Animating the Animalia Theme Through the 2023 Man Pavilion

The Man Pavilion is our central plaza, for many a form of annual pilgrimage, a place of gathering, and a place of both memory and promise. It serves not only as a pedestal for the Man, but also as a playground where Black Rock City participants can explore and inhabit an artist’s interpretation of the year’s theme

We asked 11 artists to submit design sketches for the 2023 Man Pavilion. Read on, as we share their brilliant concepts, each of which uniquely resonates with the Animalia theme. Of course, we’re also announcing which design we ultimately chose to be Black Rock City’s 2023 Man Pavilion. 

As you browse these submissions you may wonder, “How do they choose?” We would answer, “Thoughtfully.” Indeed, each artist developed beautifully thematic and inspiring concepts and sketches. We make our decision based on three criteria: the relationship to this year’s theme, the aesthetic (subjective indeed, but there are several of us), and our ability to build it within the time, budget, and human capacity available to us.

Opening the submissions as they come in from the artists is a sort of surprise package. I like to think of it as a birthday gift to the late Larry Harvey; submissions are due during his birthday week. Larry embraced the process of designing the Man Pavilion in collaboration with numerous artists and builders who helped him fulfill his annual vision for the theme and the event. I recall him talking to me about his process of reading the signs, symbols, and zeitgeist of the moment to conjure each theme. Today the theme is authored by his close friend and collaborator (and Director of Burning Man Project’s Philosophical Center) Stuart Mangrum. We endeavor to honor Larry as we work with artists to bring Animalia to life, animating its spirit and underlying ideas through creative expression.

Artists’ Submissions (and Our Selection) for the 2023 Man Pavilion

We invite you to join us now on a fantastical Animalia journey replete with birds in whimsical cages, intertwining serpents, creatures of the ocean deep, and the entire animal kingdom, accompanied by the words and visions of the artists who created them.

Julia Nelson-Gal
“The Birdcage”

“The Birdcage” by Julia Nelson-Gal

Julia Nelson-Gal writes:

As birds move ever faster toward extinction, they become the “canary in the coal mine” for the continuation of life on Earth. While appearing delicate, they are known for their strength, fortitude, freedom, community, diversity and beauty — all qualities we Burners cherish. There are few among us who haven’t wished to soar freely with the birds who represent so much about the beauty of life on Earth.

“The Birdcage” shares the beauty and struggle of the animal kingdom with participants, serving as a stark reminder of our deleterious impact on and need to control nature. This Man Base will honor our rituals of beauty, art, fire and ephemerality, while addressing sustainability by using far less wood and creating a shorter burn.

About Julia Nelson-Gal

Dave Keane

Untitled by Dave Keane

Dave Keane writes:

I was drawn to the idea of putting the Man in a birdcage or specimen jar to celebrate and gaze upon the Man as animal, as its place in our world both immediately and in the bigger picture. But ultimately the man will not be caged — hence the removable top section.

About Dave Keane & Folly Builders

Esmeralda Nadeau-Jasso

“The Snake” by Esmeralda Nadeau Jasso

Esmeralda Nadeau-Jasso writes:

The snake is a bridge between worlds; it winds its way upward from the earthly physical realm to the celestial. Its representation in this art piece draws on native Mexican traditions. From my mother I inherited a history that connects me to the Aztecs and Purépecha first nations people. She is native Mexican and follows many of the ancient ways.

The rich history of Quetzacoatl spanned many different cultures and meant different things to different peoples. To the Aztecs and Purépecha, Quetzalcoatl is a symbol of dying and resurrection as well as life force and the path to knowledge. It also features in the first people’s creation stories. On their search to find home they were directed to find an eagle with a snake in its beak — the fusion of these two animals became Quetzacoatl. Burning Man similarly represents a pilgrimage for many and has become a spiritual home.

