It’s All About the Base

Back in June, we shared with you about the base we didn’t build. Now, here’s the story of the base we did build. The 2022 Man Base was very much a collective effort, in terms of conception, creative execution and build. Kim Cook, Burning Man Project’s Director of Creative Initiatives, had the unique opportunity to be creative director and, in a manner of speaking, orchestra conductor. The result was fusion of elements that transformed the Man Base into an evocative space requiring a deep visit and inner conversation. 

Kim Cook writes:

We received so many brilliant concepts from individual artists and artist teams. We were inspired by all of them, and found that there were ways to incorporate conceptual elements from many of these submissions into the final result. We want to credit these artists, because you really can go back to these submissions and see their influence in the final design of the Man Base.

Jessica Levine suggested reflection, and there was reflective art by Kirsten Berg in the lower tunnels. Tigre Mashaal-Lively’s design featured dancing animals, which were incorporated into gates that held the space and created that sense of arrival to the Man Base. Dave Keane and Studio Drift separately proposed shapes that resemble building blocks. The Man Pavilion Construction Design Team then produced a drawing in response to nostalgia about the early days of hay bales beneath the Man.

Raising the Man on hay bales, 1997 (Photo by Rick Egan)

Based on this concept, we began sharing ideas back and forth that were practical to build but also whimsical. Ultimately we presented a design to the selection group that got the green light. Now it was our job to inhabit a functional basic design with the theme of Waking Dreams, to find the sublime, the subliminal, and the direct references that could uplift and amplify the theme through this structure.

One last note about the artist submissions: beyond the basic structure, if you look at the concepts Kate Raudenbusch and Hank Willis Thomas suggested you’ll see that Hank introduced pathways and Kate had portals and a dream station at the top. You can see suggestions of both these elements in our ultimate design.

So we can trace, in a deconstructed fashion, many of the design ideas that artists proposed; they showed up as a remix in the base alongside the excellent abilities of the Man Pavilion Construction Design Team of Opa, Jules, Goatt, and Kimba.

The Man Base, 2022 (Photo by Brian King)

A Functional Design Infused with Waking Dreams

The Man Pavilion Construction Design Team had come up with a structure that would be inviting, welcoming, and able to hold people in a variety of different ways. We had the tunnels, we had the ramps, we had the stairs, we had the deck, we had the tower, we had benches along the bottom of the animal gates — all providing ways for the community to gather and be together within the space. 

It really gave us something to work with, and it was modest in scale, which is a good thing. Incorporating the gates with the animals allowed us to create a sense of presence, and shaped the space as a larger footprint than just the base standing alone by itself. 

We then began to get into the finer details, such as the colors. We decided to go in the direction of a blue-gray scale, always remembering that we were aiming for something dreamy! That worked out super well — it held the dust without turning dust colored.

The Man Pavilion Crew, led by Goatt Koch, showed great pride in committing their artistry and craftsmanship to the realization of this collective dream. They dedicated a lot of time and attention to the fine details: beveling the edges of the plywood, creating what they called ‘bricks” for the balcony railings and ‘tiles’ to edge the doorways, and building low rise stairs that were easy to climb and comfortable to sit on.

Man Base ramps and stairs from above, 2022 (Photo by Alex Medina)

Tunnels for Consciousness, Transcendence in the Tower

Once we had the structural concept it was time to bring in other creative voices to build on the Waking Dreams theme. For that we began thinking archetypally about the meaning of the tunnels as well as the tower, thinking about consciousness, the subconscious travails and journeys we go through, as well as the triumph of transcendence. We used the tunnels for the former and the tower for the latter. To achieve that duality in a surreal and Waking Dreams fashion, we turned to the incredibly gifted artists Victor Lopez, Luis Sanchez, and Tania Quezada. 

Victor, Luis and Tania are painters and muralists from Querétaro City, Mexico who we met through the Boundless Space sale and exhibit in 2021. Each muralist’s work is uniquely archetypal, invoking deeply personal contemporary themes through dark magical realism and whimsical allegory. It was an honor to ask them to contribute their work to this year’s Man Base. You can follow their journey at @nuevearteurbano.

