The 12 Most Mind-Melting Artworks Headed To Burning Man This Year

Can you feel the dust particles in your eyeballs already?

Approximately 525 years ago, an Italian polymath named Leonardo da Vinci completed a pen and ink drawing called “The Vitruvian Man.” The piece depicts a nude man in two superimposed positions, inscribed in a circle and a square. Inspired by the work of an architect named Vitruvius, Leonardo created the piece as a manifestation of the ideal human body, the principal archetype of proportionality.

Fast forward to 2016, when Leonardo’s iconic contribution to the fields of art, science, mathematics and the place where the three intersect will be honored in the most dream-like of ways. In the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock City, approximately 70,000 people will join together to burn the Man to the ground.

That’s right, this year’s Burning Man theme is Leonardo da Vinci’s Workshop, paying homage to the artist and his crew who transformed 15th- and 16th-century Florence through ingenuity, creativity and crazy skill.

Over 300 artists have registered to bring their most surreal, hallucinatory and utopian Leondardo-inspired visions to life on the large-scale stage that is the playa. There are giant butterfly sculptures. There are floating LED dancing women. There are most certainly breathing robot alligator puppets.

We’ve rounded up 12 of the projects most likely to make Leonardo say, “Whoa, what?” Each artist or artist collective contributed a brief description of their project, along with a quote describing how the piece taps into the overall spirit of Burning Man. Take a look below.


by Anna-Gaelle Lucy Marshall and Dusty Visions (Portland, Oregon)

Photo by AG Lucy Marshall

Project description: “’FLOCONS’ is a dynamic and evolving series of large-scale, ornament-like sculptures, imagined and built by a collective of artists to be displayed in a garden-like manner. [It] is a shared creative experience in participatory art that displays the beauty of human collaboration and communal effort. As participants approach the series, they will find a collection of large free-floating sculptures, each as unique as the artists who created them.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “We believe in the positive impact of community-driven participatory art projects and seek to support the creation of pieces that can involve a wide variety of individuals and groups from concept to completion. ‘FLOCONS’ was designed as a dynamic and evolving series; the metal hangers providing a blank canvas for endless creative expression in a unique format that is transportation-friendly, allowing for multiple displays year-round.”

2. Firmament

by Christopher Schardt (Oakland, California)

Photo by Christopher Schardt

Project description: “A vast, overhead canopy of LEDs displays celestial, playful, psychedelic, majestic images while classical music emotionally supports an enveloping, comforting, communal environment below.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “’Firmament’ captures an aspect of Burning Man that is increasingly hard to find. It is an oasis of calm in a sea of thumping art cars, a place of beauty rather than spectacle. Thousands of people lie under it every night, enjoying the flowing visuals and peaceful music as long as they like, before returning to the cacophony that is Burning Man at night.”

3. Mechan 9

by Tyler Fuqua (Eagle Creek, Oregon)

Photo by Jason Hutchinson

Project description: “’Mechan 9’ is a giant fallen robot that is half-buried in the ground. How he got there, and why he fell in the desert, and most importantly, who built him, can all be revealed if you decode the strange text that is on his body using a special decoder. (A decoder sticker found in a hatch on his head.) The clues will take you on a treasure hunt all over the city where you will learn the history of ‘Mechan 9’ along the way. The robot is over 30 feet long and can be climbed upon. In fact, you HAVE to climb on him to see the secret of his heart chamber!”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “Burning Man is about discovery. Discovery of one’s self, discovery of new people, and discovery of amazing art. ‘Mechan 9’ captures that spirit by inviting people to decode a strange text and discover the mystery of the giant robot. Who knows what else you will discover on your adventure to unravel the secrets of ‘Mechan 9’!”

