I ended my summer of 2006 with a trip to Burning Man. The event was
an indescribable arts festival in which forty thousand people came
together to celebrate the creativity of the human spirit. For one week,
a city was created in the desert by the participants who freely share
their gifts. There are many aspects to Burning Man, but as a sculptor I
was especially appreciative of the hundreds of stunning artworks. The
centerpiece of the city is the 40-foot man, shown above, which is
burned at the end of the celebrations. I can't begin to explain the
whole thing, but below are a few morsels from the feast:
Above is Serpent Mother, by The Flaming Lotus Girls, a
fiery steel dragon, some 150 feet long, roaring with
computer-controlled flames as the animatronic head and mouth gyrate. As
you might guess, fire is one of the many themes of Burning Man. In my
travels, I have made a point to visit many great sculpture parks
and museums, but nothing can compare to the exuberance and intensity of
Uchronia was an amazing cavernous construction some
50 feet tall, created by Jan Kriekels and Arne Quinze. Nicknamed The
Belgian Waffle, it was nailed
together by a crew of Belgians working for several weeks. In the image
above they are adding a few finishing pallets of 10-foot long 2-by-3's.
At night, it was lit up to become a freeform dance environment. Sadly,
I had to leave the afternoon before it burned, but I found a beautiful
video of the burn on their
The Big Round Cubatron, by Mark Lottor, was a large
3D array of
computer-controlled ping-pong ball size lights. It was programmed
with a long sequence of evolving patterns which created an immersive
hypnotic effect as you stared into its space.
Lovers of kinetic fire art were entranced by the flash, roar, and
dancing movement of Joe Bard's Pendul-up.
Five jets on the top of a gimbaled boom are individually controlled via
a push-button handset (a good distance away). The force of the
thrust sends the pendulum swinging and circling while the mace-like
counterweight at the bottom moves oppositely. For extra interactivity,
a volleyball thrown in by the crowd was repeatedly blown out by
well-aimed blasts of flame.
The art didn't have to be large, loud, and fiery to be creative and
affecting. I came across this beautiful piece while riding my bike way
out in the quiet darkness of the playa night. Its soft luminescence and
organic textures made me feel I was drifting along under water. Some
three feet tall, it was apparently made from cut up milk containers,
On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with large, loud, and
fiery! Costumes and events at Burning Man are a whole 'nuther
subject. I'll just say this band was hot...
The art vehicles which participants bring are simply stunning.
Consider Daisy, the solar powered tricycle. Driving her
silently around and seeing the beauties of the playa from up above the
dust was a joyful experience.
If you prefer to pedal your bike, then Ma'am, the mammoth
mammoth is the the thing for you. It is powered by four people who sit
inside pedaling it. I did a couple of miles in it, enjoying the
experience immensely. You haven't lived until you have steered a
mammoth through a three-point turn.
The highest technical achievement in an art vehicle can be seen in the
which walks on eight articulated legs. Watching it pound
its way along the playa was like science fiction. A crack team of
"arachno-engineering" students from UBC trucked it down from
Vancouver. They spent many hours in the hot sun making
last-minute welds and adjustments so we all could enjoy its thumping
I wanted to contribute a sculpture of my own to this rich environment,
but anything less than six feet might be lost in the scale of the
desert. Arriving by plane limited the size of what I could bring.
So I ended up designing the above sphere, made from sixty plywood
parts, each 32 inches long. It fits in carry-on luggage! The
components are all cut from one 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of quarter-inch
plywood. The total weight is less than ten pounds and the total cost is
ten dollars. Notches in each part allowed it to be quickly assembled on
site. I dyed the wood dark blue, so the sculpture would contrast
with the light dust of the playa.
The template above shows the pattern of each piece. I zipped them out
in a couple of hours on a band saw. The A slots mate with B slots to
make twelve pentagons. The C slots mate with D slots to make
twenty triangles. Each component is part of one triangle, one
pentagon and two large spherical rhombi.
Perhaps the above computer-generated rendering gives a clearer sense of
the structure. Notice the rings of of five co-planar parts, which are
parallel to another set of five parts. They outline equatorial bands.
Each part touches four other parts --- at its middle two notches it is
lifted and at its end notches it lifts two other parts. This
engineering principle of mutual support derives from drawings of
Leonardo da Vinci and has been used to great effect recently by the
Dutch sculptor Rinus Roelofs.
I have simply applied it in a slightly different geometric pattern here.
On saturday night at the end of the festival, the man is burned in a
giant ritual conflagration. (Love those lamps!) Many of the artist
participants also burn their artwork. Wanting to be part of this, on
saturday afternoon I rolled my sculpture across a mile or so of
desert to bring it to the man. Taking your ball out for a walk?
they asked. Yes, but more than that, my sculpture sits inside
the spectacle you see above, adding its small contribution to the
What a week Burning Man was! And the above is just an infinitesimal
fraction of all the wonderful people, wonderful art, and wonderful
P.S. Thank you to my fellow camp members at Camp I Am.