Book review: The Art of Burning Man - 16 years of pyrotechnics

Mind-bending essays and images of some of the surreal art that graces the Black Rock Desert each year fill the pages of this Taschen volume

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 August, 2015, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 August, 2015, 10:53am


Every summer in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, tens of thousands of people gather for what is variously described as a spiritual adventure, an experiment in temporary community and radical self-reliance, a desert rave and even the premier countercultural event of our time.

Burning Man has come a long way since a handful of friends gathered on a beach in San Francisco in 1986 and burned a three-metre effigy of a man. More than 70,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event – which starts this weekend and ends on September 7 – and try to survive eight searing-hot days and freezing nights of radical inclusion, self-reliance, communal effort and self-expression.

It is this self-expression and the resulting artworks that is celebrated in The Art of Burning Man by writer and photographer N.K. Guy, who for the past 16 years has documented the event’s happenings and art installations, which are either destroyed (often by fire) or dismantled at the end of every Burning Man event.

Flicking through, you’ll be confronted with surreal images of pirate ships and a Trojan horse being wheeled through immense clouds of dust, of mutant vehicles equally influenced by Mad Max and Lewis Carroll, of near-naked “Burners” cycling across the desert and, of course, the various iterations of The Man, the massive human effigy that is set alight at the climax of each event.

Accompanying the mind-bending images are well-written essays on topics such as “Genesis of the Man”, “Temporary communities”, “The temples of Burning Man” and “Fire art”, which will interest newbies and seasoned Burners alike, and may even encourage you to put on a pair of goggles and travel to Black Rock Desert next year.

The Art of Burning Man by N.K. Guy (Taschen)