Burning Man 2019: Metamorphoses

“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit”
(Everything changes, nothing perishes)
― Ovid, Metamorphoses

“Energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.”
― 1st Law of Thermodynamics

Two thousand years before Kafka’s Gregor Samsa woke up as a cockroach, Ovid, the literary bad boy of First Century Rome, was writing about metamorphoses dire and diverse. In a world caught between human folly and godly whims, his luckless heroes find themselves transformed into birds and beasts, trees and mountains, even constellations of stars. In some cases metamorphosis is meted out as reward, in others as divine punishment. And looming over every verse is the specter of death, the final transformation, a terminal point at which change is irreversibly arrested. To read these stories is a potent reminder that life is by its nature a transformative journey, where fate and character interact in unpredictable ways.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
― Franz Kafka

Burning Man is routinely described as transformative. At the personal level, a transformative experience. At the group level, a transformative event or culture. What does that really mean?

From “It changed my life” to “it’s changing the world,” Burning Man is a million stories, and the through-line across them all is change. Mutability. A tempering or annealing, like metal in a forge or glass in a kiln. Shedding the dross, revealing the true nature within. A crucible of souls.

We look at ourselves and think: I want to change. My surroundings, my community, my company, my city, my country. Innovation, modification, diversification. Evolution and revolution. But how much of this is will, and how much destiny? Do our true selves lie within, like the form inside the sculptor’s marble, waiting to emerge? Or must we find some north star, set a course, and lash ourselves to the wheel? In a world of manufactured desire and alluring spectacle, can we trust our own instincts?

“When the butterfly takes wing, nothing of the caterpillar remains.”
― Alejandro Jodorowsky

As much as the personal journey of change may consume us, it takes place in a broader context, a tapestry of interrelated transformations of which ours is but one thread. Looking beyond the horizon of the self, we are surrounded by and inseparable from a world in constant transition. The political landscape and the physical landscape, our planet, in a cascade of tipping points. Do we have the power to influence these changes rather than just lament them, to bend the arc of history? And if we don’t have that power, does anyone?

Icarus and Daedelus, 17th-century relief (Musée Antoine Vivenel)

This year’s theme is a celebration of change, and an exploration of uncertainty. As such it invites a consideration of time; not its circular nature, or its attendant ritual, but in this case the relentless flight of time’s arrow, and an embrace of the elusive now. Memory is fickle, and the future is uncertain. None of us knows what they will become, but we can seek to understand where we are at this point in our transformative trajectory, this fleeting chord on the strings of existence.

Transformation happens whether we believe in it or not; but if we have learned anything in our Burning Man experience it is that we do have a say in our own futures, that agency is ours if we choose to pursue it. While we may never know the ultimate outcome, there is a shared belief that our dreams matter, and that together and as individuals we have the power to shape our own stories and transform ourselves in positive ways.

“That’s why [Burning Man] has spread so contagiously, and caused people to take it back with them, and apply it to ordinary life: because it has engineered a change in who they really are.”
― Larry Harvey

Alchemists have long sought to master the art of metamorphosis through esoteric means, transmuting base metals to gold and breathing life into the inanimate, thereby hoping to achieve transcendence over the material world and challenge the dominion of gods and kings. This year’s theme is an invitation to explore new forms of alchemy, reliant not on some elusive Philosopher’s Stone but on the limitless powers of the heart.

Orion, from St John’s College, Cambridge

* * * * *

Artists and creative teams interested in exploring the theme of Metamorphoses are encouraged to apply for honoraria grants for the Burning Man event in August 2019. The application process will consist of two stages: first, a call for letters of intent, after which selected applicants will be invited to submit full proposals. The honoraria application process begins here and will open for submissions on October 16, 2018.

As always, any work of art by anyone, regardless of our theme, is welcome at the Burning Man event. If you are planning to do fire art or wish to install a work of art on the open playa, please see our Playa Art Guidelines for more information.

About the author: Darryl Van Rhey

Darryl Van Rhey

Darryl Van Rhey is a San Francisco-based journalist and longtime observer of Burning Man.

65 Comments on “Burning Man 2019: Metamorphoses

  • Gypsy says:

    This just brought tears to my eyes……….time to build

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  • MAXE says:

    I’m a peripatetic prognosticator by trade and as I was leaving BRC after this year’s Burn, I wrote my notes forecasting the theme for next year. It’s as if we read each others minds. I’m blown away how Gifting works in miraculous ways.

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  • Fuckerpants says:

    Wheels are turning – pencil and paper at the ready – what will be brought forth?

    Very exciting……..

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  • Argyre Patras says:

    Lovely work!
    I especially love rolling Kafka, Ovid, and Jodorowsky in there, together.
    A fine theme.