4. Electric Renaissance (A Tribute to Cadillac Ranch)

by Heliotropics (Santa Cruz, California, and Aachen, Germany)

Rendering: Project. "Electric Renaissance," Burning Man 2016
Rendering: Project. "Electric Renaissance," Burning Man 2016
Electric Renaissance

Project description: “’Electric Renaissance’ celebrates the advent of the zero-emissions, all-electric vehicles of the future with a salute to Cadillac Ranch, Ant Farm’s iconic installation, the tombstone of the gas-guzzling, gross, polluting dinosaurs of the industrial past. [It was] conceived of by the ‘Electric Renaissance’ team of Jason Guy, Bodo Jülicher, Paulina Kuper, Keith Muscutt, Bob Oberg, Steve Ornellas, Sean Pace, Richard Peifer, Pawel Pietkun, Joslyn Schott, Jacob Stelzriede, Jakub Sztur and Andrzej Sztur.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “’Electric Renaissance’ envisions that the Cadillacs, after a harrowing and transformative journey through the bowels of the earth, are being resurrected as zero-emissions vehicles at the dry lake bed ‘playa’ at Burning Man. In keeping with the Leonardo da Vinci theme of the Burning Man Festival this year, ‘Electric Renaissance’ also celebrates human ingenuity in developing technological solutions to societal and environmental challenges. While the original concept of the installation was to use actual electric-vehicle bodies, buried trunk down in the playa, that proved both financially and technically very difficult to negotiate (due in part to the fragility of the playa). So, like most art at Burning Man, ‘Electric Renaissance’ will be made of flammable materials and destined to end in a blaze of glory (unless someone spares it that fate).”

5. Dust City Diner

by David Cole and Michael Brown (Oakland, California)

Servin' up sandwiches and sass, you'll find us when you need us most.
Servin' up sandwiches and sass, you'll find us when you need us most.

Project description: “The ‘Dust City Diner’ is a magical 1940s-style diner, complete with a quilted stainless steel backsplash, red leather stools, a gurgling coffee maker, the Ink Spots and the Andrews Sisters on the radio, and ― of course ― blue plate specials. Created for Burning Man 2008’s theme “The American Dream,” the ‘Dust City Diner’ serves hot coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches from dusk till dawn at an unannounced location in the deep playa. Our goal is to provide a special respite for those who want to sit, read the paper and enjoy the company of other weary travelers.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “We love the idea of a gift economy, and what would be more appreciated than a classic grilled cheese sandwich and a piping cup of strong coffee in the middle of the night? The idea began as we reflected upon the strange experience of being surrounded by people and activity at Burning Man, but still feeling somewhat isolated and not connecting with those around us. The project was to create an intimate oasis for an evolving cast of strangers who, for as long as they occupy a chair, are the ‘regulars’ who give character to all diners across the expanse of America. The special appeal of building something that one just stumbles upon and perhaps never finds again is one of the things that is most particular to Burning Man.”

6. Heart of Gold

by HYBYCOZO (Yelena Filipchuk & Serge Beaulieu) (San Francisco, California)

Photo via Yelena Filipchuk

Project description: “A series of geometric sculptures based on Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings that play with your sense of perspective and warp your perception of the inner and outer dimensions of the self.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “Our work seeks to capture the spirit of wonder, larger-than-life installation, and the curiosity of geometric, out-of-the-box thinking. Building and creativity are the lifeblood of the Burning Man community and we hope to make honest artwork that invites people to think about construction and design.”

7. Horizon Lines

by Tyler Buckheim (Key West, Florida)

By Tyler Buckheim

Project description: “At first look ‘Horizon Lines’ appears to be a cluster or ‘forest’ of 25 wooden posts rising out of the playa. The top portion of the posts are painted black, with a golden line between the black and raw wood sections, and the sides of each post painted to a different level. When participants come to the properly marked location looking directly north, south, east or west at the sculpture, the painted portions visually align with the horizon or mountain range behind it. The golden stripe creates a gilded horizon line. The moment the paint on each post and the natural backdrop line up, you will see the optical illusion of the merging of the foreground and background to make one whole image.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “Burning Man thrives on individual perspective and experiences. Each person chooses to be present and fully immersed in this bizarre and wonderful culture. The sculpture reflects this essential part of the burning man experience by interacting with the viewer. Making each person a necessary element of the sculpture and allowing them to experience the morphing of their surroundings based on their own movement. Radical self-reliance is one of the key principles of Burning Man and, as a part of that idea, the sculpture itself relies on each individual’s involvement and interaction.”

