuff at Burning Man. It isn’t like a lot of the President’s supporters attend the event. But the sign was the only thing I saw. (Admittedly, I missed a lot of Burning Man.) I speculated that, one, Burners were trying to escape from the world of pro and anti-Trump with its endless media barrage, or, two, BMORG wasn’t eager to twist any tails in Washington due to the fact that the event is held on federal property. Permits are always iffy at best, even though the organization pays dearly for the privilege of using the land.
I do think Washington could learn a lesson from the fence, however. Nobody, but nobody gets in or out. It appears to be much more effective than anything the US has built or might spend billions on building along the US/Mexico border. I crossed over it once as a test. Within seconds, a BMORG vehicle was charging down on me. I quickly retreated and was long gone when the vehicle arrived. Horse with No Name can run really fast with the proper motivation. Maybe the President should hire Burning Man to run his border security…
Now, on to the den of inequity. Boy, doesn’t that sound biblical? Bordello, brothel, and cat house seem a lot less damning. And who can forget The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas? Prostitution, as you may know, is legal in Nevada. There are several brothels found out on the state’s lonely highways. Peggy and I have passed by most of them on our jaunts through Nevada. One of the most famous, the Mustang Ranch, is located just outside of Reno on I-80. Thousands of Burners go by it annually. If you know where to look, you can see the trailers lined up— and a large parking lot. I first heard of the Ranch back in the 70s when Joe Conforte, its owner at the time, was a leading Reno businessman. He was serving as chair of the city’s annual Valentine’s Day Ball, which was dedicated to raising funds to fight heart disease. As I recall, the Heart Association got a bit embarrassed over that one. Conforte fled to Brazil in 1991, barely escaping ahead of the G-men. He never did like paying taxes.
The Black Rock Blind Tiger’s rickety speak-easy/brothel at Burning Man was located next to the fence. A group out of Austin, Texas was responsible for building it. When I stopped by, Burners were charging around looking for clues that were supposed to give them entrance to the Prohibition era speak-easy. I was reminded of the Ella Fitzgerald song, Hernando’s Hideaway. “Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe.”
As for the “Playful Pussy Tiger House,” it was closed. What else could the Madame expect? You are not allowed to sell anything at Burning Man. It’s a gifting economy. I wandered around and took photos. I even managed to persuade a Burner to pose for me in a large bathtub.
Enough on the shady side of the fence, however. Let’s move from the sinful to the sublime, from our slightly titillated look at the world’s oldest profession to the lovely Flower Tower. I featured a photo in Part 2 of this series. The Tower is another creation from the incredibly fertile imagination of Kevin Clark and his talented group of artists at Reared in Steel located in Petaluma, California. Two of the groups earlier Burning Man works— Redemption Rhino and Medusa— are among my all-time favorite art pieces at the event.
The Flower Tower was described as a cathedral devoted to happiness. Reaching 70-feet into the air, it was covered with thousands of colorful metal flowers, each made by hand and each unique. Like so much Burning Man art, it looked quite different at night than it did during the day. It was even supposed to shoot flames out from its steeple at night, but I missed that.
I grew up in a small town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Our house had a basement, sort of. It was more like a crawl space with a dirt floor. It served as our attic, however, and was filled with ‘treasures.’ And black widows. More than once I imagined one crawling up my leg and charged out, ripping my pants off as I went. This story isn’t about the scary spiders and naked little boys, however, it’s about a Victrola phonograph we found there that came with a horn for a speaker and records that were etched on cylinders. It was an antique even in the 40s. I suspect it had been my mother’s when she had been a teenager. I’d love to have it now.
So, it was fun for me find the large Victrola out in the Far-Playa with its magnificent horn. The 30-foot tall structure was made of wood and steel by artists at the American Steel Studios in Oakland. And the music was marvelous… straight out of the early 1900s: blue grass, country, jazz and blues. I could picture my mother twirling away. Once again, I was reminded of the creativity of Burning Man artists. I was also reminded of a different era, back before music was digital, back before you could fit a thousand songs on the I-pod that I am listening to now with its Blue-tooth Bose speakers. John Coltrane and his jazzy Blue Train is helping me write.
Some Nevada ranchers consider it a God-given right to run their cattle on public lands, for free. Just ask Clive Bundy, who had an armed standoff with federal agents over the government’s expectations that he would pay the $1 million in back fees he owed for running his cattle on BLM lands for 17 years. You and I subsidize his profits with our taxes. Be that as it may, I expect to find cattle chowing down on public land. I found them up in the Sierras when I was backpacking this summer and I found them on the open range when I was driving from Cedarville to Gerlach on my way to Burning Man. I didn’t however, expect to find them out on the Playa. I’ll conclude today’s post with a couple of photos of the Sierra and Black Rock City bovines.
NEXT POST: In my effort to keep you entertained and provide variety, I’ll introduce you to some of this year’s mutant vehicles where rapid transit becomes rabid transit. Stay tuned.
I wasn’t all that surprised to find a forty-foot-tall jellyfish hanging out on the Playa. It was Burning Man, after all. Plus, I had seen pictures of it—I’d previewed the art I could expect to find in Black Rock City this year. Don’t get me wrong, I love surprises. There is magic in finding something you have never seen before, and can’t even imagine seeing. But my time was limited. I had three days: Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I was staying on Sunday as well, but artists start removing their art then. Or it has been burned. And I wanted to be sure I caught the major works. There were dozens of them scattered over the Playa, spread out as far as the eye could see.