About Esmeralda Nadeau-Jasso

Leeroy New
“Bakunawa the Moon-Eater”

“Bakunawa the Moon-Eater” by Leeroy New

Leeroy New writes:

The Bakunawa is an aquatic serpentine creature from Philippine mythology that is said to have eaten six of the moon’s sisters and would repeatedly attempt to eat the last remaining moon. This is how the people of ancient times explained the occurrence of the lunar eclipse. 

The versions of the story vary depending on the region of the Philippines, but it is common among them that Bathala, the creator, made seven moons to illuminate the night for the humans. The Bakunawa fell in love with the moons and wanted to be eternally one with them. This prompted the Bakunawa to eat the moons to become the sole possessor of the moons. Bathala, seeing that there is only one moon remaining, planted bamboo on the moon to prevent the Bakunawa from devouring it. The bamboo can be seen as the dark spots on the moon. 

The Bakunawa’s consumption of the moon, in reference to the lunar eclipse, symbolizes rebirth and renewal. The burning of the Man can also be interpreted as a form of rebirth and renewal.

About Leeroy New

Shilo Shiv Suleman
“The Serpentine Pavilion”

“The Serpentine Pavilion” by Shilo Shiv Suleman

Shilo Shiv Suleman writes:

In my mythology the serpent is everything — transformation, fear, reverence, ancestor. The lord lies asleep on an eternal snake, Ananta Sesa (the one who has no end). Below this world exists another sleeping world, Nagaloka, where serpents shift tectonic plates of the macrocosm. While in our microcosm, within the spinal column lies a coiled snake that uncurls itself to revelation.

As this year’s theme emerges into animistic worlds, wrapped around the Man is a mythical metaphor that exists across cultures as temptation and revelation. The burning of this creature then represents a skin shedding, and transformation into eternal life.

About Shilo Shiv Suleman

“The Man is the Fifth Beetle”

“The Man is the Fifth Beetle” by Pyroglyphics

Pyroglyphics write:

Our design invites the otherwise solitary Dung Beetle to work in concert with other solitary dung beetles to discover as a community creative and innovative ways to manage, transform and take ownership of the world’s growing waste stream.

Normally small enough to feel relatively insignificant to us, our Beetles are transformed into towering juggernauts, reversing the scale and perspective we humans may feel in relation to the rest of the natural world’s inhabitants.

Like the dung beetles in our proposal, we achieve more when we absolve our sense of isolated ego and resume our natural identity and utility with our entire species.

In an iphone driven world that prefaces the value of the individual over the collective, products are marketed and consumed that reinforce feelings of individuated significance, and the consequence is greater degrees of consumption and planned obsolescence, packaging, and discarded products.

The dung ball, representing the growing problems associated with our waste stream management, is naturally globe-shaped, and evokes in our imagination the gestalt of our home planet.

About Pyroglyphics

“Perla del Desierto”

“Perla del Desierto” by El Nino

NiNo writes:

In the beginning… the first creatures known to science that populated our planet started in the oceans and the lakes around 800 million years ago. The origin of life evolved from there to where we are now. The comb jelly, sponges and all the fossils we have found prove this to us; water is where it all started.

Our own Black Rock City is created once a year in a dry lake bed, also as we know, the playa that formerly contained a full standing body of water. The Man Base design is inspired by a seashell to honor our first water creatures. The sphere shape represents a pearl, or perhaps some will see a globe. It is a celebration of all the animals that inhabit our planet.

About NiNo

Kate Greenberg

“Porifera” by Kate Greenberg

Kate Greenberg writes:

“porifera” • a phylum of aquatic invertebrate animals that comprises the sponges

The site of the Black Rock Desert was underwater until 9,000 years ago, and the first animals to call it home were sea creatures. Sea sponges evolved over 500 million years ago, and are believed to be some of the oldest known forms of animal life. Many porifera fossils have been found across present day Nevada, where ancient lakes once existed. What if the basin valley could be refilled, and we could adventure through the aquatic garden that lives on the bottom of the lake bed?

