What’s That Humming and Buzzing at the Man?

This year, with the creation of an extraordinary hive at the center of our desert city, our place of gathering and ceremony around the central icon — the Man — we called in a group of artists to animate the space and create a special experience.

The idea was to think about all the buzzing and humming, the coming and going, and delightful elements of a beehive. Not literally creating the sound of bees buzzing or replicas of bees, but to think about life and activity and coming together from all disparate parts of the world and points of view. The point of departure for the invited artists was to think about sound. Ambient, sonorous, cacophonous, an uncoordinated symphony of life, joy and beauty.

Tyson Ayers (Photo courtesy of the artist)

The first place to begin was with the piano soundboard work of Tyson Ayers. Tyson’s work takes an instrument that might seem unapproachable for those of us who don’t play the piano and deconstructs it into its most basic parts of sound. He shows us the resonance and vibration of the piano as an instrument of sound waves, percussion and play. With elegant lighting and a revelation of the beauty and sculptural aspects of the piano soundboard, Tyson’s work is embedded throughout the exterior hive walls. We’ve even added little benches on the backside so you can sit in a chamber and hear the thrumming of the soundboards as they respond to the wind or to someone’s touch.

Shrine (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Above, on the nearly highest level of “The Hive” walls, are art pieces by Shrine, who is somewhat of an avatar of repurposed materials. His work is widely known and admired as an artist who takes everyday objects and makes them into works of art. The sustainability theme showing up in the art at the Man this year is intentional. Like Tyson, what Shrine works with is all repurposed and recycled. For us, Shrine made what he calls “tassel cans” that hang suspended, responding to the wind. Shaking and shimmering in the sun, these cans and can lids are hand-painted and turned into sentinels for Black Rock City, welcoming and celebrating the day, the time, and the place with their simple yet elegant shape and the sound of tin cans.

Jen Lewin (Photo courtesy of the artist)

As we go further into “The Hive,” we find the work of three artists — Jen Lewin, Esmeralda Nadeau Jasso, and Favianna Rodriguez. Each presents a different opportunity to explore and navigate the inner hive. Jen Lewin’s superb work has been coming to playa for years, and her artwork at the Man gifts us with a sweet little path of honeycombs throughout the inner spaces and also includes her extraordinary suspended chandelier laser harp. Jump in, jump out, reach in, reach out, dance, play, make your own music with her artwork. 

Wandering through the space you will also discover Esmeralda Nadeau Jasso’s exquisite interpretation of bee dances. Maybe you’ve heard how bees shake, shiver and shimmy their way through their own special way of communicating? By doing the waggle dance (I know, right? Who doesn’t want to waggle dance?) bees share information about the location of pollen and flowers as they support each other to succeed in their foraging. Super cool! Esmeralda has played with this notion by creating interlocking gears that turn with your participation, and start the little bees inside on their waggle dance. So wonderful.

Favianna Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of the artist)

With Favianna we get to revel in delightful, vivid, sculptural creatures from the desert and beyond. Thinking about biodiversity, migration, extinction and climate change, her artwork is compelling. Favianna asks us to consider our choices, while also stimulating our senses. Having her work suspended and spinning through space provides color and dimensionality to help animate “The Hive.”

There is one last sweet thing we added. Inspired by the work of Delaney Martin, the co-creator of Music Box Village in New Orleans, we wanted to make some “junkyard chimes.” So we invited some of our Department of Public Works members to create these wonderful suspended installation pieces for us. Fantastical, whimsical, and fun, these art pieces continue to demonstrate that Burning Man is a place of creation — of dreamers and creators. We make stuff. And it is awesome.

Ultimately we wanted a space that invited you to play, to connect, and to reflect. This is not about doing or viewing. It is about bee-ing (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). To take in, to absorb, to feel, to vibrate. Sound is powerful. This is not artwork on display, this is vibe. We love vibe. So bees dance, people gather, we create, and the world is good in Black Rock City.

Cover image of “The Hive” by Tim Bremner, 2023

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.

4 Comments on “What’s That Humming and Buzzing at the Man?

  • Thomas ( The Bishop) Andrejko says:

    2017 was the Best man ever !

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  • Marnee says:

    Looking forward to these wonderful experiences Kim!

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  • Turbo says:

    Wonderful article! Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the Hive. I was pleased to hear a lot of buzz around the build this year, and it sounds like you’ve all been busy little bees working to craft an amazing experience. Serious beesness to pull this off! Definitely can’t wait to get stuck exploring the man base while bumbling around the playa…I picture stinging piano drones jacketed with brooding chimes below honey hued sun rays. But enough waxing poetic, I must say it will bee a most joyous delight for the Burning Man colony, I’m sure. Can’t wait to comb together for another magical burn! A period for the books!

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  • Playagia says:

    Beautiful inspiration and implementation. I loved the interactive musical art installations. Exploring the hive mind of BRC.
    The pyroengineering of the honeycombs directing the airflow into the base of the fire was genius. The vertical velocity of the fire and the roaring sound was incredible. The fire burned hot and clean.
    There are dozens of species of native bees in the Great Basin. Some are the size of a small grape and will knock you off a bicycle and take your eye out of your body. Some are the size of a grain of rice.
    All of the native bees live solitary lives, not part of a hive. They make their own little homes we seldom recognize. They pollinate rate endemic plants with their rare little endemic bodies.
    All of these native bees are threatened by the European honey bee. An efficient and profitable hive minded creature we as humans exploit to sweeten our existence and expand our comfort zone.
    Let us challenge ourselves to be less comfortable so others may survive our choices.
    Hope love Dream Wish Pray

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