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  • C K says:

    I love this theme so much! So beautiful and I feel a strong connection to all the ideas and possibilities that will arise from it!!!

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  • Buf says:

    This is an excellent theme. It lends itself to plenty of intriguing ideas. I’m expecting lots of butterflies. Now, how should the streets be named?

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  • Paul-Dominic says:

    Wow! My wheels are turning already, for my return )'(ome after 2 years hiatus.

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  • Cptn Hook says:

    Great theme, verk fitting for a scenery as abandoned as it can be crowded and with chaos formed to harmony. Very inspired now, thank you!

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  • Pete (Tao) Specht says:

    Metamorphoses ….
    For some years now I have understood that the so called Tranforative Effect of the Burning Man expierance was really about the discovery and evolution in each individual of finding ones inner Outlier and recognizing that powerful diamension and the community it interacts with!
    Truly, a yearly reoccurring Metamorphoses! Now to be recognized in 2019!

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  • Ron Scudder says:

    YES! YES! YES! And time to do something about it!!!!!

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  • Georgia Burke says:

    I love this theme! It’s so perfect!

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  • Morgeno says:

    this is such a cool theme for my first burn I’m so hyped!!! The Jodorowsky quote is especially awesome since I’ve been obsessed lately thinking about Dune/fremen inspired costuming. Can’t wait to transform in the desert with all of you!

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  • BrianSVarley says:

    Experiencing profound internal alteration we later wear … is beautiful … I very much appreciate this theme. As my father used to say: “Relationships change. It is the nature of things.” I hadn’t thought about that including relationship with ourselves … beautiful.

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  • Artemis says:

    It’s time. My heart, my soul, and the ruthless power of my warrior spirit are ready to bring love and change. What an incredible choice- poignant, timely, necessary.

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  • Thiago says:

    Love it!
    It’s perfect for a first burning…
    I hope I can go!!!!

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  • Timeless says:

    Darryl you’re an amazing mind and writer. Thank you and thanks to whoever came up with this killer theme!

    A playa artist of over a decade, next to the Temple 4 years running, I and a worthy crew have been transforming statues carved from logs with fire. This ain’t you’re grandmother’s burn, this is “Fire Inside”, a night long transformational ritual all its own. Struggling to describe the effect of a whole tree sharing its life force, I have called it a “spell”. It’s real, it’s deep, it’s a metamorphosis not unlike a Temple Burn. Only unlike that glorious burn, these burns each produce a huge, playafied talisman. With help from eager burners blowing through copper tubes, we have literally been “breathing life into the inanimate”, to “achieve transcendence over the material world”. I’ve written in this same journal about the quantum, “tuning” these monuments achieve through Fire Inside.

    Back in Default, the gorgeous char textures are hardened, so to be shared far and wide. These are the only playa artifacts known to survive their own burn and by now some 15 make up a traveling art installation we call “Liberty (R)evolution”. That’s right, we intend for this evolution to implant in the heart of our spectacular community a burning passion for the cause of Liberty. Yes, Liberty — the one thing that has kept Black Rock City on its playa. (Just ask our lawyers.)

    “If Burning Man is about anything it’s about personal Liberty.”
    –Larry Harvey

    We intend the cause of Liberty to survive, like an ember cloistered in our culture-bending community — even as it has survived since Prometheus first liberated humanity with his fire.

    To this end, this summer another monument will join our Liberty (R)evolution — a thirty foot Man. THE Man of course — Larry’s famous brainchild. This Man will be carved from a huge, “twin” tree stump, roots up. Our Fire Inside will burn top-down as close the temple as possible like a giant torch!

    This installation, however will not require an honoraria grant. Instead, we hope it will employ an all new funding model that doubles as investment, one we call “Fundiversify”. Another thing Larry did before he left was to post a shout-out to Fundiversify, he even asked Caveat Magister to write an article all about it. Larry believed alternative funding approaches like Fundiversify could help drive a Renaissance and so do I. How fitting for private investors, not donors to drive the production and sharing of this Man… If you’d like to be one, or if you just want to learn more about Fire Inside or Liberty (R)evolution, just click my name here ;)

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  • Cassandra says:

    It’s kinda ironic because the event hardly changes from year to year

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  • Josh says:

    But I already just changed into a robot?

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  • Scott McKeown says:

    This is a good theme. However, I wonder how this theme was arrived at? Did Larry come up with this theme before he passed? If not, was this done by a committee? If so, who were in the committee? Or was it done by an individual? If so, who was the individual? Some transparency would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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  • Nathalie says:

    Love this. The coming year will be all about change and growth for me. How very fitting to be celebrating what will become next year at Burning Man.

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  • The Hustler says:

    This theme is oddly perfect in many ways.