At night, the playa becomes a bioluminescent reef, where we pedal after sea monster art cars in neon-lit aquanaut schools. At dawn, we see again the great effect geologic time has cast on this other-worldy landscape, and set out to expedition through its fossilized magic like sci-fi archaeologists. This proposal celebrates animal life that was on playa long before us, with a Man Pavilion inspired by the unique structure of porifera.

About Kate Greenberg

Jack ‘Opa’ Haye
“Hall of Animals”

“Hall of Animals” by Jack ‘Opa’ Haye

Jack ‘Opa’ Haye writes:

This structure honors a variety of animals by making the facade of each wing represent an animal. It is also reminiscent of American vernacular barns with high ceilings and exposed trusses and skip sheathing to allow the wind to pass through and a soft dappled light to enter.

My submission honors all of the animals of the Burning Man ecosystem by providing a museum-like space where artists are invited to bring and display their individual visions of the many varieties of animals — from playa chickens to narwhals and everything in between… and outside the lines as well. I envisioned the Hall to be a place for hanging animal art, but there is also space on the walls for large 2D pieces.

About Jack ‘Opa’ Haye


Untitled by HYBYCOZO


Six structures represent the six major animal groups. The Pentagon represents the five characteristics of Animalia. Speakers in each structure will play sounds that represent the animal group in that structure. Possibly separate artists and groups could be responsible for the interior of each structure. The outside of each structure could have CNC-cut animal patterns. No animals will be set on fire during the Burn.



We are thrilled to present Tim Bremner’s “The Hive” as the 2023 Man Pavilion!

Tim Bremner
“The Hive”

“The Hive” by Tim Bremner

Tim Bremner writes:

Like a proper bee colony, we Burners all have our roles and exist in a beautifully designed place. This year the theme lines up nicely with what we’ve always been… one big-ass dusty beehive of applied creativity. For this year’s Man Base pavilion, I’d like to propose “THE HIVE”.

About Tim Bremner

Tim Bremner is a designer, artist and creative director from Oakland who has been coming to Black Rock City since they started putting bases under the Man in 2001. Primarily known for small snarky art, he occasionally will rally a community of super talented weirdos to make big beautiful things such as the “La Victrola” gramophone. He designs his art in visual systems based on a theme. For “La Victrola” Tim dove deep into Art Nouveau patterning, for the Hive Man Base he designed the entire concept using just two sizes of hexagon to make it simple, yet incredibly intricate at the same time.

Cover image of “The Hive” by Tim Bremner

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.

24 Comments on “Animating the Animalia Theme Through the 2023 Man Pavilion

  • Andrew Calo says:

    All those amazing ideas and they chose…the Hive, care of an artist who just happens to live in San Fran. Hmmh.

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  • D.D. says:

    There were some great and interesting designs! Looking forward to see the The Hive in person.

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  • Dr. Ted Boehler says:

    Unfortunately the “Hive” for me brings to mind a controlling society where one entity is in charge, the majority are worker bees with no status other than to slave away in a communal hovel, with Warriors bees there to enforce discipline and protection from change. Ready to attack the least perceived transgression at perhaps a benign passerby. This selection is a sad metaphor for what we think Burning Man is. Sounds more like communism or Scientology to me- You missed it on this one

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    • Justj1m says:

      Ted if you knew how a hive works then you would know that the queen is controlled throughout her entire life by the worker bees.

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    • I am Jack says:

      Worker bees can leave.
      Even drones fly away.
      The queen is their slave.

      Narrator- Fight club

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    • David Giessler says:

      Honeybees are eusocial insects. Eusociality is the highest level of society organization. Every individual has a purpose and a task to help the society thrive. Workers are not slaves, they are the decision makers, making the decisions for the superorganism to prosper.

