Peering outward from behind a mottled screen of vines and leaves, the Green Man does not speak or sleep; he waits. His meaning and his origins are largely lost to time — the Green Man wasn’t named till 1939. We know, however, that this type of enigmatic figure was the work of artists, anonymous craftsman whose unsigned work adorns the crevices and walls of medieval cathedrals. This year we will appropriate the Green Man and the primeval spell he casts on our imaginations for a modern purpose. Our theme concerns humanity’s relationship to nature. Do we, as conscious beings, exist outside of nature’s sway, or does its force impel us and inform the central root of who and what we are?
Beginning with the advent of the modern age, we have regarded nature as a beast that we can tame. We have built levees to contain the rush of rivers and rebuff the ocean’s swell; we have extracted oil from the earth to fuel the engines of our cars. We have constructed dams equipped with turbines that project electric power in a skein across the globe — our cities are cocooned in artificial light that rivals and occludes the stars. It’s very easy to presume we hold the upper hand. Yet levees break, and glaciers melt. The power of the tide when roused comes up to meet us with a challenge and a message that we can’t ignore.
Some say it’s our chief duty to preserve the natural world intact, protected from the ways of man. This is a worthy goal. And yet, if Burning Man has taught us anything, it’s that we can collaborate with nature. Only from immediate experience, not ideologies that stand outside of the created world, may we regenerate a sense of nature as it moves within us and flows through us. Quietly and patiently, the Green Man waits.
This year our art theme will express the immanence of nature in our lives in a variety of ways. The Burning Man will stand atop a structure that resembles green mountain peak. Nestled at its base will be the Green Man Pavilion, 30,000 square feet of shaded exhibition space for the display of interactive artistic, scientific and educational models, a “World’s Fair” of emerging technologies. Artists and inventors are invited to contribute. This pavilion will be surrounded by the “Mangrove” made from simulated ‘trees’ fashioned from recycled industrial materials. These artificial trees will not be burned: they will survive to subdivide the blue of other skies.
But we will do much more than this. In 2007, we will calculate the amount of climate changing gases that are released into the air by the construction and the burning of the Man and its pedestal. This is called a carbon footprint. Then we’ll sponsor projects in the outside world that will efface this imprint. Such actions might include the planting of trees or the development of non-polluting energy resources. Having played with fire, we’ll take care to cleanse its atmospheric playground.
This represents a first symbolic step aimed at redressing nature’s balance. In its sum, this maiden effort may seem small. Widespread cheatgrass and sagebrush fires annually sweep the Nevada landscape, releasing far more carbon dioxide than the entire infrastructure of Black Rock City. Yet our endeavor constitutes a kind of contemplation of our place within the natural world. Thousands of Burning Man participants, who carefully inspect their campsites for any lingering trace of litter, inevitably enhance their everyday awareness of the impact of their actions on the world. It’s difficult, upon returning home, to thoughtlessly discard one’s refuse in the street. In this spirit, we’ll encourage everyone to calculate the carbon footprint of their campsite and make efforts to redress it. To learn how you may participate, see www.burnerswithoutborders.org. For more information concerning how one can calculate a carbon footprint, see the participant-created website, www.coolingman.org.
Apart from and beyond such practical concerns, we encourage every artist to elicit nature’s power from a much more personal and primal source of consciousness. Natural variation will ensure that each such vision is unique and unpredictable, producing artwork as diverse as all the different gifts that people bring to Burning Man. Hidden behind the masks of convention, there is surely a Green Woman or Green Man in every one of us.
Burning Man’s participants take pride in being individuals. They strive to radically express themselves. Yet we are also interdependent members of a complex and emergent culture. Our culture has the power to extend itself and to create — sans any conscious plan — completely unanticipated forms of human connection. As creators and as members of a culture, we are each a vital part of this phenomenal process. Already, its expansion is occurring at a rate of natural increase, sprouting up in niches and environments that Burning Man’s society provides around the globe. The time has come to bring the Green Man home.
As always, any work of art, regardless of our theme, is welcome at our event. If you are planning to do fire art or wish to install a work of art on the open playa, please see our Art Guidelines for more information. For more information about the greening of Burning Man, and how to green your burn, visit the Environment section of the website.