Welcome to the sixth in our Boundless Space storytelling series, which introduces just a few of the astonishing artists who are contributing work to the upcoming Boundless Space: The Possibilities of Burning Man online auction. A diverse and delightful collection of work by 180 artists is now on auction. We’re inviting YOU and the world to peruse the richly illustrated online catalogue — which is now live! Online bidding will be open September 30 to October 8, 2021. Proceeds from the Boundless Space auction will support participating artists and Burning Man Project.
Quest Skinner and DA (Dominic Tinio), both experienced Black Rock City Burners, are bringing the culmination of their lives’ work into the Boundless Space auction. From knowing at a very young age that they were artists, they honed their craft and grew through a series of adventures that led them to Black Rock City.
Quest brought her piece to the desert multiple times; her sculpture traveled wherever she went, and evolved in sync with her destiny over more than 15 years. As Burning Man’s Environmental Restoration Manager, DA simultaneously led Black Rock City’s post-event Leave No Trace team, and designed many of Burning Man’s annual posters and other print materials over the course of his 25 years of involvement with the event, the organization, and the community.
In every way, the two pieces that Quest and DA have contributed tell the story of who they have become, as artists, as individuals, and as Burners, through myriad experiences and across decades as they evolved their identities as creators and community leaders.
Dominic Tinio (DA of Black Rock)
Originally from Newark, New Jersey, DA is a first-generation Filipino American artist and Founder of Burning Man Project’s Playa Restoration All-Star Team, which he has managed since 2005. He first made his way to Black Rock City in 1997 wearing his signature black wings, and quickly became known as the Dark Angel of Black Rock, today simply known as D.A.
How and when did you come to know yourself as an artist?
“My parents came from the Philippines and I was their first-born. I was born in the early 70s. One of my earliest memories was drawing on the back of a napkin or cereal box. And my folks just gathered around me like, ‘Huh, look at that.’ There was some kind of marveling about me and I’m just in my zone; I had them totally tuned out.
“Next thing you know, it wasn’t exactly the same moment, but in my brain it was all compressed, they were just bringing over stacks of paper. They were like, ‘Gosh, we need to get our hands on paper.’ So Dad was bringing home paper from work. He was a chemical engineer, and his brother worked at the UN and he was like: ‘bring over paper.’
“For my parents coming from the Philippines, being an artist, thinking of their child, they’re thinking ‘a doctor would be great.’ It’s kind of a risky thing to go out and push their kid to be an artist. They knew I was talented and wanted to develop that. I think I struggled to keep that with me through my schooling, up until the time I went to college and decided that I was majoring in design and illustration. That was also kind of frightful for my folks in a lot of ways. So I really had to be brave and forge ahead.
“Ultimately my first graphic design job that I picked up, my boss was from the Bay Area. He was the one who recognized that I would like Burning Man — that was in 95 or 96. And he said to me, ‘Dominic, have you ever heard of this thing called Burning Man?’ …And the next day on my desk was the November issue of Wired magazine with the Bruce Sterling article Greetings from Burning Man the New American Holiday and my mind was blown. It was like a calling. ‘You must go to this. These are my people.’
“I did my homework and studied up on Burning Man and went and that was where I found my people and the invitation. And then it was safe to be an artist… That’s what I said yes to, and that is what has been leading me just on this path and doing art more and more for Burning Man.”
“I always feel like we have a language going on. We’ve made up our own words, but we also have a visual language. When I meet people from all over the world and I learn that they’re Burners, you kind of have that Fight Club nod. I just feel like we know what’s up, and I’m like, ‘You’re my people.’”
Already manager of Black Rock City’s Playa Restoration Crew, in 2006 DA submitted his design for the poster for Black Rock City’s Hope and Fear theme. Much to his surprise, Larry Harvey called him on the phone to tell him his design had been selected. This was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration. For the 2007 Green Man theme, DA joined Larry at his apartment to listen to him muse on the ideas underlying a theme devoted to sustainability and the immanence of nature in our lives.