Victor works very much with the archetypal ancestral individual. His murals tell the story of his grandfather as both his grandfather’s story and an ancestral tale evoked by the jaguar as the the ancestor of ancestors or the grandfather of grandfathers.

“Visionary Offerings” by Victor Lopez, mirrors by Kirsten Berg (Photo courtesy of Nueve Arte Urbano)

If Victor is the individual, allegorical struggle and journey, in the other tunnel we had Louis dealing very vividly with contemporary struggle. Louis addresses the collective, transformative journey, confronting us with the degradation of Mother Earth, the diminution of the value of education, the exploitation of self through social media, and other Waking Dreams that are not so uplifting but must be addressed and transcended.   

“Visionary Offerings” by Victor Lopez, mirrors by Kirsten Berg (Photo courtesy of Nueve Arte Urbano)

As a counterbalance to the beautiful but also challenging presence of Victor and Louis’ murals in the tunnels below, we needed to signal a way to come through. We invited Kirsten Berg to create reflective pieces between the murals to symbolize the qualities in our life that help us move along the journey, even when we’re struggling. Kirsten Berg also created a pattern for shadow boxes on the lights. Throughout the Man Base we were creating contrasts between shadow and light — a nod to Jungian dreaming!

Tania’s work is surreal, triumphant, ethereal. Created with colors that are vibrant and earthy, her murals belonged in the tower, above ground and transformative, reaching toward the sun versus the subterranean. It was a very intentional nod to the Sistine Chapel in the Western European tradition of cathedrals and Christian iconography. But we’re also subverting it, turning this tower of the Man, this bell tower shape into something uplifting, but also magical — as Tania’s images invite delight and invoke the archetypes of creation. Her murals feature rabbit-headed male and female figures as the twin origins of the cosmos. Archetypes of the seed, the shaman, the technology, and the mother are realized in the ceiling and made into murals along the side.

“Visionary Offerings” by Tania Quezada, lamps and mandalas by Arthur Mamou-Mani (Photo courtesy of Nueve Arte Urbano)

We turned to Tunisian French artist Arthur Mamou-Mani to create the chandeliers, and the mandalas in the window apertures at the top of the tunnel. These decorative elements generated a sense of clouds floating through the space and among Tania’s murals. 

Burning Man’s focus on sustainability shone through in the Man Base. Its chandeliers were made with 3D printed bioplastic, the mandalas were 3D printed wood, and the entire structure was lit and powered by solar energy.

Mandalas and lamps by Arthur Mamou-Mani (Photo by Brian King)

Finishing Touches, and Burn Week Activation

Throughout the process there was so much back and forth and putting ideas on the table — it was a super collective experience, even when we were on playa at the Man Build.

The engineering review called for metal braces. Instead of fashioning simple L braces, Metal Heather and her team created decorative braces that referenced the snake and other symbolic images. The construction design team figured out how to craft the animals as 3D figures by creating layered shapes, then the crew used a technique called Shou Sugi Ban to lightly burn them and bring out the pattern of the wood. Opa traditionally makes what are known as “Opa Lights,” which are independently solar powered. He created these incredible lampposts with faces coming out of them, then added that little bit of whimsy by adorning them with little plastic flowers.

Finally, we were ready to think about just that little extra twist to animate the Man Base. We once again summoned the early days of Burning Man, when artists such as Pepe Ozan and Dadara created spectacle, imaginative performance, and ambient visual elements. A plan emerged to invite approximately 30 artists to activate the Man Base with interactive installations and ritual participation from sunset Tuesday to Friday at sunrise. They served as an homage to Burning Man’s roots, when performance art contributed to the ways Burners self-invented around identity and form and shape. 

Yozmit performs “Walk” at the Man Base (Photo by Rosalie Barnes)

Orchestrating a Collective Process

By the time we were deep in the build on playa the crew wanted us to call it the People’s Pavilion because of all the ideas, hands and people, all contributing. Our collective process integrated ideation from the Man Pavilion Construction Design Team, artists well-known in the community, and artists new to Burning Man, as well as collaborators whose identity and work speak to our commitments to Radical Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, and sustainability. 

