For today’s post on Burning Man 2017, I have picked out a series of sculptures that reflect a variety of approaches by Black Rock City artists to the human form ranging from the abstract to the realistic while using materials including metal, wood, plastic and cement. Many of the pieces have a spiritual component and most of the artists have had work at Burning Man in previous years.
TONGLEN by Ryan Mathern from Atlanta, Georgia
My wife, Peggy, picked this sculpture out from my photos as one of her favorites at Burning Man this year. Tonglen is a Buddhist meditation practice of receiving negative energy when breathing in and releasing positive energy when breathing out. You breathe in suffering; you breathe out compassion. It is a form of meditation practiced by the Dalai Lama.
Mathern’s work incorporated this idea by including a diamond-shaped burning chamber with a heart-shaped bellows underneath. Fire would come out of the sculpture’s mouth and light up the Tibetan script that encircled the face. I didn’t see this piece lit up but found it quite striking in the day.
THE BRIDGE AND THE CAGE by Valerie Elizabeth Mallory from Oakland, California
This diorama by Elizabeth Mallory represents people crossing a bridge from one stage in life to another— responding to the human condition of wanting to improve their lives, to cross over to a better existence. The cage reflects a metaphor that people occasionally get stuck, are imprisoned on their odyssey toward a different life by ignorance and a tendency to see the world in black and white.
The casts for this sculpture were made from volunteers by using cold cast resin and alginate. Each cast took 12-36 hours to complete. Art doesn’t get any more real.
MAYA’S MIND by Mischell Riley from Carson City, Nevada
I didn’t recognize the sculpture for what it was, a bust of Maya Angelo. I saw a tall, powerful figure done in classical style. Once I read about Riley’s work, I became even more impressed. Her intention is to capture a number of women who are making or have made a difference in the world. Her next piece will be Jane Goodall. She works out of the Generator, a large warehouse space in Reno where a number of art pieces for Burning Man have been created.
THUNDERBIRDS by James Tyler from Haverstraw, New York
The Thunderbird is a common theme in both Native American and First Nation mythology. Peggy and I have found them represented in the Totem Poles of the Northwest and the petroglyphs of the Southwest. Tyler’s unique work provides another, more human perspective, but I felt that it was true to the spirit of the early natives who saw them as a powerful force in their lives.
SOLACII by Tigre Bailando and Anastazia Louise Aranaga from Oakland, California
This 20-foot tall sculpture rising out of the desert pulled me to her. When I climbed off my bike, a woman who was sitting inside the sculpture said, “You have to come in here and listen.” I looked up at the three expressive faces, the four hands, and the tattered, pieced together garment and could only wonder what I would hear. It was like being inside a person’s body listening to her beating heart and breathing, very peaceful, a refuge— a womb with a view (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
TARA MECHANI by Dana Albany from San Francisco, California
I stopped off to see Tara mechani several times as I made my way out into the Playa. It seemed like there were always women standing there, staring up at the sculpture, and taking photos. The Tara part of the sculptures name comes from the female Buddha, Tara. The mechani came from the fact that her body was also robot like, fusing the past and the future.
ACTION FIGURE FAMILY by Jallen Rix from Palm Springs, California
“Imagine walking across the Playa and seeing a set of colorful shapes in the distance. As you are drawn closer, you see those shapes to be life-size statues, and the closer you get the more you begin to see that they are all covered in small toys. But not just any toys: hundreds of action-figures of all kinds of styles, backgrounds, comic books, and genres.”
I read this description from Burning Man’s review of 2017 art and knew that I had to go find Rix’s work. I’d missed it on my first ride through the Playa. I was not disappointed. Strange stuff.
PROMETHEAN PASSION (The Fire Inside) by Matthew Welter of Carson City, Nevada
The first time I became aware of Welter’s work was a Statue of Liberty he had carved for Burning Man. It was an impressive piece, reaching skyward with her torch proudly displayed. Liberty has been a consistent theme of Welter’s over the years. As has been fire. His sculptures are burned from the inside out, but are not allowed to burn completely. Thus creating a new piece of art. This year’s work, Promethean Passion, is named after the Greek legend Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity. Zeus was not happy. He chained Prometheus to a rock and had an eagle eat out his liver. Each night Prometheus would grow a new one and each day it would once again be eaten by an eagle. Not nice.
And, in conclusion for this post, four other sculptures.
NEXT BLOG: The mystical art of Mystic Camp.