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