Megatropolis. Burning by Kiwi, Otto. Crew photo: Mattdork (2010).
The Nevada desert art festival Burning Man 2010 just finished last weekend. A first-time visitor returned from it a couple of days ago, announcing that it changed his life! This year's theme was Metropolis. There is a report on it here. The Burning Blog on the official Burning Man site has several pictures. Burning Man, named for its burning of a giant wooden effigy on the Saturday night of the event, began in 1986 as part of a summer solstice art happening. Since then it's moved to Labour Day weekend and grown into a massive (and, critics argue, tacitly commercial) undertaking. For the first time, attendance hit over the 50,000 mark this year. But enthusiasts swear by Burning Man as an experience that can't be explained unless you go there and see it for yourself.
The allure of Burning Man lies in its combination of primal, ancient ritual (think - Edward Woodward in the Wicker Man or the 2006 remake with Nicholas Cage) with a futuristic sensibility that is weirdly stripped of all technology. Cell phones are not used (no signals), and people take a breather from the relentless pressure of tech gadgetry dominating our lives. There is also a 'leave no trace' policy, where the desert is picked clean of all trash and signs of human presence afterwards. Burning Man allows visitors to start thinking in a different way. The festival is located at the base of what was once the Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, now referred to as the playa. These policies and this location tangibly enforce a sensation of time travel back to Roman times, and possibly much earlier. In this primordial atmosphere, Burning Man revives a ritual that goes back to a human sacrifice once practiced by the Ancient Gauls and reported by Julius Caesar. Originally, people were burned alive inside the Wicker Man effigy.
Megatropolis (before burning). Photo Credit: Burning Blog (2010).
Bliss Dance. By Marco Cochrane. Crew photo: Xeeliz (2010). For a site devoted to this 40-foot-high piece, go here.
According to a report at philly.com, Cochrane's Bliss Dance (above) "has more than 55,000 welds and was created in a system of pantograph modeling without the assistance of any design software." Burning Man's big art pieces morph between a day and night existence, epitomized by the burning of some of the sculptures at night, like Megatropolis (above). The dual identity of the pieces hints that there's more to this event than primal cultural retrogression.
Night View. Future's Past. By Kate Raudenbush. Photo Credit: The Blight.net (2010). Raudenbush's sculpture is opposite the actual Burning Man (in the distance).
A new concept of Retro-Futurism: The official 2010 Burning Man poster.
For such an anti-urban event, Burning Man took on a peculiarly futuristic tone with its theme this year of Metropolis. For my recent blog post on the history of the Metropolis as a symbol of the future, go here. The use of the theme at BM shows how the symbol is evolving in terms of what kind of future the Metropolis represents.
Burning Man also points toward a peculiarly organic future, as with the outline of giant flower sculptures (below), which look like flora from another planet. A landscape from a 1950s sci-fi B-movie is made real, and at the same time, reminds us of our current search for habitable planets around other stars and current missions exploring our own solar system.
Another BM scene - after an unexpected rainfall in the desert. Photo Credit: Burning Blog (2010).
This year's Man was the tallest ever - he stood 104 feet high! Photo Credit: Burning Blog (2010).
This is another example where cultural rituals and relics that are emblematic of the deep past are being revived to depict our future. It's another redefinition of the term 'Retro-Futurism.' And so the Man was burned - until next year.
View all posts on redefining Retro-Futurism.