From Scrap To Art: Getting Ready For Burning Man

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Burning Man Festival is fast approaching and you’re already getting anxious for the biggest, most anticipated art festival in the West. While still four months away, it’s never too early to get that bus van primed for the road and start thinking about the theme of your art installation. If you know anything about Burning Man, at some point you have to improvise. Whether it’s an elaborate art installation using salvaged materials or the quintessential playa art of the Black Rock desert sands, making a successful and enriching Burning Man experience requires finding creative ways to use ordinary items.

So much art at Burning Man is constructed using a wealth of materials laboriously transported to the sweeping, desolate Black Rock desert. Appreciating the mere physical feat of hauling so much material and supplies into the middle of an arid desert is appreciating the art itself. The real art is in the labor and the experience itself. From this, however, the transformation of junk material is made. Scrap and everyday building materials are re-imagined in expressive forms, figures, structures, and even vehicles. Altering perceptions of what is possible with materials and creating a sensory experience around them is all you have to do to radically transform ordinary, unwanted scrap into interactive art.

Some examples of past year’s art installation include such diverse concepts as a mobile Victorian house to a pier in the middle of the desert sands to mazes of glass. The most amazing part of the artistic Burning Man experience is that there is astonishing simplicity in the creations. Mechanics aside, most structures and art fixtures are created using re-purposed materials. Many still are totally reusable when they are disassembled, making the creation sustainable in every context–before, during, and after Burning Man.

One poignant example is a structure that was constructed using re-purposed steel. A Reno Star Cosmic Thistle was made out of Reno steel and shaped into a forty six foot tower with steel beams protruding from the top like a desert thistle. By taking a material that was not being utilized and building a unique structure, the art has a more sustainable, purposed message.

Creating a unique environment with simple materials is the culmination of artistic prowess. While there are plenty of towering, intricate, mechanically complex designs floating around the sphere of Burning Man, there are even more simple, beautifully imagined pieces that were fashioned out of discarded or old building materials that play on perceptions. Burning Man is all about a collective experience based on individual contributions and creativity with resources. Finding a way to utilize resources at hand to bring something lively and imaginative to the festival will heighten the experience and transform the way you perceive discarded or seemingly unusable materials.

The notion of scrap material is challenged at Burning Man. The metaphor that everything has potential for a new purpose is represented in this concept. People give new life to things and create symbols and meaningful expressions of human experiences and emotions out of heaps of plastic, wood, metal, glass, fabrics, and everything else. In the process, you discover that you have multiple potentials and many purposes. The larger sense of community is omnipresent.

Even the most unassuming creation has a potential to morph into a larger contribution. From something playful and entertaining to something that challenges people’s conceptions of world around them, there is limitless potential for the art you create and the definition of art is never so broad as it is at Burning Man. The next time you come across a stack of metal rods, wooden pallets, and sheets of plastic behind a building, in a final resting place beside a dumpster, consider the Burning Man playa.

By +Ben Vaughn

Ben Vaughn writes on aluminum recycling in Salt Lake City and creates art out of scrap and recycled materials for the Burning Man festival.

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