AT BURNING MAN 2019, THERME ART PROGRAM CONSIDERS THE ROLES OF CREATIVITY, SUSTAINABILITY AND DIVERSITY IN OUR FUTURE CITIES
When it comes to the ecological, political, and social issues facing human life, it is increasingly clear that creative solutions are needed.
In particular, the design and character of our cities needs to be rethought, ensuring they function in a harmonious and symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Navigating these deadly and urgent challenges, we are required to open up our discussions, inviting creative and marginalized voices to the table and prioritizing diversity and inventiveness in all our conversations. Now, the question has to be: how can art and artists play a role in the establishment of more vibrant and sustainable cities?
This line of questioning is at the beating heart of Burning Man, the iconic arts and culture event that takes place every year over the last days of August in Nevada’s expansive Black Rock Desert. First held 33 years ago as a small gathering on Baker Beach, San Francisco the event now hosts upwards of 70,000 people—none of who seem to return home unchanged. Remaining consistent over all these years is Burning Man’s central objective: to highlight the power of creativity in forging a transformative if fleeting shrine to diversity, sustainability, decommodification, and personal freedom. Contributing to the 2019 iteration of Burning Man, Therme Art Program had the opportunity to experience radical ideas for our future cities, exploring the transformative possibility of spaces underpinned by creativity.
This year, the event was guided by the theme of Metamorphoses, which the organizers described as “an invitation to explore new forms of alchemy, reliant not on some elusive Philosopher’s Stone but on the limitless powers of the heart”. As with previous years, this manifested in all manner of arts activities, along with countless spectacular and immersive artworks located all over Burning Man’s vast central path or playa. Exploring these artworks, Therme Art Program glimpsed what cities could look like if they prioritized art over the anodyne, pervasive effects of globalization and increasing digital technologies. Leading Therme Art Program’s participation was its curator Mikolaj Sekutowicz, who presided over a unique camp held to introduce guests to the core values of Burning Man, as well as to support its co-creation of two immersive artworks–InnerSun and Catharsis—scheduled for inclusion in Burning Man 2020.
Our continued participation in Burning Man makes sense for a range of reasons. There, Therme Art Program is able to witness countless artworks, all temporary, which exceed the limitations of traditional galleries and museums; this carries a clear point of inspiration for the mandate of Therme Art Program. In a broader sense, however, Burning Man’s “leave no trace” mantra is even more ineluctably linked to the mission of Therme Art Program. Leaving the event, visitors return to their urban environments with a more holistic understanding of their link to the natural world. “We will not leave traces in the sand,” as Sekutowicz put it, “but we will leave traces in the city”.
Crucially, Burning Man exemplifies principles that can then be brought into conversations about the most pressing issues of our time. Among other considerations, it highlights the need to rethink city planning, prioritizing ideas of impermanence, sustainability and creativity, over pre-ordained notions of what cities or public space could or should be. Burning Man shows us, anything is possible; instead of working from the principle of why, it starts with why not. Returning to work, Therme Art Program is re-energized by the Burning Man vision, inspired by its integration of creativity into the deepest, most structural issues. Prioritizing creativity and freedom, it shows how inventive, creative spaces can inspire body, soul, and mind. “Burning Man and Therme Art Program are very much on the same path,” Sekutowicz says, “united by a common goal – a deep commitment to sustainable and creative cities for all. Without changing our course of action, without listening to artists, we risk destroying the natural world and ourselves”.
Dave Keane and The Folly Builders, ‘The Folly’ (2019)
Chris Carnabuci, ‘Mariposita’ (2019)
Matthew Schultz and The Pier, ‘The Head Maze’ (2019)
Lillian Heyward and the Island of Lost Buoys, ‘Island of Lost Buoys’ (2019)