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Sparks in Nevada

 photo by Ellen Pearlman
photo by Ellen Pearlman

Drama in the Desert: The Sights and Sounds of Burning Man, based on the images of Holly Kreuter. A Raised Barn Press Production (

I’m a virgin. At least I am according to the standards of Burning Man, because I’ve never been there before. But this new, Burning Man-endorsed, all-encompassing book and DVD offer up a taste of what it must be like to be deflowered. As an art project, the experience must have obsessed Holly Kreuter, the producer and main photographer, for years. She should be granted her own day in the media sun for having done such an extraordinary job. It is a lovingly designed and beautifully photographed book that captures the spaciousness of the desert, the art-extravaganza nature of the experience, and the wonders of the playa, the semi-circular grid structure that surrounds the event.

Burning Man is a two-week event in the Nevada desert that takes place around Labor Day. It is part be-in, part Documenta, part Woodstock, and part temporary city (last count 29,000 and growing). Every art project built is burned to the ground at the end. Aimed at virgins and non-virgins alike, Kreuter and company manage to capture the spirit of this huge, participatory fantasy, rendering it successfully as both a book and a DVD.

What I found the most interesting were the artist interviews on the DVD. There one gets the gist of both the creative spirit and incredible backbreaking work needed to produce such a enormous extravaganza. The interview with Pepe Ozan, who expounds about the cultural and mythic traditions that inspired his large-scale sculptures, including a week sequestered inside a Voodoo initiation, offer deep insights into the nature of Burning Man. Ozan explains how the event fulfills our need for a new mythological language, one driven by the mantra, "if we don’t like the world around us we can create our own."

Born of the Internet age, Burning Man is a tactical event where "innocence (is) regained through experience." You could even say it is the Internet come to life. The organizers are fastidious about controlling the over-commercialization of this event, refusing MTV access, and confiscating their tapes when the network did indeed sneak in. To reinforce their message, the book’s collaborators are distributing it only through independent bookstores, a provocative and important marketing tactic.


Ellen Pearlman


The Brooklyn Rail


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