For over 20 years, Burning Man has featured the use of fire as an artistic medium as well as a tool of transformation and sacred ritual. With this emphasis comes the underlying responsibility to ensure that burning happens in a way that is safe for both performer and participant.
In 2005, the team worked on the process for data intake from artists and the way Performance Safety staff members are dispatched. This process was streamlined with much success. Art that incorporated fire was checked in at the Artery, and information passed to a PST member who checked in with the artist. The speed of this process was greatly improved. New members were again added for 2005, and the PST worked as an efficient team.
Fire Dream Circle was a new configuration of Flame Effect artwork that was placed between the Man and the Temple of Dreams. The center point of this fire activity was the Dreamer by Pepe Ozan, a large head protruding from the playa surface.
A number of artworks encircled the Dreamer:
- El Diablo by Jack Shroll, a jet powered, fire-spewing demon.
- The Angel of the Apocalypse by the Flaming Lotus Girls burned all night and into the morning, creating a space with warmth and surprises and thrilling participants.
- The Fire Pod by Buphalo showed the remains of an alien seedpod crashed into the playa and spewing fire as it germinated.
- Ajna by Kasia Wojnarski sought to create a triangular area surrounded with fire that participants were invited to enter (accompanied by the artist) and move within the flaming representation of the Third Eye.
- Pyrokinetics by Danya Parkinson and Joe Bard featured two massive Fire Pendulums that swung wildly under the power of four opposing propane jets, controlled by participants.
- Synapses by Charlie Smith and Jamie Ladet, the only Open Fire artwork within the Fire Dream Circle, was a cluster of six metal hearths created during separate metal workshops within the Burning Man regional events in New York, Georgia, Texas, California, and Washington.
The Fire Dream Circle burned all night throughout the event, drawing participants out into the playa to experience the light, warmth, and community created by these artists. Upon reflection, some of the smaller fire art in this area was overshadowed by the larger pieces. Although all the pieces in this area were impressive, some seemed to deserve buffers of space separating them from other projects to be fully appreciated. Placement plans will address this issue in 2006.
Playa nights also featured the burning of numerous large-scale Open Fire art work such as:
- The ClockWorks by Liam McNamara, an elaborately constructed 30-foot clock tower that chimed eerily throughout the event before being consumed in a blaze at the ringing of midnight Sunday night.
- Quixotic Windmill by Eric Miller drew a crowd charged with anticipation, awaiting the flaming charge of the knights as they spun toward their fiery fate.
- Temple of Dreams by Mark Grieve and the Temple Crew continued the tradition of a sacred space that inspired remembrance and emotion. The crowds were almost silent as the flames brought each individual closer to powerful memories.
The burning of any one of these pieces can be considered a large endeavor. Each of these burns required a collection of equipment for perimeter control. Equipment was moved with the help of Art Support Services (ASS) and the Black Rock Rangers. Black Rock City Emergency Services Department (ESD) supplied personnel and fire suppression equipment that moved successfully from piece to piece.
Along with other significant changes to the theme camp areas, community burn barrels and small-scale fire art projects were permitted within the camping areas. Participants did a great job of keeping these works under control. Upon spot inspection, most camps were found to have sufficient fire extinguishers and at least one person acting as fire watch.
The terms Open Fire and Flame Effects describe different fire classifications, but participants still confuse them when filling out the Art Questionnaire, despite efforts to clarify the definitions.
Open Fire – Fire ranging from candles to materials fully engulfed in flames.
Flame Effects – Flames that are automated, switched, pressurized, or having any action other than simply being lit on fire; this category includes projects using propane or liquid fuels.
Fuel was again a challenge on the playa, and 2005 saw significant increases in the amounts of fuel used. Flame Effects art burned over 3,500 gallons of propane, up from 2,300 gallons last year, as well as hundreds of gallons of liquid fuel. With pre-arrangements with artists, Black Rock City Gas Works supplied fuel from dawn until late at night before and during the event. The 2005 event attracted attention from the Butane Propane News, a professional journal of the LP gas industry. A reporter spent several days riding along with BRC fuels team members as they made their rounds. The result was an article titled “Fueling Artistic Expression Puts Propane in the Spotlight – Burning Man’s need for propane is not an average load,” published in the December 2005 issue.
The Performance Safety Team has asked artists to design their own burn platforms to prevent damage to the playa. Artists often spend a significant amount of resources and time in their platform design and construction but with mixed success in 2005. In 2006, more uniform guidelines will be forthcoming that will be easier to understand and implement. Also a search within the organization will check for an accumulation of recycled items that can be used for burn platforms, saving money and time for artists and for the organization.
Over the years, Burning Man has become a leader in fire performance and fire art safety. The event is now an example not only among the growing regional network but also for other groups seeking to incorporate fire art into their own events. Burning Man has also been working with local and national fire departments and officials to understand and simplify permits as well as regulations for such events. In 2006, Burning Man will strive to work with fire performance groups, fire artists, and fire officials to create an open and useful dialogue.
Dave X and Crimson Rose