The Year of Herculean Art – and Animal Planet!

Returning to Black Rock City for my 22nd consecutive burn, I was deeply impressed by the art; this year there seemed to be more of it than ever, and the scale and ambition of many installations was remarkable. It was the year of Herculean art; The Catacomb of Veils, the Black Rock Lighthouse Service, Helios, and the Temple were shining examples of large, complex, beautifully crafted structures which offered an in-depth experience within and without.

The Catacomb of Veils by Dan Sullivan and crew

Watching the build of the Catacomb of Veils, by Dan Sullivan and crew, was like being in ancient Egypt watching people building the pyramids, although in this case, with tons of lumber instead of stones. Although not quite complete, the basic forms were there, and climbing the steps to the top of the main pyramid was exhilarating. Being deep inside of they pyramid was a lyrical experience, with the long colorful veils blowing in the wind, and various memorials tweaking one’s heartstrings. The sheer mass and scale of this installation was duly impressive.

I can’t say enough about the Black Rock Lighthouse Project by Jonny and Max Poynton and crew – spectacular inside and out. The incredibly dense layering of collages, drawings, seashells and other objects carefully placed in the interior of one of them was remarkable, a labor of love. The texture of the exterior was carefully created by adding bits of wood to the surfaces; the hanging walkways were fun to negotiate, and took one into each of the three lighthouses, each with a different interior. I must say I was really sorry to see these burn….


Kate Raudenbush outdid herself with Helios, a truly community-oriented sculpture made of her signature laser-cut steel, and activated when participants stood in the center of each of its six platforms, releasing a laser beam. When all six were activated, they crossed above the central reflective column; this action depended on the cooperation of those who climbed into the platforms. Such a lovely combination of art and technology! I think this is Kate’s best piece yet. She says, ” Activating the lights of Helios at Burning Man was a combined act of personal intention, community collaboration and encouragement, just like activating the light inside of all of us, and just like the massive communal effort it took to make this project come to life.”


 David Best changed his method this year on his tenth Temple, which was not made from the usual intricately cut, filligreed wood but from lumber aged to look old. In the center was a long hanging spike, the point of which almost met another from a spike rising from the ground. The empty space in between these spikes seemed to embody Death – that unimaginable emptiness we all fear, and wonder about. This empty space spoke volumes; the tension of the unknown, the interruption of this connection, was powerful and somber. Can anyone walk through the Temple, reading the memorials and experiencing the power of all the departed souls in our community, without crying? Certainly not me. I find it remarkable that we have such a powerful, comforting, bittersweet place in which to share our grief, and to be healed.
HYBYCOZO has outdone themselves with Heart of Gold, which featured three illuminated rhombic dodecahedrons, one of which created an optical illusion. They’ve taken their work to a new level, with complex relationships of light and shadow. Well done!! I was happy to see a major piece of figurative art out there, Inside the Mind of DaVinci by Phoenix Rising and the Wrecking House – just wonderful, beautifully modelled and startling in its scale and its elegance. Hopefully this sets the bar for more figurative work on the playa.

Speaking of figurative work, the Muses of DaVinci, by Elizabeth Mallory and Mikell Haynes, was haunting and eerie. Its figures seemed to have risen up out of the dusty playa surface.

Charlie Gadekan’s Roshanai was a beautiful tribute to Islamic architecture, comprised of a long tunnel of laser-cut steel with dramatic changing lighting and an interesting sound element. One could enter from either side, and quite spontaneously, a hugging line formed, where one hugged every single person one passed in the line.


A gigantic fallen robot, Mecha9 by Tyler Fuqua, sprawled across the playa and dwarfed participants. One couldn’t help but love this creature, charmingly modelled and utterly delightful. I hope he’ll come back next year and bring some of his friends.

Out in the deep playa was an enormous Victrola- well, most of it anyway, providing a nice contrast to the large sound camps and EDM that so dominates our city. Live acoustic music was performed here, and next year La Victrola will be mobile, functioning as a stage for live performance. Big heartfelt thanks to La Victrola Society for bringing us this old-fashioned gem.


An unprecedented experience was to be had at Shrumen Lumen by the Foldhaus Artists Collective, a cluster of gigantic glowing mushrooms that stretched and grew periodically, shrinking back to their original size only to sprout up again, with a wonderful creaking sound.

Several pieces from past years reappeared on the playa this year, including Celestial Mecanica by Jessica Welz, a remarkable kinetic arrangement of several glowing and spinning planets, some of which also flamed.

Chris Schardt’s Firmament returned, attracting participants who laid underneath its beautiful changing light patterns and listened to classical music. Yes, it’s true – unlikely as it seems; classical music still engages us. Another sound and light piece, the Sonic Runway by Rob Jensen and team, returned after its appearances as the Sol System in 2003 and 2004, this time more complex than ever.

