Burning Man 2019 Art Preview

Posted on in On Our Radar by Rob Sidon


Cover Burning Man 2019 Metamorphoses

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey died suddenly last year, leaving a wake of sadness. Ever the philosopher, Larry cherished his task of picking the event’s theme and explaining it in the context of the contemporary zeitgeist. Sadly, 2019 marks the first time this task was managed sans Larry. Appropriately enough, “Metamorphoses” is the chosen theme—reminding us that change is the only constant.

What does Metamorphoses imply? Transformation. Evolution. And this raises the question of “Why is Burning Man considered such a transformational event?”

“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit (everything changes, nothing perishes).”

—Ovid, Metamorphoses

“Energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.”

—1st Law of Thermodynamics

Philosophical writings on the subject of metamorphoses date back to the beginning of civilization—prompting us to consider our inevitable role in personal and collective growth. Whether we believe it or not, we are all swept into a transformative journey, molting from caterpillars into butterflies. However brisk or slow or unobvious the process, our job is to evolve. This is our common denominator and we’re in it together, a collective chrysalis.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

—Maya Angelou

The Burning Man odyssey is often described as personally transformative “It changed me.” The participatory nature of the gathering forces transformation at a collective level—“We built a kickass camp/art structure.” “We created a temporary city and then left no trace.”

Larry’s greater dream was that those personal and collective transformations, in harmony with “The 10 Principles,” would spill out into the world. Metamorphoses have multiple stories.

“That’s why [Burning Man] has spread so contagiously, and caused people to take it back with them, and apply it to ordinary life: because it has engineered a change in who they really are.”

—Larry Harvey

We at Common Ground are especially fond of Metamorphoses as a theme. We say “yes” to forging change and growth within the crucible of uncertainty. Burning Man is a magnificent creative outflow and Black Rock City will host hundreds and thousands of art projects—an untold number large and small—hailing from the world over. The massive range and diversity of art is what contributes to Burning Man’s “jaw-drop” factor. Unfortunately given our magazine’s space restrictions we must narrow our scope, so in our annual preview we have narrowed the list to honoraria projects from local Greater Bay Area artists—whom we adore.

We want to express our endless appreciation for all the Burning Man artists who give their skill and resources to make this gathering nothing short of stunning. Our hands are cupped in gratitude.

Finally, we sorely miss you, Larry, but onward we meta-morph—just as you would want.

Honoraria Art: Chakra Cannon

By Joshua Pipic (Oakland)


A large-scale interactive light cannon that aims to communicate our true collective potential, this piece is powered by the human voice. The light source is a custom-designed 3,000-watt LED spotlight with a liquid cooled core that will blast upward into the sky when participants make sounds into microphones. Chakra Cannon encourages releasing one’s individual chakra energy vibrations into a group expression.

Bee or Not to Bee
Bee or Not to Bee

Bee or Not to Bee

By Mr & Mrs Ferguson (Alameda)


This bee is big—especially if you (as a person) are standing side by side with his sculpture. But big is the contribution of the honeybee pollinating the world’s food supply into existence. Don’t be intimidated by Bee or Not to Bee’s size. Get close. Run your hands through its hair. Feel the limbs. Sit on the flower. You’re not vulnerable, but sadly the bee species is.



By David Normal (Stinson Beach)


Cathenge is a Cat Temple with a circle of nine tall, elegant, mystical glowing cat statues representing the nine lives of cats that shoot lasers from their eyes in a geometric array toward the central shrine of Pussiopolis, the sanctum of Holofelinity, the center of universal cat consciousness. Cathenge is an interactive light and sound sculpture that explores the harmonics of purring and the emanation of kitty kundalini.

Awful’s Gas & Snack: Your Gateway to the Big Wild!

By Matthew Gerring & Crank Factory (San Francisco)

See one of the few remaining gasoline stations, painstakingly preserved since the mid21st century. This installation is a throwback to a time when hardy men roamed the open road seeking fortune and freedom. Wilderness passes and provisions available. No gas available for purchase. Please don’t ask!


By Michael Christian (Berkeley)


Celebrated Burning Man artist Michael Christian brings two pieces to the Playa this year. ELEVATION, from 2008, a 56-ft.-high throne with a seat for one at the top labeled ME. And a new piece, CORPUS, a giant nest with legs that reflects the artist’s current involuntary exodus—another metamorphosis—from his long-established Berkeley artist space.