8. Dreams of Flight

by Michael Gard (San Francisco, California)

One of the figures he'll be flying.
One of the figures he'll be flying.
by Michael Gard

Project description: “My project is wire figures created in aluminum with internal LED lights. These will be flown around the playa at night under large black helium balloons.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “One of the finest of many spirits Burning Man represents to me is wonder. This project is pretty mysterious from even 50 feet. The night sky really hides the balloons, giving the impression of mysterious floating, dancing forms. Coming closer, people figure it out, but then dig the ingenuity. It’s fun to interact with people after being approached with that level of novelty.”

9. The MechaGator

by Ryan S. Ballard (New Orleans, Louisiana)

by Ryan Ballard

Project description: “MechaGator” is a 12-foot-tall fire-breathing robot alligator puppet controlled with levers and foot pedals that you operate by mounting her little pink pony saddle on her tail. She has disco balls, little pink wings and a unicorn horn. And she has a serious appetite for propane.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “’MechaGator’ captures the spirit of Burning Man in her flaming interactive whimsy. She brings joy to everyone who encounters her.”

10. Imago

by Kirsten Berg (Berkeley, California)

By Kirsten Berg

Project description: “Blue-mirror-steel butterflies hover 17 feet over the desert, wings lifted as if just alighted, yet ready for takeoff. Stepping beneath the delicately-perforated, arching wingspan, vivid blue light scatters, encircling us in a vaulted, luminous space of geometric patterns/reflections. ‘Imago’ holds a space, in structure and feeling, that is light and uplifting, like an intimate temple or futuristic shrine. [The] design was specifically inspired by the arching, peaked roof shapes of Buddhist temples and ‘spirit houses’ found in Thailand, where I live part of the year, and the blue iridescence of Morpho butterflies. With ‘Imago,’ I wanted to bring the static, geometric forms of the temples together with the organic living form of the butterfly, all to create a space to immerse and reflect in light.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “The elevated butterflies are easily resonant metaphors for the transformative experiences that compel so many migrations to Burning Man: immersion into a place of imagination, to be renewed, transformed. Butterfly metamorphosis mirrors our playa experiences: intense preparations, followed by the suspension of mundane life, to immerse into a dreamlike space that is safe yet undefined, full of potential. When the time of cocooning is over, we emerge, high on imagination. Just as the mature butterfly, known as an imago, returns to the wider world, ripe for creation and pollination.”

11. Piazza di Ferro

by Iron Monkey Arts (Seattle, Washington)

Rendering by Tabasco Mills

Project description: “This year the Iron Monkeys will pay homage to our craft by building a functional, participatory blacksmith shop on the playa. Encircling the shop will be a public gathering space, encouraging the community to observe, discuss and contribute to what is happening in the shop. Inspired by the theme, the Iron Monkeys decided that this is the year to share our craft at Burning Man. 2016 also marks the 10th anniversary of the Iron Monkeys, and in celebration, we want to encourage an important element of our philosophy: anyone can blacksmith. The theme for the event this year is a great opportunity to share our craft and give participants a chance to experience blacksmithing.”

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “Our piece captures the spirit of Burning Man by imbuing participants with the belief that ‘I too can do.’ We believe anyone can blacksmith, and will spend all week teaching this old-world craft to those who enter the shop. This is interactive art at its dirty, sweaty core.”

12. Renaissance

By Pink Intruder (Miguel Arraiz and David Moreno; Valencia, Spain)

Renaissance model
Renaissance model
Pink Intruder

Project description: “’Renaixement (Renaissance); will be an art installation at Burning Man 2016 that brings, for the first time, the aesthetic of Las Fallas to Black Rock City. Funded in part by an Honorarium Grant from Burning Man, this “falla on the playa” will use a contemporary language in its external appearance but also express the essence of Valencian culture and the Fallas tradition. With this year’s Burning Man theme and [Leonardo’s] connection with the Borgia family and Valencia’s Silk Exchange Market building, a contemporary architectonic cardboard pavilion will be built on the playa. A cardboard tube structure of over 50,000 pieces, the mosaic ground floor mixed with traditional Fallas Festival cardboard sculptures [will show] the traditional way of working in our city, Valencia, Spain.

Why it captures the spirit of Burning Man: “Through all the year, thousands of people work to make possible the Fallas festival. At this point, the project meets the spirit of the Burning Man: the community. The base of the ‘Renaissance’ pavilion ― the ground floor, with thousands of mosaic pieces ― has been assembled by kids and social [organizations in Spain].”

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