Peter Hazel was a construction worker in tile and granite in another life. I imagine that he was a good one, that he took pride in his work, maybe even regarded it as art. But his world view shifted significantly a few years back when he made a trip to Barcelona and came in contact with the uniquely inspiring art of Antoni Gaudi. The world lost a talented contractor, and gained a talented artist.
I get it. Peggy and I were in Barcelona a few years back as well, maybe even around the same time Hazel was visiting. I wrote this for a post I published then:
Barcelona arrived in the Twentieth Century with its own brand of Art Nouveau, Modernisme. Combining whimsical and practical with a healthy dollop of nature, Barcelona’s artists and architects did a makeover of their city. Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), the best known among the Modernistas, added a strong religious belief to his work and became the architect of Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Holy Family.
Started in 1883, the church continues to be a work in progress today. Like the towering cathedrals of the Gothic and Renaissance periods, it is a work of generations, and like the great cathedrals of Europe, is a masterpiece of art and architecture. Peggy, I, and our traveling companions walked inside and could only stare up in awe.
Here are a few photos Peggy and I took that illustrate why.
The forty-foot-tall, thirty-foot-wide jellyfish Peter created had a position of honor on the Playa. It stood in front of Center Camp in a direct line with the Man and the Temple. Each year, BMORG (the Burning Man Organization), selects an artist to place his or her work here. Almost always, the artist is someone who has had art at Burning Man before and has already impressed the organization and the participants with her/his creativity and talent. The jellyfish had an appropriate jellyfish-look from a distance. Up close, you could see that it was made up of small jellyfish, some 2000 of them, each one carefully placed in a large steel structure that had been built to accommodate them. Glass had been broken, reshaped, and fired to create the small jellyfish. Some eight kilns and a lot of volunteers were kept busy in the process. I followed a set of stairs up into the belly of the jellyfish and them climbed higher on a ladder so I could see how the work had been put together, and take advantage of the height to see out over Burning Man. I made the journey twice— once during the day and once at night.
Back in the 1800s, the challenge of creating animation was solved by a device known as a zoetrope. Slits were carved in a cylindrical device that contained still representatives of a bird in flight, a horse running, or some other action sequence. Several representations of the bird, horse, etc. would be included opposite each slit in a slightly different stage of movement. The cylinder was then turned rapidly with an individual looking through the slits as they passed by his eyes. The result was an illusion of motion.
A similar illusion was created when we were kids by having the illustrations drawn on separate pages of a small book. We would rapidly flip through the pages with the same results. You wouldn’t believe what Mickey and Minnie were up to. Bad mice! The books weren’t anything we wanted to take home to our parents. I don’t have a clue where they came from, but so much for the vaunted innocence and safety of the 1950s.
The Bay Area artist Peter Hudson, or “Hudzo,” as he bills himself, has taken the zoetrope idea to new heights by using life-size figures and strobe-like lights to achieve the movement effect. His works of art are interactive. People pulling ropes or riding bikes in unison cause the art piece to rotate and give the desired effect. He’s had several different works at Burning Man.
This year he returned to an earlier piece that featured Charon, the ferryman of Greek Mythology, who transported dead Greeks across the River Styx. The Greeks would put a coin in the mouth of their dead loved ones to pay Charon. No coin, no transport! The poor were left to wander for a hundred years or so on the wrong side of the river. Once across, the dead would make their way past Cerberus, the three-headed dog, into Hades where they would exist forevermore as shades. Cerberus wasn’t there to keep them out; he was there to keep them in. And he was really good at it. If you’ve watched the Harry Potter series, you have a good idea of what a three-headed dog might look like— and how it might drool. My old Basset Hound Socrates didn’t have three heads, but he did have the drooling part down pat, especially if we were eating cheese. When he shook his head to clear the drool, it would slime all four walls of our small apartment… and us.
I was out exploring in the Playa on Horse with No Name and had dismounted to check out some art when a Burner said to me, “Look this dragonfly just landed on my hand. It must be lost.” Indeed, a dragonfly had landed on the hand of the guy who looked like a long-time Burner. They come with a certain patina. I dutifully took a photo.
Maybe it was fate. Shortly afterwards I came on a sculpture of a large dragonfly at the head of a whole lot of little ones that were escaping from a bottle held up three, headless guys. Acolytes, I was informed. The piece, titled Flight of Illumination, was created by Iron Monkey Arts out of Seattle. The acolytes, so the story went, had gone their own way but learned that working together was better. “The world is cold and lonely when you are a self-centered dick,” the literature about the sculpture told me. So be it. We can all use a little illumination.
Bear with me here, for my final sculpture today. This one has to do with 180,000 pennies, attached as fur on (you guessed it) a giant bear known as Ursa Major. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you may remember Penny the Canadian Goose from a couple of years ago covered with Canadian Pennies. This year, Lisa and Robert Ferguson out of Oakland, California, the creators of the goose, decided to go with a grizzly. The couple met and fell in love at Burning Man in 2008 and have been creating art for the event ever since.
NEXT POST: A look at some murals at Burning Man 2017. You won’t want to miss the cannibal weeny dogs.