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  • Healing Love says:

    Meta, in Greek with , after, changing or transformation .
    In Sanskrit Mithu or Mitha union of one to another. Morphe : shape, form.
    Awesome theme!
    BMorg did it again. The best place where to undertake any transformation, self discovery through genuine interactions with other human beings is the playa. One of the most magical place on the earth. I love the definition of Meta in Sanskrit because after the your transformation usually , naturally happens a union. A union and understanding of other human beings . Ideas are flooding my brain. There are so many possibilities to be explored in this theme. From the origin of Morphe until now it has been such a long journey. But I can tell you this all the most positive transformations that happened to me I owe to Burning Man and I want to give back to the community this year in particular and even more. Thank you !

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    • Halil Gundogdu says:

      Kafka, Jodorowsky and ikarus cannot be blended better into a journey to shape ourselves and the unknown future we promise to enlighten…
      Either we will bring the life to the dead stars or the dead will fall our precious planet, sipirit of endless waves will write the poem of the breeze loving our inspiring souls,
      Love light and sharing moments…

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  • Sidbunny says:

    Burning Man, the theme park. Line up to receive your authentic experience.
    Line 1) Metamorphose
    Line 2) Transformation
    Line 3) Buy whatever bullshit we tell you.

    Oh, wait. They’re all the same line! But don’t forget about Line 4 – the free labor line. Give the company your free labor and you will achieve enlightenment.

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  • Jamal says:

    I’m an African American male. I’ve never been to Burning Man but this theme has inspired me. I’ve been thinking a lot about transformation and going to Burning Man next year could finally help me metamorphose into an 8 year old blonde white girl.

    Are there any camp like this that I can join?

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  • Hunter says:

    More like
    “Please get ready for the increase of tourists, including instagram models; bucket listers; and non building, sherpa paying, non participants.. Because we increased the city cap to 100k and are just getting the paperwork handled.
    P.s we are going to have an increase of MOOP and medical helicopter evacuations.”

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  • Jack. says:

    This is what most of us feel after experiencing Burning Man. We ALL experience a metamorphosis of sorts. No matter how deep or small. Looking foward to my next!

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  • David says:

    Answer: The Morphios!

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  • Susan Miller says:

    This is cool. I went this year and it was really nice. I wanted to get transformed but a lot of bad things happened. I didn’t understand the robot thing but it was really funny. So i want to go again next year and to get Metamorphsed, but I don’t have a lot of money. Can I get Metamorphsed like somewhere else before Burning Man and save a little money?

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  • Phoenix says:

    FINALLY!! Wow, what a PERFECT theme, and incredibly appropriate time in the history of mankind and the planet. My mind is RACING!!!

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  • Phoenix says:

    Wow, what a PERFECT theme, and incredibly appropriate time in the history of mankind and the planet. My mind is RACING!!!

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  • Buterfly says:

    Dust off your feather headdress, Heather. This is gonna be the BEST transformational EDM festival of the season!! Yoga prayer hands, look at me, I’m a butterfly on Molly!

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    • Mockingbird says:

      Burning Man Licensing Agreement and Universal Waiver prohibits wearing a feathered headdress unless you can show written proof that you are a certified war chief of a recognized tribal band. And even then, it’s prohibited due to unacceptable MOOP risk. Read the back of your ticket, fool.

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  • Gregory moon Raye says:

    This will be my first year. I have never felt a true calling and have often looked or opened myself to it’s draw. As a San Fran Bay native I have had lots todo with prefunking and decompression. I have hosted many a gathering centered around creativity and such but never )’(
    I look forward to metomorphesizing with the collective consciousness that has been breed over the years. Looking forward to contributing. Peace

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  • Butterfly Baby says:

    The theme is amazing. I live in NorCal where the monarch butterflies are like everywhere. I’m going to make a costume using their wings so it’s not like feathers.

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  • Josephine says:

    Does this mean black people can finally be white people, like they deserve?

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  • Kyle Smith says:

    WOW im very connected to this year’s theme especially how much i been embracing change in my life and all the new things happening good or bad. I love the good and bad that happens it helps us find balance and understanding of the world and accepting the true nature of this world <3

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  • Due to a faulty translation of Kafka, generations have interpreted Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis as that of man to cockroach. In fact, Vladimir Nabokov, in his translation, identified the creature as a beetle and therefore unknowingly possessed the ability to fly. -Paul Harrod

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  • Jay says:

    It can’t go on forever. In order for metamorphosis to happen, something must be destroyed. What part of burning man will die? If it wants to continue this is the only way. Larry Harvey is dead and so is burning man. Sa Sekem Sahu.

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  • Charlie Bryce says:

    From a world we know daily ingrained to normalcy at the will of others to a world we create for everyone open interactive and changable by anyone, we shall return…..

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