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      • Pariah says:

        I LOVE bees and Superorganisms. I wish the design of the base was more interesting. I think it was chosen because it was easy, not because it looked best or was a fun challenge. Also Ironic because hives do not operate via top down hierarchies.. and I have been trying to press the culture in the direction of actually operating more like a HIVE MIND for years, but they simply don’t grasp the concepts correctly. The people in power wish to retain autocracy. This is just typical corporate hierarchy with a bee costume on. Not particularly radical.

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    • Pariah says:

      Not how hives and queens work at all. The queen is just the reproductive organs, not the commander.

      Your own body operates similarly. No boss cell. Your mind IS a HIVE MIND. No one is in charge!

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    • Randall R says:

      I also get kind of a strange vibe from the hive idea. It has a dystopian over lord society sort of feel to it. Not to say that visually it isn’t an interesting design. I can definitely imagine it being stunning in person. Who knows though, maybe us all being part of the hive will be nice. Everyone working toward the same goal as one.

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  • Nigel Sloppy says:

    I’m curious about the process in this decision. Several other proposals, including The Snake, Bakunawa, and Perla seem so much more spectacular. Were they determined to be impractical and/or too expensive?

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  • Rio says:

    Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

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  • Anonymous says:

    Love The Hive! Looks so cool!

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  • Elizabeth H. Harris says:

    “The Hive” is incredible on so many levels! Simple, elegant, deep & probably a manageable build on the desert. Having experienced only one burn, last year; I’m not the wisest or most experienced ~ just sayin’

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  • LuxAeterna says:

    I am almost overcome with excitement. I really love the hexagons – I’ll call it La Colmena del Desierto (The Beehive if the Desert). I like El NiNo’s Perla del Desierto, too.

    I’m a big NiNo fan; I hope he brings some kind of modification of La Perla; I would love to lie under it in the evening. Viva El NiNo; Viva El Hombre!

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  • RandoReno says:

    all of the designs are superb and fit the theme for this year. i applaud all of you for your designs and contribution!

    The hive is an excellent choice! it’ll be a commune of all equals bringing in their own honey for a giant celebration! and i’ll remind some people to “BEEhave” & “don’t worry Bee Happy!”
    the gifting will be fun to add some puns at the man this year.

    As someone who has grown up surfing and in the ocean more than land. I love “Perla del Desierto” for its tribute to our water world. It portrays an ocean lovers dream. I fantasize this is how the Lost City of Atlantis would look like if they had Burning Man(i guess it would be a drowning man.)

    The ocean is my fountain of youth, it gives me life and energy. Just as Nino said, “water is where it all began. Great work Nino and I hope to see this seashell come to life.

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  • Dan Miller says:

    A correction in Tim’s bio for posterity… The Man was first elevated off the playa on a base with my design series starting in 1996 and expanding through 2000. The classic wooden base with steps surrounded by a straw bale step pyramid.

    (Note: straw bales have since been banned on the playa due to shedding).

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  • Juicy says:

    It is impossible to please everyone. Congratulations to the chosen and good luck accomplishing your dream. Once you are on the Playa, everything will blend together into yet another amazing experience.

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  • Tom Lester says:

    I agree with the choice. However, “Perla del Desierto” is certainly more stunning, I suspect, based on scale, it was too ambitious ? Too high ?

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  • Pariah says:

    How do I get in contact with the Art Department to find out how decisions are made? I’ve been trying for 3 years, and I can’t get straight answers to my questions. I can’t even figure out which person I can talk to and actually have a conversation with.

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  • Mike Bilbo says:

    So bee it. But “The Snake,” what a Man Base that would’ve been! Snake motifs show up at some of the Winnemucca Lake petroglyph sites (which are being shot up and destroyed by morons), and may or may not be Quetzalcoatls, although as with Quetzalcoatl, snakes are often involved with emergence ritual. So perhaps the artist might be inclined to build that magnificent piece of work, less the Man, elsewhere out there.

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  • Glassman says:

    BZZZZZZ ! love it !

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