Art of the Man

There is an art to the art of Burning Man, a coherent whole designed by many participants, doers, makers, artists, and contributors. At the center of the city is the one artwork created by Burning Man Project: the Man itself.  

Over the years, Larry Harvey would collaborate with many, including Andrew Johnstone, Jack Haye, and Stuart Mangrum, to inspire and guide the shaping of the Man and the outward expression of the theme at the Man base (sometimes called the Man Pavilion). Often anyone who encountered Larry was likely to see sketches, hear stories, and learn details of his vision for the Man and how it would be activated. 

Few of us know all the players and partners who have worked alongside Larry; there are the builders, the draftspeople, and the participants — many hands making the work an act of grace, giving, and participation in the eventual experience of the art and the Man in Black Rock City.

This year, with the loss of Larry, we invited some artists and designers to sketch their ideas for what the Man base could be. In this manner we could be inclusive and share the opportunity to imagine the Man base with artists and architects within our community.  

After selecting the design sketch, it fell to us to develop the construction plans, and to imagine the artist elements that would be integrated into the experience at the base of the Man. The evolving visual landscape for the Man base, the legs, and the chrysalis is truly remarkable — and the art integration is equally exciting.

This year, our call was for aerial artists, civic design plazas, and a specific commission for the centerpiece at the location of the Golden Spike. We can now announce the artists who will be offering their own special expression to the Man this year, in three parts:

The Centerpiece will be designed and created by David Best, who has imagined it as a hexagonal banquette with a diorama at the center. People will be able to sit and take in the surroundings while being enveloped in the creative vision of small vignettes that reflect the metamorphoses of a variety of insects, capped by an abstracted sense of plant life that emerges from the center.

Reno Aerial Co-op will be helping out behind the scenes. (Photo by Reno Aerial Co-op)

Our Civic Design Challenge resulted in some beautiful variations on gathering spaces in our central plaza. 

On the 12 o’clock side of the Man, we will feature the work of artist Kelly Smith Cassidy and her piece, E Pluribus Unum: Out of One, Many, which will invite seating, socializing, and people-watching.  

On the 3 o’clock side, we will feature artist Benjamin Rowe with his Small Community Shelters, which will have delightful moments of canopy and shade designed for hanging out and taking in the view.  

Finally, on the 9 o’clock side the Man Pavilion Build Crew will add their own contribution to the sense of place at the center of Black Rock City.

And then we have Aerial Artists! We’ve selected 26 artists — some troupes, some small ensembles, and several soloists. Each day, Monday through Friday, at 10am and 10pm for one hour there will be incredible artistry, explorative performances and interesting new apparati suspended from beneath the legs of the Man base. 

There will be so many variations of aerial exploration that every moment will be a visual delight not to be missed. Here is the list of artists you can look forward to seeing:

  • Air Skating, by Air Skating — New York City, NY, USA
  • Chrysalis, by Kerri Jonquil, Amaya Alvarado & Paulina Muñoz — Portland, OR, USA
  • Cyclical Beauty, by Jesse and Melissa Chapman — Pérez Zeledón, San Jose, Costa Rica
  • Cyclical Stability, by Spiral Cycles — New York City, NY, USA
  • Drag King Show Grrrl, by Emma Cat — London, England
  • Eda Begadix Floats, by Salty Sand — Olympia, WA, USA
  • Emergent Consonance, A Zel&Coz Production — Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Eudæmonia, by Hybrid Movement Company — Brooklyn, NY, USA
  • Grace Good Cirque, by Grace Good — Nashville, TN, USA
  • Grow Towards the Light, by Sarah Patrinellis — Portland, OR and The Big Island, HI, USA
  • Healer Heal Thyself, by Destination Desolation — Eugene OR, Portland OR, Corvallis OR, and Oakland CA, USA
  • Inner Compass>>>Tranzformation, by $hredder and the Crystal Queer$ — Oakland, CA, USA
  • Inner Core by Capacitor – choreographed and designed by Jodi Lomask, performed by Jodi Lomask, Dacia Biletnikoff, Oscar Trujillo, Shannon Gray Collier, and Micah Walters — San Francisco, CA
  • Lepidoptera, performed by P. Canadensis and directed by Bryan Saunders — Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • Life of A Butterfly, by FIREnICE — Orange County, CA, USA
  • Reflect / React, by Zel Tyrant — Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Revolution: The Art of Rising Up, by Brynne Campbell — Gilbert, Arizona, USA
  • Rite of the Valkyries, by Girlcott — Seattle, WA, USA
  • Sahasrara, by Three Queens Circus — Phoenix, AZ, USA
  • Shedding Shadows, by Em Zuckerman & Artists — Paris, France and San Francisco, CA, USA
  • Take Me Home, presented by Kirkasomania & Yael Deckelbaum — Tel Aviv, Israel
  • TeeBeeDee, by Vau de Vire Society — Bay Area, CA, USA
  • The Chrysalis, performed by Vix Nolan — San Francisco, CA, USA
  • The Dahlias Transformation, by The Dahlias — San Francisco, CA, USA
  • Through Thick and Thin, performed by Skytopia & Friends and directed by Sierra Camille — Sonoma County and Bay Area, CA, USA
  • unlimited, by Jem Alvarado — San Francisco, CA
  • We Rise, choreography created with love by Reno Aerial Co-Op — Reno, NV, USA

