Ari Lazer, Adam Dreams, and Teresa Yung have created their virtual art with the support of Build-A-Burn’s community art grants. They bring a range of artistic, Burning Man, and online-world experiences to the event’s virtual playa.
Here, they share some insights into their art, influences, and processes — as well as their perspectives on what it’s like to create immersive, meaningful experiences on a virtual platform.
Ari Lazer & “Radiance” Mainstage
Ari has never forgotten the time he was lost in Black Rock City’s deep playa at 2am and stumbled across a lone civil war soldier in a field of flowers. The year was 2008 and the Burning Man theme was “American Dream,” but Ari was transported back to another time and place.
“The soldier was pushing a cart with an old gramophone playing this old haunting song, and it was covered in pill bottles. There was no one around for a good mile,” says Ari, who graduated as a theatre performer in 2007.
“And as we passed each other and I looked into this man’s eyes, I saw all the pain and heartbreak of that war. To this day, it is one of the most amazing theatrical performances I have ever seen,” he says.
Black Rock City’s creativity, interactivity, and breadth of technical skills has continued to inspire Ari’s own artistic journey with compass and straightedge geometry, which he has used to create an elaborate toroidal-shaped mainstage at Build-A-Burn.
Ari’s fascination with geometric designs grew alongside his early years of performance art, and has given birth to small- and large-scale artworks and immersive gathering spaces, such as the “Pyramid of Giza” at Burning Man 2017 and community festival stages.
“I’m fascinated that very disparate traditions say the same thing with the same geometric forms: four-fold form represents this physical plane of the world, six-fold form represents perfected harmony,” Ari says.
“And then you look at the natural world: there is the golden ratio in the spiral of a seashell or the curl of a fern. And there’s a five-fold geometry that lives in our DNA and up through all the structure of our being.”
Ari joined Build-A-Burn because he was intrigued by the opportunity to invert his practice: from using digital and traditional tools to bring his intricate designs to life in the real world, to taking physical gathering spaces back into the digital.
He has channelled all this passion and experience into creating a mainstage that takes advantage of Build-A-Burn’s 2.5D perspective and is a “nexus of gathering.”
“When I design, I explore what we can do with lots of flat plains, so the stage uses many stacked layers to create the standing half of a 12-fold toroidal flower,” Ari says.
The best bit? There are no physical limits to his art.
“It does feel wonderful to not have to think about rigging, engineering and anything like that. I can decide if something needs a fru fru at the top, and I don’t have to worry about how we’re gonna make it, assemble it, or get it down,” he says.
Teresa Yung & “The Sparkle Pony Express”
Acculturation was uppermost on Teresa Yung’s mind when she came up with the idea for the “Sparkle Pony Express.”
This experience teleports Burn newbies throughout the playa to find treasures and take part in activities relating to the 10 Principles, as well as two additional Principles guiding Build-A-Burn. (Pssst! They’re Consent and Sustainability.)
“There are so many virgin Burners coming this year, and I wondered: How can we do a good job acculturating them, so we create a good experience for them as well as the broader community?” says Teresa, who had a lot of fun tapping into iconic Black Rock City places and much-loved playa jokes to embody each Principle.
You can get frisked for stowaways in your car at the Gate, and then hug it out at the “Hug Deli.” Daft Punk and the trash fence get a look-see (natch!), and you’ll find those pesky influencers snapping their Insta moments and spruiking their wares.
Hot off the playa and thirsty? You can throw back some sparkly from Bubbles & Bass theme camp, the first experience Teresa had with the playa’s gifting economy in 2014.
“It’s the best thing to have mornings of gifting. I’ll never forget the experience of watching the sun rising, seeing the silhouettes of dusty Burners coming in from deep playa, and pouring cold champagne for people — they were so happy,” she remembers.
Since that first year, polycamperous Teresa has become a mover and shaker in the Green Theme Camp Community, which meets quarterly to share knowledge and skills about sustainability.
She’s also been knee deep in creating virtual experiences for the past year, including a virtual wellness studio and a non-profit that supports trauma survivors.
As part of last year’s Remote Burn, Teresa facilitated a collaboration between Topia, the host of Build-A-Burn, and Reimagine, a non-profit for end-of-life support. Together, they wanted to create a space where people could grieve.
“We drew and rendered last year’s Burning Man Temple in Topia so it slowly burned. People had memorials and eulogies in there, and they would go and stand around in the Temple. You could even hear bits of people’s conversations when you walked in or passed people — just like you would in the Temple at Burning Man,” she says.
“It was just so so beautiful!”
Teresa enjoys working with the opportunities of the virtual medium and also sees its challenges.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about how to create interactive, immersive, connective, deep experiences that can allow everyone, no matter where they are around the world, to tune in,” she says.
“My non-profit The Trauma Project has an art therapy program where we send art supplies out to participants, and then we come online and hold sessions. It can feel a little safer because you’re still in your environment, you can turn off your camera, and it might not be as confronting,” she adds.
“And at the same time, I continue to feel the contrast of connective experiences through technology versus the importance of being able to be in person and share a hug.”
Adam Dreams & “Seven”
Adam Dreams is a first-time virtual Burner and a long-time “Topi” — the whimsical avatars found in Build-A-Burn and across the wider Topia platform. He has tapped into his passion for video-game art and his own mental health odyssey to create “Seven,” a hero’s journey that is as much internal as it is immersive.
During this journey, participants encounter seven statues that represent challenges they need to overcome to understand themselves better and move forward.
Different binaural beats, original vocals, and piano music are designed to amplify the feeling of traveling into the depths of your psyche as you move through dark, underground spaces and eventually emerge into the light.
Adam, who has not yet been to Burning Man but is Burn curious, says he is particularly drawn to the Temple concept and sees parallels in his Build-A-Burn experience.
“You can go to the Temple, lay all your burdens down, and walk out of there feeling lighter. I’ve created a little bit of that in ‘Seven.’ It’s meant to be a little bit eerie and a little bit unsettling to walk through, but the light at the end of the tunnel is the balance we can achieve when we overcome the worries that plague us and stop us from being who we really are,” he says.
As for Adam’s own journey with mental health and its influence on “Seven,” he says: “I think we’ve all been there at times. We look to others for validation, or we don’t feel validated, or we don’t feel heard. ‘Seven’ is very personal to me, but I want people to experience and interpret it as they will.”
The personal touch is also apparent in the details of “Seven.” Instead of drawing and placing one entire background scene, Adam has lovingly crafted and placed each individual rock and feature.
He says he wants to showcase what you can create in Build-A-Burn and the wider Topia platform, whose 2.5D perspective first attracted him in January 2021.
“I had been looking for ways to enhance my video-game art development, particularly using the 2.5D perspective that I like in the games I played as a child, such as Zelda and Final Fantasy. So, I started making worlds in Topia,” Adam says.
One of those worlds is Oneironauts, a place for “dreamers, creatives, and misfits” where people can gather regularly to share their creative ventures, hold each other accountable for their progress, and help each other when needed.
He hopes others also feel empowered by the platform to make their own camp, art, or experience at Build-A-Burn.
“They can make it as silly, cartoony, and dreamlike as they want, or they can make it very close to the actual space they want to reminisce about and share with their friends,” Adam says.
Cover image of “Radiance” Mainstage by Ari Lazer in Build-A-Burn