30 Burning Man Art Installations
Each August, Black Rock Desert in Nevada, US turns to an amazingly vibrant city, an art and community experiment dedicated to radical self reliance and self expression.
Named after the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy which takes place each year, Burning Man, a week-long festival that has been running since 1986, has quickly established itself in the history of unconventional art events as one of the most amazing spots you have to add to your bucket list of places to visit during your lifetime.
What started in the mid-80s at San Francisco’s Baker Beach as a summer solstice community celebration, soon turned into an annual event growing tremendously each year. Already in 1990, the Burning Man became an 8-day festival in Black Rock City with over 50,000 participants, many of them being unconventional artists dedicated to various outsider and visionary artistic endeavors. Every year, the festival allocates a part of its ticket sale revenues to funding select art projects including performance art and installations that are collaborative, community-oriented and interactive in nature.
Today, as the 2018 event kicks off, we will take you on a short trip to this extraordinary place and present you, in no particular order, our choice of the thirty most innovative installations and sculptures showcased by the Burning Man festival.
Featured images: Burning Man 2014 – Courtesy of Art Gimbel; Burning Man 2014 – Photo Credits Trey Ratcliff; Burning Man 2014 – Photo Credits Victor Habchy; Burning Man 2015 – Photo Credits Jim Urquhart; Burning Man 2016 – image via sfcurbed.com; Burning Man Best-Of Community Gallery – image via americaaljazeera.com
We start off with a breathtaking Bliss Dance made in 2010 by Marco Cochrane. This American sculptor, born in Venice, Italy, and best known for his nude figures of empowered women, designed and masterfully constructed his unique steel piece utilizing modern, cutting edge design.
Standing almost fourteen meters tall and weighing well over three tons, Bliss Dance represents a free, naked woman dancing with her eyes closed, celebrating humanity and showing captivating feminine beauty, power and strength, a central theme in all of Cochrane’s work.
After Burning Man of 2010, Marco Cochrane’s Bliss Dance, the first in an eventual trilogy of sculptures of the dancer and singer Deja Solis, was given a permanent location on San Francisco’s Treasure Island where it remains as of 2014.
You are the Key
Kickstarter co-funded project, You are the Key was showcased at Burning Man Festival 2013. Created by Ralitsa Ivanova, a Bulgarian abstract artist and graphic designer living in Florida, it is a seemingly simple designed sculpture of greater meaning.
This three meters tall and eight meters long interactive sculpture made out of plywood, represents a key on which hundreds of letters form out questions like “What are you looking for?” and “What are you waiting for?” with an answer “YOU” made out as the lever, the part that opens the lock. Two of the secondary, spinning wheels allow viewers to interact with the sculpture and become participants in this art project.
The Penrose Triangle
The Penrose Triangle, a Kickstarter co-funded artwork made by area sculptors Blake Courter and Blake Courtney, was part of Burning Man 2013 Honorarium Project. This climbable, almost six meters tall LED–illuminated mind-boggling creation made of aluminum and steel represents a three-dimensional illusion, an impossible object originally created by the Swedish creator Oscar Rautersvard in 1934 and popularized in the 1950s.
To meet the Burning Man standards, Courter and Courtney, decided to tackle a project that will mess with the minds of those viewing it from any angle, and give them an activity to enjoy at the same time, as their Penrose Triangle creation was executed in the form of childlike wonderments found in playgrounds.
Big Round Cubatron
Showcased during Burning Man of 2006, Big Round Cubatron, at the time the world’s largest three-dimensional full color dynamic light figure, was created by Mark Lottor, a successful software and hardware creator in cooperation with 3WayLabs (then known as Network Wizards), a company specialized in designing and building unique lighting creations for the consumer and entertainment sectors.
Creation of bedazzling visual appearance, Big Round Cubatron is an forty feet in diameter and 10 feet high array of light arranged in circle, made using custom computer technology, with specially designed circuit boards and programming for microprocessor chips to independently manipulate each of 6720 lights.