On the whole, the art of Burning Man promises to be transcendent this year: it will effervesce, it will invite play, it will transport and lift through the air, and it will be memorable. We will all find moments of awe, delight, wonder, and even some quiet as we navigate the paths of chance and Metamorphoses on our own journeys through the Black Rock Desert.

Top photo: E Pluribus Unum: Out of One, Many

About the author: Kim Cook

Kim Cook

Kim Cook is Burning Man's Director of Creative Initiatives. She works on the frontier of exploration for projects and collaborations that extend Burning Man culture into the world. Most recently, Cook facilitated the team for "virtual Burning Man 2020" with 10 technology platform partners offering a range of digital, dynamic, and interactive approaches to the "Multiverse". She successfully builds urban, regional, national, and international projects that increase mutual understanding, advance civic well being, elevate cultural engagement, and further the aesthetic design elements of communities.

10 Comments on “Art of the Man

  • Geomom says:

    The aerial acts are nice touch. Well done.

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  • Leo says:

    Is there going to be any art that cis males might enjoy?

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  • Rex says:

    Why is so much art at Burning Man about flowers and butterflies? I’m sick of flowers and butterflies! And don’t get me started about interpretive dance routines and yoga as art. Yoga is not art! Flailing around like Yoko Ono sings, as if possessed by a demented prostitute is not art. Fire fingers is not art!

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    • LadyBee says:

      Rex: Errr… whoever said that yoga is art? Aerial performance, however, is certainly “art” and we’re all in for a treat with these accomplished performers doing their performances under the Man. And of course we’re going to see a lot of butterflies this year, with the Metamorphosis theme. Hopefully caterpillars too!

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  • Trans Janet says:

    Can we please stop with the feminine bullshit and get back to some industrial work? I feel like I want to float on a pond of kittens and fairy dust while I use a Swiss Army knife to cut my balls off and serve them to my mother for lunch.

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  • Thanks Kim! We’re excited to bring our gathering space to the playa. ✨

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  • Actiongrl says:

    Great news! If you wanna see some heavier, industrial, less “feminine” works, you still have time to build something. (Although many of the burly and heavy works are build by the lady-identified…so there’s that to consider too.)

    And why so many flowers and butterflies this year? I mean, nothing, except that they are widely noted in the arts as symbolic of metamorphosis, which happens to be this year’s theme. C’mon, let’s see your interpretation, fellas. The playa awaits your art!

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    • Thank you! Quite honestly, I wasn’t thinking it overly one way or another when I designed the amphitheater’s and flower lights. I was thinking “park” and what you might see in a park: benches, flowers, trees. I just liked the idea of huge lights in the shape of flowers.

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  • Erin Ries says:

    This is so exciting! Thank you for sharing.

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  • Check out @airskating to see our creation!
    Look forward to meeting you all at the Burn.

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