2009 was a great year for art at Burning Man, even with the global economic difficulties. With the city returning to its 2007 size, participants were able to experience a larger percentage of the art by foot. Also, in an effort to help bring the art closer to the citizens of Black Rock City, all the honorarium projects were mapped closer to inner playa. There were only a few funded projects that were past the Man, and those were well in from the Temple.
Burning Man funded 24 art projects this year, down from its average of 40 to 42. As part of an overall trimming of Burning Man budgets in 2009, the grant committee cut more than 20% of its grant budget, anticipating the expected decrease in the number of ticket sales. While the dollars dispersed were smaller than normal, the art funded was truly awe-inspiring.
There was an unfortunate communication issue with the grant announcements, wherein many artists were informed they were awarded a grant, but then the grant was put on hold as the grant committee had to further decrease the funds allocated. In the end, several projects did not get a grant, or had their grant money reduced. This was a regrettable situation for everyone involved, and our deepest apologies go out to those affected by the grant budget reduction.
The Temple this year, Fire of Fires, was designed by Dave Umlas, Marilee Ratcliffe and Community Art Makers. Taking on this revered structure is a huge challenge, and the Austin-based team created a work of true beauty. With its vortex of flame burning within the center of the structure, Fire of Fires was as amazing a feat of construction and design as it was emotionally resonant for all who experienced it.
Discussing the art of this year’s event would be incomplete without mentioning the neo-retro futuristic Raygun Gothic Rocketship built by Sean Orlando, Nathaniel Taylor, David Shulman and their crew. This 40’-tall, fully-realized retro neo-futuristic aluminum and steel rocketship was fashioned in the true Buck Rogers aesthetic. Participants were welcome to climb up, in and through the rocketship, enjoying its various detailed and artistic control systems, and to contemplate humankind’s drive to create, to explore, and to expand our understanding of a future about which we can only imagine.
2009 saw a proliferation of artists with impressive fire art experience. The Flaming Lotus Girls split into three different groups in 2009, each creating incredible fire sculptures. Burning Man gave a grant to The Flaming Lotus Girls (FLG) for a beautiful light and fire installation called Soma. Soma was FLG’s most technically complex installation to date, with hundreds of lights as well as the “poofers” (or propane accumulators) for which FLG is best known.
The Gee-Gnome team consisted of Rosa Anna DeFilippis, Peter Youngmeister, Caroline Miller, and John DeVenezia, who created a garden gnome that would shoot 75′-high flames out of its head.
Finally, Rebecca Anders and Jess Hobbs shared with the citizens of BRC their project titled Chimera Sententia (also known as FishBug), a fanciful creature fashioned from a vision of an alternate evolutionary path.
While fire did make its mark in the art and minds of the artists in 2009, there were several funded pieces that stood in their own beauty without the use of fire. Bryan Tedrick’s Portal of Evolution recreated the female reproductive system in a 30’-tall steel structure, rendered with Dr. Seussian whimsicality. The uterus was interpreted as a giant butterfly, which rotated atop a climbable central pole, which allowed participants to ascend to a semi-circular bucket at its apex.
Michael Christian’s Key Note was an evocative image of a male figure made of locks dragging a massive key. Hedy Sirico’s installation Chaotic Harmony highlighted the variety and ultimate elegance inherent in the evolutionary process.
Art is Everywhere
Animal shapes exploded from the playa surface in 2009. The Buddha Bunny was a 20-foot tall rabbit designed to question spirituality while highlighting different chakras. Fluffer, a roving structure with the head of a dog, offered to heat and clean coats for weary participants strolling across the darkened playa. Silodon Fatalias Aerialis (Winged Killer Smile) shared what evolution would create if it were to cross a sabre-toothed tired with a winged animal. Prayer Dragon shared the mix of Tibetan prayer wheels with fire cauldrons.
Many old favorites also returned to the playa this year. Neverwas Haul floated across the playa with its three-story Victorian House. 2:22 Amethyst Portal, another work in sacred geometry by Harlan Gruber, played its subsonic frequencies in a dodecahedron. Bat Country also returned, with its inspiring use of tools from America’s favorite pastime, baseball.
It was a phenomenal year for art, one that showed that even when the economy is taking a dive, inspiration and creativity still find a way to soar.