Embrace is a Kickstarter co-funded project showcased during the Burning Man 2014 Honorarium Installations Project. Vying for the official Temple at Burning Man and created by The Pier Group as their sixth Burning Man project, it is a 24 meters tall wooden sculpture of two human figures in an embrace. with two large cavernous cathedral-like spaces that make up the base, one inside each body, and a massive heart hanging from the ceiling.
With five explorable stories and being meant to explore the idea of collective consciousness, Embrace is a an exceptional monument erected in honor of human relationships, both present and past. It was lit up and burned to the ground this Friday morning in a spectacular, massive flame.
Big Rig Jig
Constructed in 2007 from two disused and repurposed 18-wheeler oil tanker trucks welded together, Big Rig Jig by an American sculptor Mike Ross, known for his large scale public art projects, is one the most impressive projects ever created for Burning Man.
Inspiring thoughts of wonder, fear and instability, this real size, 14 meters tall, semi-truck creation serves both as a sculpture and an architectural space, as visitors may enter it, climb through it and emerge at the top of it. Representing the relationship between humankind and nature. Ross’ breathtaking Big Rig Jig piece, built at the American Steel art fabrication shop in Oakland, California, is a powerful commentary of America’s unsustainable oil economy.
Believe is a Burning Man 2013 Honorarium art piece created by American artistic couple Laura Kimpton, fine art painter, sculptor and assemblage artist, and Jeff Schomberg, sculptor, installation artist and art car builder. Part of the Large Word Series, Believe was their fifth Burning Man project.
Powerful in evoking so many different feelings and emotions with a single word made out of the iconic metal letters, just like their previous giant letter sculptures (Mom, Oink, Love and Ego), Believe is encouraging people to interact with it on their own terms and to contemplate what they believe and how their beliefs affect their lives.
Fire of Fires
Since 2000, Burning Man has been commissioning artists to build Burning Man Temples which represent spiritual side of Black Rock City. Such is this temple named Fire of Fires, created by David Umlas, Marrilee Ratcliffe and Community Art Makers for the Burning Man of 2009 and traditionally burned down in a gigantic flame during the festival on the playa.
It was constructed from non-treated framing lumber and plywood and it consisted of six “culture” pods built around the central temple, each pod depicting six different traditional cultural styles of Asia, Africa, India, Middle East, Europe and Americas. Encased in thirty-two vertical feet of clear polycarbonate sheeting, nine gas lamps came alive as a tornado of flame as participants interacted with the Temple.
Gon KiRin is a giant fire-breathing light dragon kinetic sculpture on wheels, made of scrap metal and found objects, created in 2010 by Teddy Lo, a Hong Kong based tech-art LED artist, and Ryan C. Doyle, a mechanical and interactive visual artist from Detroit.
This spectacular, 20 meters long and 4 meters high art car was built on a dump truck chassis, and it has hydraulics and controls modified to create articulation of the prehistoric looking skull, neck and tail. Covered with more than 750 meters of color-changing LEDs, the Gon KiRin dragon is equipped with a massive propane cannon, its legs were made out of old rubber tires, and its belly incorporates interactive sound system and comfortable sofas.
As it is the case with all other Burning Man sculptures, audience members were allowed and encouraged to navigate and operate it.
Duel Nature is a piece made of plasma cut steel, steel tubing and red acrylic mirror, showcased during the Burning Man of 2006. It was created by Kate Raudenbush, a prominent New York City based sculptor who creates allegorical environments as a form of social dialogue, and a regular Burning Man creator.
Duel Nature is a twisted barricade of metal in the shape of an enormous, DNA-like double helix spirals. Entering this 10 meters wide red, organic work, visitors find themselves in a completely different and bedazzling world of duality, which represents human Duel Nature and suggests human conditions of violence, fear and division.
Gigantic yet Peaceful Contemplation Shelter
The Temple of Transition from 2011 was one of the largest installations in the festival’s 30-year-long history. It was designed by Chris Hankins, Diarmaid Horkan and the International Art Megacrew movement, which consists of 150 people from around the world – Reno in Nevada, New Zealand, Vancouver, and Ireland.
