Art of BRC

2008 was a strong year for art at Burning Man – strong ideas, strong installations, and strong dunes of playa dust. While the art theme originally sparked off some adverse reactions, many of the installations brought to the playa embraced the theme, highlighting different ideas and interpretations of “American Dream”. This year’s canvas, as it were, was a significantly broader expanse – the new city design added 600 feet from the Esplanade to the Man. This, in part, contributed to the misconception that “there was not very much art on playa”, despite there only being 15 fewer installations on playa than in 2007. A particular challenge in 2008 was the roughness of the playa surface, with thick sand dunes and washboard-like playa serpents spread throughout the expanse, but then the Black Rock Desert basin will always be a challenge.

The Colonies (Surrounding the Man)

In one of the colonies surrounding the Man

In one of the colonies surrounding the Man

Each year the art chosen to surround the Man is intended to exemplify the art theme, showcasing different creative expressions and interpretations of the theme. In 2008, these art installations included “Ellis Island”, featuring a gangplank welcoming participants to the Man base (and essentially the world of Burning Man); “We the People”, a booth designed to encourage participants to share their viewpoints with the U.S. government; and “American Dream Bingo”, a game where with the crank of a handle a participant could turn a large bingo cage filled with balls representing the American dream.

While fewer in number than in previous years, the art surrounding the Man in 2008 was still chosen to inspire ideas and themes to be discussed, debated, and shared.


Burning Man funded 42 art installations in 2008 (which includes 5 Pavilion grants), out of 186 grant proposals that were submitted, which was down from 250 in 2007. Moving the application deadline up two weeks to February 1st, may have had something to do with the reduction in the number of proposals submitted, but this gave the Art Grant Committee more time to deliberate on the merits of submitted proposals, as well as increase the amount of time the funded artists had to work on their projects.

The competition for grant money is always fierce and the extremes of proposals ran from the grand to very simple ideas. In the funding process, it’s important to remember that art does not need to be huge and overpowering to have a voice: a small personal vision can speak just as loudly.

As usual, we saw the return of previously-funded artists applying for grants with fresh new projects, as well as an increase in proposals being submitted from beyond the United States. We saw proposals from Amsterdam, Wales, Switzerland, England, and more. We also had our first Russian artist, hailing from Moscow, who created her interpretation of the American Dream theme for the Man Pavilion. While Burning Man has historically been seen as a somewhat Bay Area-fed event, this year’s group of installations, both funded and not funded, certainly showed that we have become a worldwide event.

Fire Fire Everywhere

This year was full of fire, with more burns than ever before. “Basura Sagrada” was the name of this year’s Temple, carrying on the  tradition of burning on Sunday night. “Celtic Forest” returned with two more flaming moats and a 16’-foot tall “Book of the Raven”. The Flaming Lotus Girls, with their project entitled “Mutopia”, once again created an interactive flaming environment where everyone was encouraged to press buttons, which brought the strange seed pod creation to life in fire.

False Profit Labs brought two flame effects artworks: “Pyrocardium”, a helix with 20 computer-controlled flames connected to a stethoscope, allowing participants to make the flames pulse in time to their heartbeat; and “Hydrogen Economy”, a clear hexagonal Plexiglas chamber wherein floated hydrogen-filled bubbles that participants could ignite (and explode) from the outside using flaming “dragon sticks”. “Shiva Vista” returned with their 16 large propane cannons encircling a stage where fire performers, dancers and musicians performed.

2008 Theme Art and Playa Art

There were 285 installations on the playa in 2008, ranging from the sublime to the silly, and many of them reflected the artist’s thoughtful interpretation of the “American Dream” art theme. To see a full listing of the installations from 2008, including descriptions, photographs and artist contact information, please visit our 2008 archive.

Submitted by,
Christine Kristen & Beth Scarborough