Kevin Clark brought his Medusa Madness back this year, with its lighting improved and expanded. It created a natural social space, where its light and fire beckoned all to get with the snakes and like it. Goddesses can do that…We also saw the return of the Lost Tea Party, and this time there were five teapots.


Did you notice that the playa had turned into Animal Planet? The Space Whale and her baby in the Keyhole, by Matt Schultz, Android Jones, and the Pier Crew seemed to set the tone for all the animals out there -the Guardino Leone by Kevin Clark, Octavius the Octopus by Peter Hazel, Jack Champion’s Murder (the five enormous crows), Lord Snort by Bryan Tedrick, OID by Michael Christian, Ursa Major by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, the Koi Pond by Joe Joe Martin, and Seeing Humanity for What it Really Is (the gorillas) by Laurence Vallieres. Even Abraxas the dragon seems to have reproduced, with its offspring following it closely.

The proliferation of gigantic insects was very pleasing, from Therm’s fire moths to the giant Weta from New Zealand, Kirsten Bergs butterfly wings (Imago), and the gigantic spider in the Cafe.


I want to give a nod to the clever person who affiixed vintage album covers to the trash fence stakes – the ride along the trash fence was most amusing.

All in all, it was a banner year for art; I find it amazing that members of our community are willing to work so hard, for so long, to create the art we all enjoy so much. The art is the heart and soul of our event, reflecting the creativity, collaborative spirit, inventiveness, craftsmanship,  generosity and sheer will power of our community. Endless thanks and gratitude to all of the artists and makers who are inspired to create such grand, elaborate installations in such challenging conditions. It’s unprecedented and remarkable, and we are all better for it.

About the author: Christine "LadyBee" Kristen


Christine Kristen (a.k.a LadyBee) is Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Manager and Photo Gallery editor. She was Burning Man's art curator from 1999 to 2008, where she dealt with all things visual and aesthetic, including managing the art and the art grant program, photo-editing the Image Gallery, writing art content for the Burning Man website, working with the ARTery, managing the archives, and lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man. She is the co-author of "The Jewelry of Burning Man", with Karen Christians and George Post, and the curator of the exhibition "PlayaMade: Jewelry of Burning Man", which debuted at the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston in 2017. It opens at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle in January 2020. She has an MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago.

14 Comments on “The Year of Herculean Art – and Animal Planet!

  • eggchairsteve says:

    My 22nd consecutive burn as well!
    just keeps getting better…many more please.

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  • Great overview! Thank you for putting this together.

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  • Still no photo of mine :(
    I’m feeling jaded.

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  • LadyBee says:

    Vulfie – please don’t feel jaded….I wrote about what I saw out there, which of course is only a fraction of the art; this is a highly subjective review!

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  • Jana says:

    Amazing. This event is on my bucket list. Hope I ever get there :)

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  • Jon La G says:

    Love you Lady Bee. I’m so grateful for this incredible rundown on the art and artists. More – so happy for your 22nd Burn. You’ve certainly had your share of excitement over the past few years and I’m glad to know that you made it out to the Burn. Xoxo

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  • LadyBee says:

    The artist who placed vintage album covers along the trash fence is Dragnet- Denny Smith, and he calls it Jacketz. Thanks, Denny!

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  • Juno says:

    The art was really above and beyond this year. Thanks for writing this!

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  • Dr.K says:

    Thanks LadyBee. It was truly a monumental year in many ways. We will have to do it again.

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  • The Egg says:

    Thank you so much to every artist who displayed at Burning Man this year (and everyone who helped them) – breathtakingly creative.

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  • We looked and looked and looked and never did find the Koi Pond :(
    The art was truly amazing. Wife and I played treasure map as we tried to see every installation. We managed 180 something out of the advertised 212.
    And you really need to see everything twice, day time and night as the pieces are quite different at those time.

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  • Zengunfighter says:

    Roshanai had a shin high metal tube sticking up in the middle of the passage at one end. We were outside, admiring the geometric artistry when there was a cry of alarm followed by a streak of some very blue language.
    A woman discovered the pipe the hard way, resulting in a five inch laceration.
    Upside is it gave me a chance to give a gift freely spontaneously and very much needed.
    Taking the radical self reliance principal to heart as well as the warnings of death and dismemberment, I always had a trauma kit with me.
    While patching her up, we had a wonderful opportunity to bond with a couple of fellow virgin burners from Idaho.
    Quick treatment saved possible infection and let them continue to wander and wonder.
    The sense of possible danger is one of the pluses of BM. The default world is too concerned with making everything safe.

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  • LadyBee says:

    Wow – sounds like you turned a potentially bad experience into a good one, all around – well done.

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