This breathtakingly beautiful structure was the 5th tallest wooden construction in the world with its 126 feet of multiple hexagonal towers. Similarly to the other large-scale temple installations featured at the Burning Men, The Temple of Transition was a peaceful place in the Black Rock Desert, meant to stimulate emotional harmony, mindfulness, and appreciation of visual arts.
Featured image: Chris Hankins and Diarmaid Horkan – Temple of Transition – Photo Credits Joffrey Middleton
Celebrating the Rite of Passage
A rite of passage is an important ceremony celebrated by the most diverse cultures and arts in the world and it marks the transition from one phase of life to another.
This figure from 2006 Burning Man, called Passage, is an affectionate display of motherhood. It was constructed by two creators, Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito and it consisted of two separate figures – a mother and a child walking side by side. The journey from childhood to motherhood was represented by a symbolic trail of burning footprints which slowly dissolve into the sand as we get further from the installation.
Featured image: Das Mann and Karen Cusolito – Passage, 2006 – image via matadornetwork.com
Forest Made of Steel
This mysterious piece called the Celtic Forest, with flaming candelabra trees made of steel, was a joint effort of three artists – Laura Kimpton, Bob Hofmann, and Jeff Schomberg. The structure was made in 2007 and it was approximately 17 feet tall. The candelabra trees were positioned 25 feet apart at the four sides of the compass, while the figure of Belisama, the Celtic goddess of fire and muse of poetry, was at the very center of this circle made of trees.
The figure of Belisama was chained to several steel sculptures in the Black Rock playa, making her inseparable from the surroundings and sending an environmental message.
Featured image: Laura Kimpton, Bob Hofmann, and Jeff Schomberg – Celtic Forest, 2008 – image via matadornetwork.com
Temple of Hope: Adventure into Another World
Mark Grieve’s Temple of Hope from 2006 was a true ethereal masterpiece. Its dreamlike construction was very intricate and puzzling – conical towers, hidden courtyards, and alleyways between the towers looked like an otherworldly architecture, something that can take us on an adventure into the unknown realm of arts. The towers of this temple were built from different wooden pieces, lumber, and elegant white fabrics along with discreet floral motifs.
Temple of Hope was one of the chief gathering points in Black Rock City during 2006 Burning Man, since the main theme of this festival were the emotions of hope and fear.
Featured image: Mark Grieve – Temple of Hope, 2006 – Photo Credits Scott London
Mimicking the Natural Design
Kirsten Berg from Newark, CA designed this hypnotizing installation for 2015 Burning Man. Compound I was a glistening pillar of eyeballs resembling the compound eyes of insects. It featured numberless mirrored spheres and convex mirrors, placed one atop the other to a height of 18 inches.
This psychedelic piece resembling an alien-like rock formation aimed at referencing not only compound eyes of insects but also Buddha’s head and the Mandelbrot fractal. Since our eyes are the instruments of reflection and the Compound I is the object of reflection, it blurs the boundaries between different perspectives and it supports the idea of interconnectedness, which is central to the Burning Man philosophy.
Featured image: Kirsten Berg – Compound I – image via beautyandbeauties.com
Interwoven Geometric Patterns
Deep Thought was an unusual geometric form made by HYBYCOZO, a creator from San Francisco, CA. It was one of the most popular pieces during 2015 Burning Man since it looked equally mesmerizing by day and by night.
Deep Thought was located in the festival’s construction zone and was designed as a triambic icosahedron. This extraordinary shape was made of 60 golden panels casting colorful shadows all over the festival grounds. The complex installation was also a great place for contemplation on life and universe because the visitors were immersed into an unpredictable interplay of geometric patterns and colorful lights.
Featured image: Hybycozo – Deep Thought, 2015 – Courtesy of Burning Man Gallery
Return to Innocence
The artwork Love, made by a Ukrainian creator Alexandr Milov for 2015 Burning Man, depicts a universal conflict between a man and a woman as well as the outer and inner human nature. The main figures of man and woman are made in the form of metal cages, while their inner selves, captivated inside the cages, are portrayed as children made from a subtle, semi-transparent material.
As the night falls, the inner part of the figure, the children trapped within the cages of adult bodies, start to shine. The shining symbolizes purity and return to innocence once the dark time arrives and people need to rely on each other despite their unresolved conflicts.
