- The Faces of the Man
In March 2000, I went to Mexico for the Tultepec fireworks festival. One night I watched this massive face-like structure of fireworks light up the entire village and I remembered the faceless Burning Man on fire. The Man needed a face or three. The theme for the upcoming Burning Man was The Body. Suddenly it all made sense: The Faces of the Man would be my fourth offering to the Burning Man festival; it would also be the largest sculpture of my career. Three 23-ft-tall mask-like assemblages with steel-framed superstructures-one skinned with driftwood, one with copper and one with grass-were designed and madly constructed by a team of volunteers throughout the summer of that year. On the Black Rock Desert, they would sing and cry tears of fire, water, and sand and give people a place to congregate throughout the night.
There were about 100 people involved in the Faces of the Man project. I constructed the steel armature for each face; then an army of helpers would help apply the skins. I wanted to explore the possible textures of the faces (metal, wood and sod) and the tears they would cry (fire, water and sand) from an elemental angle. I had always imagined the Man as a relic crafted by the Earth herself, so it only made sense that his face would be a poetic form abstracted from the simple fabric of the natural environment.
As the process began to unfold, I became aware that my work on the three faces actually helped define the Man and what he was really about for me. Early on, the copper face (see Fig. 1), with its teardrops of liquid fire and heavy guitar accompaniment, captivated my attention and became the image I could most clearly attach to him. Beyond a simple visual effect, it was like an induced physical high crafted by my visual cortex. The use of copper and fire had long been a fixture in my art, and during the 10 hours of darkness each night, his copper face would pour forth its fiery liquid methanol teardrops. I can close my eyes even now and see the blue and yellow flame stream down the copper cheeks and puddle below the chin, hour after hour. For me, the Man represented a doorway to a place where we could really feel something. That fleeting moment of emotion was captured and harnessed for just a little while longer as the burning tears rolled down the copper face all night long.
In the day, the hollow eyes, blackened by the nightlong fire dance, were reminiscent of those who had spent the dark evening hours in the trance of the fire tears-dancing, dreaming and meditating. I am often asked to define the meaning of the tears, and I have to answer in the most general of ways. They represent many emotions. Joy, sorrow, pain, ecstasy-pick an emotion and I can guarantee that the tears were about that expression of humanity at some point. Each person who was drawn to this massive copper construction crying fire and looming over the vast desert landscape was given the choice to feel and to project emotionally through the tears. That was my true reward.
Building the faces gave me a thread to follow as my crew and I approached our creative and physical limits. In the end, the memories of those burning teardrops have taken me closer to the place within that yearns to create large-scale installations that might just mean something, at least to me.
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