1999 Art Theme: The Wheel of Time

Returning to Black Rock City after a years absence, it sometimes feels as if one had never left the desert. Within this changeless world time seems suspended. We build the same city, we burn the same Man, and by these actions we are changed. Ritual time is cyclical time and quite unlike the ordinary measure that divides our daily lives. This year, as the Millennium approaches, the Burning Man Project will create such a cycle in the Black Rock Desert.

Our plan in 1999 is to inscribe a giant wheel of time around an axis formed by Burning Man. The perimeter of this circle will be divided into 60 units, creating an enormous clock dial spanning nearly half a mile of desert terrain. Black Rock City will, in turn, surround this clock. Circumferential streets, which run the length of our city, will be named after the planets that orbit our Sun. Radial streets will subdivide this arc, like the spokes of a wheel, into 8 separate hours. Residents who live on streets which ring our city may further pinpoint their location by subdividing these units into minutes or even seconds. A sample address: 5:24 Mars. All participants will be encouraged (during daylight hours) to celebrate the time when it arrives at their particular address. Thus we will construct a clock around a clock, transforming Black Rock City into a living timepiece.

The Landscape of Time

The inner clock surrounding Burning Man will become a large-scale gallery and performance space featuring time-related art. The Man will stand upon a boundary that divides this circle into two great temporal hemispheres. All art located forward of the Man will portray our local neighborhood in time. The quadrant that is located between 6 and 9 o’clock will be devoted to a consideration of our immediate foreground in the past, the 20th Century, and the quarter of our dial between 6 and 3 o’clock will address our imagining of the future. That half of this circle located behind Burning Man will be called “The Primordium”, and will represent remoter reaches of the past. It will arc backward in a great curving continuum toward 12 o’clock, our farthest point of travel and the source of Time itself. Individual installations will be sited on the gridwork of our clock according to their temporal relationship with other works of art. A detailed map will be provided to participants to guide them as they navigate the longitudes and latitudes of this spatio-temporal landscape.

Events and installations will occur in this chronological gallery throughout the duration of our event. In addition, it will also serve as the venue for an interactive art pageant. On Friday, the evening of September 3, a solemn procession of mourners will snake through the streets of our city, bearing with them a sarcophagus. This will signal the beginning of a journey that will trace a clockwise orbit of the hours. Commencing at the position 6 o’clock, this performance will move successively through presentations located at 9 and 12 and 3 o’clock.

6 O’clock
At sundown we will gather at this station of the clock to conduct an open casket funeral for the 20th Century. Participants will be invited to come forward and deposit in this coffin some tangible token of whatever burden our century has placed on them. Guided by the Spirit of Time, a towering three-story figure, we will begin to circumnavigate our clock, proceeding in solemn procession toward the somber towers of 9 o’clock.

9 O’clock
9 o’clock will take the form of a great open air factory. As smokestacks spout percussive flame and Tesla coils branch lightning, we’ll use specifically industrial technology to deconstruct our modern era. A “dis-assembly” line will fold, spindle and mutilate the collected corpus of our century using flame throwers, bear traps, compactors and beds of spikes. This vision of the means of mass production running in reverse will be a participant operated gallery of interactive art. Manic mechanical figures will move, twitching, amid walls of fire, as automatons, controlled by our participants, eternally pursue each other upon an endless succession of treadmills. Sublime and terrible, the world of 9 o’clock will represent a cathartic return to the industrial roots of our century. When our toil in this work place is complete, we will be free to enter the Primordium.

O’clock & The Primordium
The Primordium will feature works of art devoted to archaic time. Here antique epochs and forgotten ages will spread out like islands in a primordial sea, each one a charted point upon a curving grid that reaches ever backward into visions of the past. At 12 o’clock, the farthest navigable point in The Primordium, participants will encounter an immense bell tower. Its tolling knell will count the progress of the hours. The glowing disk of an illuminated clock, shining from its upper story like a lighthouse beacon on the shore of time, will mark it as that singularity from which our universe originates. Here we will gather for a final countdown, as centuries, decades, hours, minutes and micro-seconds compress into a single dimensionless instant. This contraction will create an epochal explosion, a primal event known to us as the Big Bang. Engulfing us, like a temporal tidal wave, the precipitate force of this powerful blast will send us hurtling back into the future.

3 O’clock
Inspired by recent field experiences in Haiti and their indoctrination in the rites of Vodou, the creators of the traditional Burning Man Opera will present a ritual of initiation and transformation entitled “Le Mystere de Papa Loko”. Preceded by nightly drum ceremonies open to all participants, this performance will reach a climax on Friday night as giant totems of Life and Death are set afire. Devotees will lead participants through a flaming portal as we celebrate our birth into a new millennium.