Featured image: Alexandr Milov – Love, 2015 – image via youtube.com
Home of Fortune Tellers and Fire Art
The entire Department of Public Arts from New Xishi City in Taiwan participated in 2015 Burning Man, with their gigantic installation called Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea. This temple, with its traditional Asian architecture, decorative lanterns, and ethereal lotus flowers, was showcasing interactive fire art, fireworks, and performance, and it was also hosting various fortune tellers and magicians.
In the Temple of Mazu, ancient Asian practices and old magical rites were brought back to life, thanks to the solitary yet beautiful Black Rock City and its surrounding desert.
Featured image: Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea, 2015 – image via makingteamstips.com
Looking for Extraterrestrials
The Cradle of Mir, made by Russian artists Alexander Mironov and Sema Payain, and assisted by the Empty Hills crew, wasn’t exactly a temple. It was more of a peaceful place where 2013 Burning Man visitors could enjoy the view of the Orbital Station and perceive it as a powerful connection between the Earth and the Universe.
The cradle was constructed as a quadrilateral pyramid, with the wooden model of the Mir station placed inside of it. By observing the famous Mir station, participants of the festival could recall the history of human efforts to connect with extraterrestrial civilizations.
Featured image: Alexander Mironov and Sema Payain – Cradle of Mir, 2013 – Photo Credits David Sun Kong
Climbable Howling Coyote
The large-scale figure of coyote made from steel was one of the most visited installations during 2013 Burning Man. Made by Bryan Tedrick from Glen Ellen in California, this piece was 25 inches tall and 24 inches wide and its head was fully movable – it could rotate 360 degrees.
Coyote was also climbable and it was a perfect corner for taking rest and napping since the work was big enough to host up to 4-5 people inside of its belly. The coyote is native to wild parts of Southwestern United States, just like Black Rock City, so the artwork was also paying homage to this wolf-like desert animal.
Featured image: Bryan Tedrick – Coyote, 2013 – image via wikipedia.org
LED Chill Zone
The outdoor chill zone at 2016 Burning Man called Firmament was designed by experienced LED mastermind Christopher Schardt. This colorful installation looks like a giant tent made of flowers and visitors enjoy taking rest underneath it while observing the magical interplay of lights and densely packed floral forms.
“I was very surprised about how many visitors were always there at Firmament, carpeting the playa with themselves,” the artist claimed, thrilled by the popularity of his installation.
Firmament became an important gathering point for many festivalgoers, especially during the nighttime at Black Rock City playa.
Featured image: Christopher Schardt – Firmament, 2016 – Photo Credits Rand Larson
Delicate Desert Spirits
The installation mastermind and photographer from New York City, Spencer Tunick, is best known for his controversial mass-nudity shoots. He travels across the world to organize unique installations made up of hundreds of nude volunteers and in 2013 he participated in the Burning Man festival as well.
Tunick invited men, women and any gender identity visitors of Burning Man to become a part of his visionary installation called Desert Spirits. This project was slightly different from Spencer’s usual work since the people weren’t entirely naked – all of them were wearing transparent cloaks, resembling the depictions of ghosts or spirits. In this way, Tunick has shown his appreciation for the spiritual nature of the festival.
Featured image: Spencer Tunick – Desert Spirits, 2013 – image via barnebys.co.uk
Pulse and Bloom - Visualizing Heartbeats
Pulse and Bloom was an interactive social art installation that received the Burning Man Honorarium Art Grant in 2014 and it has been featured in international press, due to its popularity. This highly original installation visualized participants’ heartbeats and it invited up to 40 people to sync their heartbeats in rhythmic patterns.
Pulse and Bloom consisted of lotus flowers and pulse sensors mounted on their stems. When a participant placed their hand on the sensor, the flower came alive and started to beat simultaneously with their heart. The visual creator behind this project is called Shilo Shiv Suleman and he likes to focus on the modern blend of magic and technology.
Featured image: Shilo Shiv Suleman – Pulse & Bloom, 2014 – image via ofbrooklyn.com
Bryan Tedrick comes back to 2016 Burning Man with his newest animal figure – the massive boar.
