For one week every year, Nevada’s windswept Black Rock Desert is descended upon by over 65,000 revellers for Burning Man festival. Something of a massive social experiment, the festival built around ideas of community, art, gift-giving and what is called “radical self-reliance” takes its name from the ritualistic burning of a towering wooden effigy on the Saturday night. In its simplest incarnation, Burning Man is a seven-day desert rave where, blinded by dust and no doubt half-delirious from the sun, festival-goers erect a makeshift city for a surreal week of madness. But it is also host to a number of strange and fantastic happenings and site-specific installations and sculpture, including a mechanised fire-breathing octopus, lofty wooden temples standing 15 metres tall and the eponymous Man himself.
A new book from TASCHEN, The Art of Burning Man, rounds up 16 years of these beguiling and ambitious desert structures, recycled sculpture and effigies which are ceremoniously burnt and destroyed during the Nevada festival. Documented by Canadian photographer NK Guy between 1998 and 2014, many if not most of the creations have remained unseen or undocumented until now. More than just whimsical outdoor sculpture, NK Guy’s photographs show these constructions as social epicentres rather than products of the ego, and celebrate the extraordinary, albeit temporary, alternate universe forged around them.
In his foreword to the book, artist and Burning Man Temple designer David Best writes, “When you’re an artist you’re always told that your work is going to survive, that it’s going to last forever. And then one day you realise it’s not. […] Burning Man is different because much of the art, including the Temples I’ve designed, lasts only for the event. Once it’s burned, it’s gone. Is it temporary? Perhaps, but we don’t make art for private collectors to store on a back shelf. We built art with a community and we build it for a community.”
Art of Burning Man is currently showing at Lights of Soho Gallery, London.