There are many ways one could describe Burning Man, the annual gathering that takes over Nevada’s Black Rock Desert every summer with beautiful people, loony behavior, and out of control looks, but its organizers prefer to think of it as a “tabula rasa;” that is to say, a blank canvas for its thousands of attendees—which this year, as usual, include Paris Hilton—to express themselves, whether through their dancing, their “mutant vehicles” of choice to roam the desert in, or the massive art projects some of them bring along, the tallest of course is the titular Burning Man, which looms large over all of the festivities.
But before that wooden effigy gets burned today, marking the festival’s end, it’s worth taking a look at the other structures that made it out to Black Rock, of which there are at least 320 in total, made by artists who stuck to this year’s theme of “Radical Ritual” (and who hopefully read the gathering’s official Fire Art Guidelines.) Your best chance at getting a look at them all, and the revelry in general, is in fact from the top of a prominent pink flamingo named Phoenicopterus Rex that actually doubles as an observatory, offering (dust permitting) views of works like a giant 30-foot wooden robot and the 20-plus-foot-tall moving marionette by Miguel Angel Martin Bordera that, with the help of a crane, actually moves around the festival.
The thing is, though, that it’s in fact quite tricky to tell what exactly is an art installation and what is just Burner lifestyle design, particularly when it comes to the so-called “art cars.” What appears to be a massive bug-eyed sheep, for example, upon closer inspection has at least one headlight poking out from underneath; when you click play, a video of what appears to be an oversized rubber duckie people with men in cowboy hats suggests that the bird is not an artwork, but their vehicle of choice. Even a glowing Pac-Man, which seems to be a straightforward enough sculpture, actually turns out to have four wheels underneath.
Part of the difficulty in picking out the actual art lies in the fact that Burners’s preferred method of taking in seems to be to climb on top of it. Take this giant, murky jelly fish: Is it just a sculpture, or in fact a shelter for those taking refuge underneath?
Of course, this could be just art doubling as Burner lifestyle design. And some of them will be lit on fire along with the Burning Man itself. In the meantime, hop into your Mutant Vehicle, and take one last look before they’re all gone.
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