Similarly to his Coyote from 2013, Lord Snort is a large-scale climbable structure, ideal for adventurous visitors to brush up their climbing skills. This piece is also favored by many photographers because of its monumental atmosphere and complex structure as well as the fact that it attracts a lot of attention – even though it’s a sturdy creation made of metal and wires, it rotates easily and it’s quite challenging to get on top of it.
Featured image: Bryan Tedrick – Lord Snort, 2016 – image via dailymail.co.uk
Shipwreck in the Desert
The Pier group guided by Matt Schultz constructed a 60 feet long shipwreck for 2012 Burning Man. The festival visitors had the opportunity to explore the three levels of this giant ship – hull, crew deck and main deck.
The Pier resonated well with the playa visitors because it stirred their imagination – a shipwreck in the middle of a desert sounds bizarre, even contradictory. It captured the people’s sense of wonder and it made them somewhat nostalgic, ruminating over various fairly tales and cartoons about boats and sailors they used to enjoy while they were children.
Featured image: Matt Schultz – Pier, 2012 – image via peripateticbone.com
Burning the Past for a Better Future
This giant web made of wood cost around $800,000 and it produced a staggering 1.1 million kWh of heat when it burned. Uchronian aka The Belgian Waffle was constructed by Jan Kriekels, Arne Quinze, Maurice Englen, and the Uchronia Crew. Representing a utopian life, it shared the message of burning the past in order to make a better future.
The Belgian artists regularly uploaded the installation process on their website, but it was even more beautiful to watch live the giant flame this 200 feet long installation has produced.
Featured image: Uchronian, 2006 – Photo Credits Splatworld
Downfall of Our Civilization
Every beginning starts with an end and every end has a cloud of controversy. Crude Awakening by Dan Das Mann, Karen Cusolito, Black Rock FX, Pyrokinetics, Nate Smith, Mark Perez, and MonkeyBoy sparked the interest of visitors with its vision of the fossil-fueled downfall of our civilization. When we say sparked, we mean it literally, since the message was spread around with 900 gallons of jet fuel and 2,000 gallons of liquid propane.
This installation, consisting of eight metal human figures, was divided into three parts – construction, destruction, and rebirth. This piece was meant to emphasize the worshipful relationship and dependence our civilization has toward oil.
Featured image: Crude Awakening, 2007 – image via damer.com
Transition to the Afterlife
Death is not the end; it’s just another step in the infinite journey we are destined to go through. Charon by Peter Hudson is the representation of one of those steps, specifically the transition to the afterlife.
This three-dimensional installment of human beings helplessly rotating and floating in the air might be shocking at first, but the message it sends is a positive one. We might be helpless when it comes to the facts of death and afterlife, but this makes us realize the freedom and power we have right now, in this life.
Featured image: Peter Hudson – Charon, 2011 – Photo Credits Scott London
Don’t Forget the Core Values
A picture is worth a thousand words, but what if the words were a picture, or in this case an installation? Love by Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg sends the simplest message we all seem to forget easily because we tend to overanalyze our problems.
Rather than getting tangled in an infinite space of overthinking, Kimpton and Schomberg took the simple route. Love yourself and the mankind, don’t ever lose hope and everything will get better – it’s just a matter of time. Kimpton and Schomberg are famous for the Big Words series and Love from 2011 Burning Man proved to be another great success for this inspiring duo.
Featured image: Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg – Love, 2011 – image via wekoko.com
Overcoming the Injustice with Love
Juno, the goddess of fertility, the protectress of women and guardian of marriage well-known in the Western history, was the inspiration for The Temple of Juno by David Best. Although it might seem like an homage to the suffering inflicted by the world’s injustice, this temple was a warm and comforting place in the middle of Black Rock City playa.
Before burning this beautiful installation down, the artists organized the exhibition of messages, mementos, and many other personal items. The large quantity of such items created a strong message of love and tolerance, proving how everyone is different yet the same when it comes to our core values and dreams.
Featured image: David Best – Temple of Juno, 2012 – Photo Credits Scott London. All images used for illustrative purposes only.