Art in the dust

October 4, 2017

e“For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19
This could be a good description of Burning Man - a festival that takes place every year year in Nevada, for the 31 years already. 


It's a festival where non commercialism and nine more principles make up its core. I’ve decided to write this blog entry after my first visit there.
The way participants are encouraged to be a part of a greater cause, to be more social, helpful and not judgmental of other people's choices, combined with the complete lack of commercialism, contradicts the contemporary competitive american lifestyle. That is in my opinion, one of the main festival’s appealing factors.
Another principle which I found very easy to relate to is called ‘Leave no trace’, or as the locals call it LNT. The basic idea is to encourage self responsibility. Everybody should make sure they leave nothing behind. By the time the festival is over, the desert goes back to what it was before. Almost no trace of human activity is left behind. This takes place every year.

I am sure that many philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists have written many essays about this Burning Man phenomena, which also takes place in other countries worldwide.

I would like to write about the art and aesthetics point of view.



A major activity that Burning Man is based on is the creation of bizarre, and sometimes bigger than life art masterpieces. I will not go through the history of Burning Man, as some of it (at least the early years) is based on rumors. I prefer to write based on my own experience from my visit this year - 2017.


There are two main artworks that are built every year - the man and the temple.

The man, usually a 40 feet high statue, is erected in the exact center of the festival. Behind it, is the temple. While the man’s shape is always the same, the temple is a different architectural masterpiece every year.  Both of them are burned at the end of the festival which is a week long.

The area where all the art installations are located is called the ‘playa’. The playa is partly surrounded by the ‘city’ which is designed in a circular shape. The shape of the entire festival is a real piece of work. Especially when seen from an airplane. It's circular shape shape, divided by crossing streets, reminds me of mystical ancient forms like those that were used in the ancient times as calendars and places for pagan rituals. The city and the playa are huge. Most people use bicycles to move around.


Unlike a museum or a gallery, all the art pieces on the playa are exposed to the elements. During the day it's usually sunny (besides dust storms that engulf everything with thick clouds of dust). During the night it's pitch dark (besides the city 's artificial lights). It is important for the artists and designers to address those issues. How their work will be perceived by spectators during different times of the day. It is very common for most of the works to incorporate lights. Usually powerful LEDs. Some of them incorporate physical mechanisms. 

Since playa is so dusty, it is constantly covered by a one or two meters high layer of floating dust particles which in turn give it a mystical appearance. 
However, during the night, when the weather allows many people to go out from their sun hideouts, the playa looks at its best. Its enormous size, combined with the lights coming out of the artworks, cars, people and their bicycles, turn it into a place that does not exist anywhere on earth during that week.

It's a place with constant movement. A place with no borders - meaning there are no fences or barriers of any kind. Everything takes place on this flat ground. Everything is accessible.