“Most of my big pieces have been the theme illustrations, and I’m very clear that I’m having a conversation with the community. I take that responsibility with a certain amount of weight,” DA observes.
DA’s Boundless Contribution is both a print and an NFT. Designed expressly for the auction, Swan Song (Leaving No Trace Was Just The Beginning) is an allegory of the artist’s life and legacy, from newbie volunteer to the leader ultimately responsible for making sure our community leaves no trace on the Black Rock Desert.
“This is my first NFT. I think it’s kind of interesting that for the Sotheby’s auction I’m submitting a self portrait. When people ask me what it is I’m being cryptic. It’s very me, it’s very personal in a lot of ways. This is my 25th Burn and this is how I’m celebrating. This is me looking back at my path in my community, and looking at the station that I’ve held. In many ways the art of leaving no trace is like: If I do my job, there’s nothing, you see nothing. In this other sense I’m also recognizing myself as an artist just through the creation of this piece.
“It was also that leap of faith I had to move past. I’m going to put myself out there. There’s a lot happening and I think it also can speak for itself. I’m definitely seeing regeneration, and I’m speaking to the next generation, and I’m speaking to the community that knows and loves me that I’ve served at that time.”
A mixed-media artist, teacher, and community activist, Quest Skinner is influenced by the energy of cityscapes, music and the personalities she encounters everyday. Then in her studio she brings them into her world; a world that takes raw feelings, vibrations and various moments in our lives and captures them with flowing pigments. Quest’s artwork tells a story that changes with every person who sees her work.
How did you know you were an artist? When did you come to know yourself as a creator?
“I think for me, it was one of those ancestral blessings. Like I just woke up in my soul and knew what I was meant to be. It was never a conflict of interest. It was always the cathartic outlet. Art was my way with 11 brothers, six sisters, three mothers, three fathers growing up in life to have a voice that could not be silenced. You cannot silence the colors.
“I don’t know if there was ever a day I wasn’t a little girl trying to, with the massive amount of family, trying to dance on top of the table and, you know, be that individual or that free spirit.
“You know, my background is as fluid and diverse as my name, and to be a Black Indigenous woman, you know, and be able to have the talent and the gifts from the ancestors to create such forces.
“I think being an artist is absolutely terrifying because you learn the first thing about artists is ‘starving artists’, but rarely do we know that artists are the fruit, the mana, the bomb. We are the blessing and the intellectual property that most communities should strive for.
“I think all of what we need to do, we’re doing. But the artists now need the world to open up and not just choose a few of them, but embrace the fact that all of us have these gorgeous gifts and healing properties.
“If you allow us to do what we do well, which is to open the subconscious, allow people to find healing, give them avenues to walk down that allow them to see a possible future other than the one in which they are sitting right now, which may not actually allow them to be free.
Quest’s Boundless piece, “Agartha Is Illuminated” features a winsome mermaid, emblazoned with colorful resin, whimsical creatures, found objects, and more than a little playa magic.
“The piece itself has gone to Burning Man. She’s been at Foam Camp, Artery and Everywhere, Costume Cult, and the African-American Museum in Prince George’s County. She has been my little totem and traveled all over. And each time over a total of 15 years, I have quietly worked on this piece. It has been the money that I could spare at the time, or ‘I just got to bring her, she fits the theme.’ And I found myself taking this woman everywhere that I could possibly put her throughout my life.
“And she is the dream—as above, so below. There is nothing that we aren’t, from the internal to the external, that isn’t absolutely in depth and beautiful.
“She’s been in my life almost as long as I’ve been an artist… That’s something that started two almost two decades ago, and now it’s the centerpiece of my heart.”
Cover image: detail from “Swan Song (Leaving No Trace Was Just The Beginning)” by D.A. of Black Rock (Photo courtesy of the artist)