Art of Black Rock City

The artwork exhibited at Burning Man 2011 inspired, intrigued, beguiled, and entertained tens of thousands of participants throughout the event week. In order to help Burning Man live up to its reputation as one of the most important art events in the world, the Burning Man board members decided to increase the budget for art grants by more than 10% from the previous year. With this increased budget, we were able to fund 45 honorarium art installations, up from a normal 32-35.


Not only were there 1/3 more honorariums than in previous years, the size and scope of the installations also grew substantially.

The Temple of Transition was by far the largest temple created for Burning Man to date, with its central spire standing a whopping 120 feet tall.

The Temple was created by a group of artists called the International Arts Megacrew. Drawing from their experience the previous year with the Megatropolis project, the team included crew from around the world who undertook their pre-playa build in Reno. The crew enlisted the help of several artists to develop unique, beautiful additions to the already impressive structure. One of these additions was a robotic computer-controlled music machine called the “Gamelatron”. Mounted to the walls of the large central tower, the Gamelatron played authentic Balinese gamelon music throughout the day and night.Its spectacular towers were visible as far away as Gerlach, giving participants a sense that Black Rock City was larger and more impressive than ever. Even with a larger open playa in 2011 (it was increased 400 feet from the Man to the Esplanade), with the sheer size of the Temple, the vast expanse actually felt smaller, and more intimate in many ways.

Additionally, the “Earth Harp” was mounted to the front of the Temple at the 6:00 entrance, including a platform with harp cords that reached out to all six structures. The temple also featured beautiful stained glass windows created from gathered antique glass shards strung together by wire cords. All in all, it was an impressive, overwhelming, and yet intimate space for personal reflection.

2011 saw several previous grant recipients return to the playa with incredible art pieces. After taking three years off, Peter Hudson was again an honorarium artist. “Charon”, his sculpture for 2011, was a three-dimensional stroboscopic zoetrope focused on the last rite of passage: death. With its life-sized skeletons rowing their way across the river Styx, Charon capitalized on Peter’s skills with zoetropes, while using human power to make them happen.

“The Pier” was a particularly clever and ambitious project on the playa this year. Spearheaded by Matt Schultz, the Pier was a 300-foot long boat pier set just off the Esplanade, pointed towards the Man. With its gentle increase grade and rough hewn planks resembling an authentic boat pier, this piece quickly became a stage for all kinds of spontaneous performances and intimate experiences.  It was a particularly popular place to take in the sunrise any given morning.The Flaming Lotus Girls were once again on playa, leveraging their many years of experience making Burning Man art to create “Tympani Lambada”, a large, glowing, fire-breathing embodiment of the structures that make up the inner ear.  Quentin Davis also returned, sharing his beautiful miniature cities hidden within an 18-foot long dodecahedron, and Michael Emery created “Nelumbo Nucifera”, a beautiful lotus structure with video images projected on the petals.

Circle of Regional Effigies (CORE)2011 was notable for several international honorees – almost all first time Burners. “The Wet Dream”, created by the London-based art collective Warm Baby, featured hundreds of illuminated umbrellas protecting citizens of BRC from the elements. With dazzling lights and the sounds of rain storms, the Wet Dream created a magical light mirage on the open playa. Sarah Cockings, a first-time Burner, offered her piece “Is Land” – a hunk of verdant island floating gracefully above the playa surface. Sarah originally showed Is Land at another European festival, where it was set loose by vandals, and she recreated the structure in less than six weeks – quite an impressive feat.

Ranging from a lobster trap for Maine to a voodoo doll from New Orleans to a showgirl from Vegas to a snake eating its own tail, CORE galvanized each of the communities that participated, while giving them the opportunity to develop as artists. Each of the 22 effigies burned simultaneously on Thursday night. We look forward to future iterations of this concept.The CORE project was one of the most remarkable undertakings seen on playa to date. CORE consisted of 22 sculptures of up to 20’x20’x20′, encircling the Man, which were created by 22 different Regional  groups. Each effigy was designed to express the regional spirit of a specific region, reflecting how Burning Man culture is reflected in that particular community.

Art, Art and More Art

“Burning Time” project was designed to be the world’s largest functioning clock at one-mile wide.  Burning Time featured central tower with a laser that moved across the playa with the passage of time, hitting towers placed on the hour and half hour increments near the Esplanade. Three laser lights showed the hour, half hour and seconds. At midnight each night of the event the hour laser was designed to hit a large green crystal placed in the highest tower of the Temple. Basking in a glow of green, the Temple shared in Burning Time’s beautiful vision of how time could be artistically expressed on the playa.There was a huge increase in the number of registered art projects and, as with the honorarium art, the playa art grew in size and vision. One of the most remarkable installations in 2011 was the “Trojan Horse”, designed to be the same size and shape as the original Trojan Horse, and including included several rooms participants could visit. On Friday of the event, over 500 volunteers showed up for the largest art move ever experienced in Black Rock City. Pulling the piece several hundred feet, the Horse was rolled through the Gates of Troy to its final resting spot. There it was burned (lit by a flaming arrow) after an awe-inspiring fireworks show, with its head turning towards the Man as it fell.

Submitted by,Laura Kimpton also returned to Burning Man, sharing her “LOVE” with Black Rock City. LOVE, created in a similar manner as her previous sculptures “OINK” and “MOM”,  LOVE offered a timeless message of what’s important in life.

Beth Scarborough