By Roger Heitzman (Scotts Valley)


Rising out of a tower of hand-bent deep rust patina steel flames is a contrasting kinetic wind sculpture made of stainless steel. The sculpture’s center steel tube supports the six axes on which the hand-hammered stainless steel wind-catching cups spin via straight and bent stainless steel tubing. Precisely balanced and using ball bearings, the piece will react to the gentlest breeze yet withstand the most intense winds. At the very top sits the sun, made of a stainless steel sphere surrounded by rusted steel flames.

Critonium Clock
Critonium Clock

Critonium Clock

By Alena Starostina (San Francisco)


Critonium Clock illustrates time as a paradoxical illusion that combines future and past, simultaneously as both a quantitative and qualitative measuring system. The concept illustrates how motion and time change according to our perceptions. It represents the evolution of time management and our obsession with the passage of time and suggests that all matter may shrink into a tiny dot again. This sculpture aims to discover ways to distort, exaggerate, and embellish our time estimation, all within the shifting sands of (Playa) time.

Elephantes: Homage au Dali

By Jack Champion (Oakland)

[email protected]

Homage au Dali is an interpretation, not a replica, of Salvador Dali’s “Elephantes.” The intent is to place these evolved and majestic creatures into a landscape represented in the original painting.



By Dan Mountain (Portola Valley)

[email protected]

A 27-foot forearm and hand, fabricated from engineered steel, recycled and repurposed scrap metal meant to engage participants in various visual, physical, and emotional ways. Housing an internal armature of chains, gears, sprockets, and springs, the sculpture requires the involvement of participants to allow the fingers and parts of the hand to bring it to its full realization. The intention of ILY is to encourage communication, collaboration, and eagerness to work together.


by Michael Emery (Felton)

[email protected]

Nirmanakaya is a 7-foot-tall rectangular monolith covered in sculpted ceramic tile to create a hieroglyphic storyline. The monolith appears to be in a state of transformation as it becomes engulfed in vines. It has an inside window flanked by two smaller cubes containing a human head in a state of metamorphosis. Two microphones fitted with voice synthesizers are placed in such a way as to guide speakers through a continual process of vocal transformation—a metamorphic audio montage.



By Christopher Schardt (Oakland)


Paraluna is a giant spinning disc of LEDs with classical music playing from speakers on the ground while complementary animated patterns are displayed on the disc above. The disc is held up by a boom lift that allows the disc to be raised, lowered, and tilted to dramatic effect.

Purr Pods

By Paige Tashner/Laser Eyes of Love (Point Richmond)


Experience the healing power of the purr. Feline forms gaze with Laser Eyes of Love and envelop participants in sonic vibrations. Snuggle down into the cozy bellies of the Purr Pods to be revived.

Puzzles and Prayers
Puzzles and Prayers

Puzzles and Prayers –
Reinventing the Prayer Wheel

By Gwen Darling with Gwen and Josh Art (Santa Cruz & Reno, NV)


Puzzles and Prayers is a large-scale interactive mixed media sculpture serving as a shaded space for participants to explore, discover, pray, and play. Unlike typical prayer wheels that are separate and aligned in long rows, these will be arranged in a grid as puzzle pieces. When spun into alignment the wheels will compose a beautiful mural, giving participants the opportunity to interact and discover hidden images as part of a new spiritual exercise.

Reared in Steel’s Fire Kethedral

by Reared in Steel (Petaluma)

A shrine to fire, Fire Kethedral resembles a colossal church organ, fabricated from steel tubing and cut sheet metal, standing 40 feet tall and 50 feet long. An ornate and powerful instrument capable of choreographing fire as music through a full keyboard as an instrumentalist plays sitting on an ornately decorated piano bench. Pipes mounted into the structure will shoot fire up into the air in coordination with every keystroke, creating a tabernacle of fire amplified by LED lighting.



By Flaming Lotus Girls (San Francisco)


Upon a visitor’s approach, points of glowing light in the air and on the ground reveal themselves to be three giant LED-illuminated fireflies, gathered around parts of an enormous broken jar. Is it magic? Radioactive bugs? An ancient cursed jar? The giant steel fireflies transform to become FIRE FLIES—activated by up to 24 interactive buttons that can be pushed to produce a variety of flame effects with the Lotus Girls’ signature liquid shooter sending 50-foot colored flames into the sky.



