A special category of Burning Man art encompasses works that relate to the event’s official theme. The Project articulates a theme each year as a story that connects the work of artists to the actions of participants. The theme is a means of promoting widespread civic interaction, of merging the city’s life and art into a shared experience.
This year’s theme, Beyond Belief, evoked religion, metaphysics, belief systems, illusions, spirituality, worship, and immediate experience. We invited participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. The theme generated more art installations than ever before, as the number of registered theme art projects jumped from 80 in 2002 to 120, a 50 percent increase.
The Man stood on a large, interactive temple ringed with sixteen niches where participants could perform as living gods and goddesses. Our Temple Guardians, who were in charge of making up and placing the pantomime gods in the niches, felt overwhelmed by other circumstances and left the event suddenly, as we were ready to open the temple niches. Fortunately, one of our trusted, long-time volunteers saved the day by jumping in to replace them, and did a splendid job.
Participants could also climb the steep temple stairs to a tower that offered views of the playa in each of the cardinal directions. Two lovely altars became the sites of frequent pilgrimages, which often brought gifts and offerings. The back of the temple contained a stage on which Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir performed after dark. On Friday night, a performance of Hanumanville was scheduled as a following act, featuring Fabulous Monsters from Los Angeles. When we got word that the performers were on their way to the temple, we closed the steps to participants, which unfortunately prevented access during an unexpected delay of several hours while we awaited the Monsters. Meanwhile, belly dance troupe Ultra Gypsy performed.
In front of the temple, a large electroluminescent-wire labyrinth invited participants to walk and meditate. Thematic costumed processions seemed constantly to pass by and around the temple. It was a hive of activity, more interactive than ever before.
Four lamp lit promenades emanated from the Man’s central site this year. As usual, corridors extended to Center Camp and to David Best’s Temple of Honor, and new ones extended from the 9 and 3 o’clock points to the corresponding plazas on each side of the city. Theme art installations were spaced along all of these walkways. The Keyhole was graced with a large faux-stone fortress, the Spheres of Transformation, on top of which a computer-controlled gyroscope of light spun.
This year’s theme divided the playa into two realms. Within our city was the Odd, Strange, and Weird, where one could find planetariums, temples, altars, a burning bush, a Tesla coil, sacred geometry, prayer flags, labyrinths, reclining Buddha’s, an illusory swimming pool, an oracle, the hand of God, a numinous carousel, a phone booth to God, a gigantic spider web, a metal lotus, a 3,000 pound candle, and a glass-blowing studio. This area contained an arcade of interactive religious installations, including prayer wheels, confessionals, crucifixes, and shrines. For the first time, we placed art installations in the plazas at 9 and 3 o’clock—a flaming fountain and a mandala with banners. David Best’s Temple of Honor marked the boundary of the Odd, Strange, and Weird.
Beyond it was The Realm of the Wholly Other, reserved for things far beyond our experience, including an enormous chandelier flung down from the heavens, the world’s largest replica of a Marcel Duchamp object—R. Mutt’s Fountain, a temple in which five 15,000-pound slabs of granite were suspended overhead, a house of cards, an interactive lyre of sound and light, a ladder to nowhere, a temple made of light, a walk-in hamburger, and mysterious glowing x-rays. Details of these and other theme art installations are found in our Theme Art Listings.
LadyBee and Larry Harvey