What I really love personally is my role as the orchestra conductor. I had a remarkable opportunity to facilitate the stakeholders, collaborate with the Man Pavilion Construction Design Team, make choices and invite the talents of creative artists. In some ways I didn’t do any of it — yet, I was a part of all of it and ultimately, own none of it. We did it together; and that’s amazing.

Man Base Build Team, 2022 (Photo by Vanessa Franking)

Cover image: 2022 Man Base (Photo by Jamen Percy)

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.

11 Comments on “It’s All About the Base

  • GT says:

    This was one of my all-time favorites of all 17 times I’ve been out there.

    Man base ’22 was so artistic, so beautiful, and the firey collapse of the whole thing all at once was perfect.

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  • If Burning Man is about anything it’s collaboration. The Man Base was an exemplary example. And it burned real nice too!

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  • Laurel says:

    What an incredible project! It’s mind blowing how to me how each year these massive projects come together with 100% success!

    Question, we’re there actual tunnels under the walkways This year? If so what was in them? I had no idea

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  • Jaguar says:

    R.I.P. Tigre Mashaal-Lively’s You are missed!

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  • Silona says:

    I didn’t know about all the politics but I did find this year the man esp the base to have more temple like vibes than the temple did. I really appreciated it. Y’all did a wonderful job.

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  • shai says:

    it was my favorite man base !
    Bravo !
    wish i had known about the performances

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  • Runester says:

    From an Artery perspective, giving tours etc. the Man base found itself as a relevant stop worthy of being randomly encountered with all of the other art gifts on playa. There were questions: “How and who” created this magic? There was a feeling that somehow it was created by one and by many creatives who combined their experience to hold it all together with design, color and relevance to the outer world. It was exquisite immediacy to be savored. It had burntime frisson from the start when parking bikes at one of the “made you look” animal portals, and then navigating elegant ramps up and through galleries holding beautiful museum quality paintings that each deserved lingering time. It was a proud moment for the Burning Man Community at large.
    I started to really appreciate Kim from the time she presented the NY art auction to Artery on Zoom last year, or two? She somehow helped facilitate a rare interconnection of Burner art and the various art and collecting worlds without creating a debilitating controversy that would have made it impossible. The funny part is that 9 out of 10 times if you mention that auction to burners, their response is “what auction?” I believe that is proof of how respectfully Kim Cook helped burner artists find a place on the world art stage! And now discovering that she was involved with the base project makes me deeply appreciative of the love and skills she brings to the culture, and the teamwork that came together to make it happen.

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  • Lysa/Dazzle! says:

    I think it is awesome that the man base incorporated ramps for the mobility challenged. What a great way to embrace radical inclusion. As founder of the StairRamps to Heaven project, and long time mobility challenged art tour guide, I was glad to see access for folks made more … accessible!

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  • Little Boots says:

    featuring only 2 specific artists in the man base is very much against the principles of Burning Man. It creates spectators, not participants, as does a performance at the man. But of course, with the plague of millenials and all of their self-absorbed narcissism, it only follows that their egocentric mind-set would stain all it touched. I hope this is not lost on other people as well. No singular person deserves to be highlighted at the man or temple, which are supposed to be ubiquitus in their representation as symbolic landmarks. If those artists wanted to show their work, they needed to do it at their own camp and not at the man, and it is very scary that many people approved this egotistic expression, and it is a truly disgusting way to show thousands of artists that only two artists are good enough or chosen. instead of a sense of wonder and magic where the creators are invisible, displaying two artists with credit turns it into a gallery which inherently creates spectators and not participants. In other words highlighting a few artists creates the sickness that will infect other artists to fight against one another to be featured when no single person should ever be credited in any way at burning man and anyone attempting to do so has lost the point – Tat Tvam Asi.

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  • Erica says:

    Noticing there are no persons of color on the build beyond the artists, how is that possible in this day? Did not one apply to work with the group? I wouldn’t either if I saw this class photo…it’s not a place for me is what it says.

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