By Taylor Dean Harrison (Oakland)


Syzygy is a viewer-responsive sculptural installation that reveals a drawing made from light as the sun fades. The shadows and light on the ground move around as the sculptures respond to viewers walking amongst them. When the work’s center point is occupied the various colors of the massive drawing move to their true alignment.

Taking Flight
Taking Flight

Taking Flight

By Nicki Adani (Mill Valley)

[email protected]

Taking Flight emboldens visitors to be who they truly are, inspiring them to leave behind what is holding them back. A 10-foot-tall bird like feminine figure, welded from raw steel rods and tubes, her wings spread wide, takes flight from her perch upon a 10-foot wheel
that represents the circle of life. Viewers interact by making colorful ropes and weaving them into the wheel as a metaphor for releasing the past, connecting to inner strength, and spreading wings to fly free.

The Bard’s Branch

By Pam Ward (San Francisco)

[email protected]

The Bard’s Branch aims to share the artist’s combined childhood joys of climbing trees and reading books. Like an old organic library with bookshelves, staircases, and stacked books, this piece features recessed shelves and hidden trunks with tomes containing light-up letters, inspiring words, and pop-up images. To complete the nostalgia, there will be a comfy reading armchair perched high in the nest, shaded by branches.

The Beat Box

By Frankie Myers (Berkeley)

Beat Box is a vintage wooden crate emblazoned with images of delicious red beets. Upon approach, visitors will hear the sounds of the beatboxers who’ve come before. You push one of the five pulsing arcade-style buttons on top of the crate and lean into a microphone: “Bah dum dum kah! Dum da um kah!” You let go of the button and your fresh beat morphs on loop. Friends take turns and together create cacophonous silliness, showing the fun and ease of making music.

The Folly
The Folly

The Folly

by Dave Keane & The Folly Builders
(San Francisco)


The Folly represents an imaginary shantytown of funky climbable towers and old Western storefronts, cobbled together from salvaged and reclaimed lumber from original San Francisco Victorians to be reborn in the desert, affording shelter, entertainment, and perspective to the community.

The Shrine of Sympathetic Resonance

by tyson ayers and Resonant Arts (Oakland)


As a sanctuary dedicated to letting participants experience the phenomena of sympathetic resonance, every wall of this epic structure is made of piano harps. With 20,000 musical strings, all tuned to pentatonic scales based on the Schumann Resonance (the earth’s fundamental frequency), participants will be surrounded in a perfect echo chamber where every string sound will be musical. Five intimate pentagonal chambers provide a deeply immersive experience as a 39-foot tower rises up from the center’s intricately designed dais. The open-air center allows for larger gatherings.

The Heads

by Jeremy Suurkivi (San Francisco)


Multiple human head effigies with video and sound placed on individual pedestals and poles and footings rooted into the Playa. ‘Nuff said.

The Temple of Direction

by Geordie Van Der Bosch (San Francisco)


The Temple of Direction is organized linearly, recreating a restricted passage that expands in the center into a large hall. In response to the Playa’s vast wandering openness, as the sanctuary creates a space traveled end-to-end with direction and focus, as linearity is meant to reflect the passage of life. All lives have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Following this metaphor, a variety of spaces are created—narrow, wide, dark, and bright spaces—along with tunnels that help create intimate experiences with shade. A large central hall expands in width and height providing a bright area suitable for gatherings.

Towers of Crete
Towers of Crete

The Towers of Crete

by Daniel Fennelly (Oakland)


The Towers of Crete stand upon the playa as a monument, connecting the dirt to the stars, the ancient to the modern, and the abstract world of forms to our three-dimensional world. At nightfall the crowns of the towers are alight with flame, each tower taking turns in a dialogue with its visitors.



by Coup De Foudre (San Francisco and beyond)


A spinning tornado of fire and lightning meant to evoke an ancient symbol of knowledge and immediacy as well as awe and wonder, Theophany sits on an elevated base from which rises a glass and metal sheath. An oblong perimeter of ground lanterns leads visitors to the front of the pedestal, where they find an ornate metal wheel that controls the intensity of the fiery whirlwind. By gifting control of this power into human hands, the sculpture blurs the roles between mortal and divine.

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