Textures of Burning Man

Dancing lights of the Hexatron, by Mark Lottor, 2018

For the past five years I have been packing out to the Nevada desert to attend/co-create/observe/endure the event known as Burning Man. It’s always quite a surreal and visually rich experience… fascinating textures and found patterns abound.

Lattices, lasercuts and overlays.

A gigantic, mechanical latticework orb contrasts the desert sky. The Ball by L’Enclave, 2015

Artists and makers and generally creative people set up projects, camps, and art pieces that seem to celebrate and spring from a really basic human instinct — to create something just for the joy or experience of creating it. The projects range from tiny and personal to epic in scope, requiring years of fundraising and scores of volunteers. Details about this year’s art are here.

Projections in the structure at the base of the Man give the impression of cyanotypes. 2018

Lots of opportunities for self-reflection. ;)

Fascinating mirrored facets, dulled by dust from the playa.

While it’s necessary in my everyday life as a designer to be always critiquing, always reviewing, always tweaking, it’s one of the great pleasures of Burning Man to be in a space amazingly free of judgements and criticisms of peoples’ creative output. The overall feeling is curiosity, openness, and gratitude to the individuals that make and share the projects. This aspect of the experience is really fun and freeing.

The surfaces of the playa. Images thanks to Tessa Thornberry.

This fantastical rearing horse was made to be animated by hand cranks. Barry Crawford 2018

Marvelous ingenuity repurposes everything from coins to muffin tins, creating mesmerizing details.

Strips of rusty metal form an imposing warp and weft.

Ursa Major by Mr and Mrs Ferguson was a favorite of mine in 2016. I would go admire this 14-foot grizzly almost everyday, and my visit always included a hug.

Daytime at Burning Man is all about biking around, looking at art projects, getting lost, visiting friends across the playa... and of course remembering to re-apply your sunscreen.

Glass circles provide found pattern. The image at right, taken by Tessa Thornberry, is of Bloom (an enormous jellyfish) by Peter Hazel, 2017.

But at night a whole different visual experience emerges, with led lights, propane flame poofers, bonfires and personal lighting— creating a fantastic array of colors and patterns.

The spellbinding lights of Paraluna by Christopher Schardt, 2018. This lovely piece was suspended overhead, and was accompanied by a soundtrack of classical music.

After dark, neon details make for a cool palette.

Our bars!

In addition to being an enthralled observer, I participate in the Golden Guy project; it’s an alleyway of tiny bars inspired by Tokyo’s Golden Gai neighborhood. There were 13 watering holes in 2018, each with a different proprietor and vibe. Shown above are the facades of our two pop-up bars Random Service and Blank Slate: every night is a different event and crowd.

Almost nightmarish from a distance, the found-object construction of El Pulpo Mecanico is charming at close range, as long as you are wary of the propane flames. This amazing creature, by Duane Flatmo and Jerry Kunkel, retired after 2016.

The eponymous burning Man, 2015

On Saturday night the Man burns. Always accompanied by fireworks and a serious soundtrack from concentric rings of artcars, this is the big event of the week. It’s catharsis is felt for miles.

In 2017 the man was housed in his own pavilion.

Sooty and mysterious bits and pieces are left after the burns.

Many art pieces are burned throughout the week, and the following day you can see interesting vestiges among the ashes. Some people collect charred fragments as keepsakes, but anything that remains is carefully cleaned and removed by the crews who made the art. The playa is returned to its natural state.

Photographer Jonathan Clark, a friend and campmate, captured this magical image of post-burn detritus.

Yep! Yours truly, a few weeks back, in my Burning Man finery including a vintage slip I screen-printed. Portrait thanks to Jonathan Clark. Image at right is detail from a wedding dress spotted in 2014.

All in all, it’s a challenging, hot, dusty, wonderful, inspiring, supremely silly and mind-bending experience. Now that all the dust is cleared and my gear is stowed til next year, I am hoping to find some time to take inspiration from some of these found patterns, set aside the inner critic, and see what I can create.