Visual Arts

Phoenix Artists Bring Flaming Cactus Sculptures and Mobile Flamethrowers to Burning Man

Don't be alarmed if any artists you might know don't answer their cell phones over the next week or so. Chances are, they're partying out in the Nevada desert at Burning Man.

The annual arts and culture freakfest attracts more than 50,000 revelers to a remote stretch of barren land approximately 120 miles northeast of Reno for the next six days. 

The event is equal parts desert party, bazaar of the bizarre, countercultural carnival, art extravaganza, and rave, all rolled into in one massive annual event that's been held during Labor Day week since 1990.

The whole shebang is capped off with the torching of a ginormous effigy of a wooden man (hence it's name).

Check out our slideshow of local artwork at this year's Burning Man and what Phoenix artists have planned for the event after the jump ...

​Some Burning Man attendees spend the entire year planning and creating huge and beautiful installations to display at the event -- gigantic steampunk vehicles, sculptures made from semi trucks, or fire-spewing armored robots. 

There's plenty to be seen -- including the work created by Valley artists.

More than a dozen Arizona residents collaborated built a 20-foot-tall flame-spewing saguaro, called Carnegiea Gigantea (the binomial nomenclature for the prickly plant). The kooky construction will consist of an illuminated wooden skeleton with jets of propane flame shooting from both of its the arms and out of the top of the sculpture. 

The pseudo-saguaro serves as Arizona's entry into the Circle of Regional Effigies, an installation of 22 different sculptures that will surround the Burning Man statue and represent the various states and global communities. 

Will Brown, a Valley artist who helped create Carnegiea Gigantea, says the sculpture cost $4,860 to build (which was raised via Kickstarter) and represents "the progress of Burning Man culture radiating spreading around the world."

And like the festival's icon, their sculpture will be burned to the ground by the end of the event. While Brown admits that it might seem odd or pyrrhic to destroy something they've spent more than six months planning and building, he says that seeing their work reduced to ashes will "rewarding and satisfying."

"That's the beautiful thing about burning an effigy," he says. "It's ephemeral art with a short lifespan and limited purpose. In the end, all that will be left afterwards is just photos and memories." 

​Another enormous installation that will be at Burning Man will be Josh Parry and Tiffany Moore's Untitled. The lengthy photographic mural, which is printed on a 24-foot-long polyvinyl banner, features a jumble of juxtaposed images and snapshots that are horrific and serene. 

"We took all these images, scrambled them up with random words to make a mixture of crazy stuff, thoughtful stuff, and stuff that's hard to look at," Moore says. "It was refused at two local print shops and it's sure to shock people who view it."

And while Moore and Parry are giving Burning Man attendees an eyeful with Untitled, local DJ Ben "Chromatest" Overbaugh will be filling their ears with cacophonous noise. He's spent the last few weeks building a noise-generating device called The Aural Conflagrator. 

The solar-powered, four-channel interactive audio installation will record the ambient sounds of Burning Man and then play 'em back through an amplifier for passers-by. 

​"The purpose is to have something that's really fun and unusual on the player," Overbaugh says. "There's no big message involved. It's just something will entertain people and screw with their heads."

The Aural Conflagrator will be situated near the Tunnel of Questionable Enlightenment, an interactive array of more than 60 arches wrapped in glowing LEDs and arranged in the shape of a question mark. Created by artist Justin Eastman, the installation offers "opportunity for enlightenment."

"We don't always know where we are going, or even perhaps, from where we have come," Eastman says. "The [tunnel's] intention is to take that concept to the next level and create an interactive and unpredictable light design that participants are able meander through the question mark of life."

Burning Man is usually populated by a number of funky "art cars" and "mutant vehicles" that whisks attendees around the event. One such transport is the Bunny Van, a punky-looking vehicle that was created by the local artist known as Fuzzy Bunny. It's been seen at a few First Fridays parked in front of the Bikini Lounge and the artist takes the shag-carpeted pink vehicle out to Burning Man almost every year.

​Its appearance is a bit more friendly than the wicked-looking wheeled vehicles and mobile flamethrowers created by Valley gearheads Lance Greathouse and Chris Collins

Huge blossoms of propane-fueled flame will be unleashed from the duo's motorized three-wheeler, which was built from an old golf cart and inspired by the Mad Max movies.

The duo are also bringing a custom mobile grill, essentially a "party on wheels" that includes a barbecue apparatus, a refrigerated beer tap, stereo system, and flamethrower for roasting peppers and other vegetables. They've also got a robotic, remote-controlled ice chest containing free bottled water for overheated burners. 

Greathouse, a dental laser technician, says he considers Burning Man to be "one of the biggest parties in the world" and enjoys its festive atmosphere.

"We're going to be cooking up free food for anyone that wants it and blasting music all day and all night to anyone who wants to hang out at our camp," he says.


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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.