2021: The Year of “Art No Matter What”

Burning Man Project
Sep 29 · 8 min read

Thanks to a number of generous donors, Burning Man Project was able to give nearly $1M in Honoraria art grants to 62 artists in 2021. These grants provided some much-needed relief to artists around the world during a time when events and projects were being delayed or canceled and material costs skyrocketed due to COVID-19.

Map of 2020/2021 Honoraria artist locations around the world

Even amidst obstacles and hardship, this year has proven that makers-gonna-make ART NO MATTER WHAT. We wanted to share what just a handful of these artists have been up to, bringing their Honoraria art projects to life…

Leeroy New

Leeroy New, wearing a mask he constructed from discarded plastic bottles (Photo by Eisa Jocson)

is a contemporary Filipino fine artist based in Manila whose works overlap with theatre, film, fashion, and visual arts. He is known for his immersive installations that use a variety of found objects directly sourced from the immediate material culture of his current environment.

“Mebuyan Vessel Polyp,” 2021, made from donated and collected used plastic bottles, at Art in the Park PH’s home base, Jaime Velasquez Park in Manila, for the duration of the fair (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“A fragment of the Mebuyan Vessel has drifted off the main body and floated through space. It has latched onto this surface by the park, and now, has started growing into a new vessel.”

Digital rendering of “Mebuyan,” a vessel for transformation and transitions, as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (Image courtesy of the artist)

“Mebuyan is a goddess of death and fertility from Bagobo mythology, who has been described as having breasts all over her body to nurse the spirits of children into adulthood, providing them with strength to continue their journey in the afterlife.”

Leeroy New’s piece “Coronang Tigas” is included in the catalogue for the Boundless Space art action happening now through October 8, 2021.

Valerie Elizabeth Mallory

Valerie Mallory creating red trees in Ventura, California, for “Secretly Abandoned Spaces,” 2021 (Photo courtesy of the artist)

is a Bay Area artist who has been creating art installations for Burning Man since 2004.

“I make my art because I love expression and I love the nuances of communication. I work very hard to convey as much expressive feeling in a way that is uncluttered and pure.”

Digital rendering of “Secretly Abandoned Spaces” as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (Image courtesy of the artist)

“This piece is about the beauty of loss and decay of a building, a community, or loved one. The world takes back its own. Elegance emerges from loss and tells the story of predicted and necessary change.”

Andrii Krapyvchenko

and the Merman team

(Image courtesy of the artist)

aka the Universe Achievers (UA) art group, are self-described “Ukrainian artists, experienced burners, and true fun-seekers.”

A message embodied by the art they’ve created over this past year, the “Merman” art team’s motto is:

“We all get stuck sometimes, you have to stay afloat.”

The art team in front of their creation “Merman” in Ukraine, 2021 (Photo courtesy of the Merman art team)
“Merman” installation in Kyiv, Ukraine, through July 2021 (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“Merman art was visited by swimmers from Kyiv sports schools. We believe that all obstacles in everyone’s life can be overcome. You can’t give up, because there is always something worth keeping afloat for and we want to show it with our art. By inviting real swimmers to the installation, we emphasize the connection between art, culture, sports, and the fact that if the person strives and doesn’t not give up — it’s possible to get everything.”Merman art team

Digital rendering of “Merman,” as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022, 2020/2021 Honorarium artwork (Image courtesy of the artist)

David Oliver

David Oliver at Burning Man Project HQ with his project “Portal,” 2019 (Photo courtesy of Katie Hazard)

is part of a long-standing art collective and think tank in Ventura, California. He likes to express his creativity through a variety of media, including music, performance, and sculpture.

Inspired by his 2019 art installation called “Portal,” David Oliver explains:

Petaled Portal is a guide, a vessel … a path to a place where words are crutches, where pain is not necessary, and pleasure is of the past. A place where we are together when alone. A place where there is no phone. A destination complete, a settling of a searching soul.”

“Petaled Portal,” currently being built in Taylor, Arizona, 2021 (Photo courtesy of the artist)
“Petaled Portal” as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Julia Nelson-Gal

Julia Nelson-Gal, 2017 (Photo by Emma Liu)

is a San Francisco Bay Area artist who works with photography, collage, and printmaking, using found materials: old family snapshots, 19th-century photos excavated from people’s attics, microfilm, books and LIFE magazines discarded by libraries.

“I am attracted to old data — information contained in formats no longer relevant, mostly from the 1960s back to the 19th-century.”

A portion of “Unbound: A Library in Transition” (Building A), installed at the San Mateo County Fair’s Art Exposition Hall, June 2021 (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Digital rendering of “Unbound: A Library in Transition,” as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (Image courtesy of the artist)

“Unbound’s materials represent the debris field of human thought. Words, illustrations, and covers — the remains of books decommissioned from libraries—illustrate the power of human ideas and serve as historical evidence.”

Antwane Lee

(Photo courtesy of the artist)

is a licensed architect in Chicago, Illinois, with over 22 years of experience building multi-million dollar projects.

He is the lead on “The Solar Shrine” project, a 2020/2021 Honorarium Art Grant project encouraging the individual to “immerse yourself in Afrofuturism.”

Antwane is very active in his community, sits on a variety of civic/art boards, and curates events on Afrofuturism, science-fiction, and mythology.

“I am passionate about building holistic environments which merge art, history, and spirituality.”

The team working on “The Solar Shrine,” 2021 (Image from a timelapse video courtesy of the artist)

Many elements of the design of “The Solar Shrine” are taken from Ancient Egyptian and Nubian cosmology. They believed that the Sun was a deity, Ra, who had metaphysical powers as creator of the Universe and the give of life on Earth. The Solar Barque would carry Ra across the heavens during the day and through the underworld at night in preparation for Ra’s rebirth in the east.

Video with rendered images of “The Solar Shrine,” as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (Video and images courtesy of the artist)

The Solar Shrine is currently being built in Chicago, with the help of many volunteers in the Burner community, as well as a group of convicted felons, as part of the project’s community outreach.

Local to the Illinois area? You can join The Solar Shrine team for a special Halloween Fundraiser (Saturday, October 30th, from 6–10pm in River Forest, Illinois) sponsored by the Pinnacle Foundation — all proceeds from the party will fund material purchases for The Solar Shrine Project, debuting at Burning Man 2022. Get more information about the event and purchase tickets here.

William Nemitoff

(Photo courtesy of the artist)

is the founder of Curious Form, a creative fabrication studio in New Orleans, Louisiana. He leverages his knowledge of diverse materials and building methods to craft innovative concepts, custom furniture, collaborative art, and impactful public installations.

Always curious, Nemitoff seeks inspiration from interests in science, technology, and the natural world.

“A symbol of beauty and fertility, the orchid serves as an analogy for the interaction of the Universe’s smallest particles. On the quantum level, reality is only the interaction of things, and space is only packets of energy and matter engaging. By engaging with each other and the art, participants make the space, the community, and the artwork real.”

Renderings of “Coalescence” by William Nemitoff, accepted for permanent installation on the Coral Springs Art Walk in Florida, and envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (All images courtesy of the artist)

Philipp Blume

& The Department of Precision and Soul

Philipp Blume and The Department of Precision and Soul (Photo courtesy of the artist)

is an Austro-Californian art collective formed in 2018 by Bay Area and Austrian artists, designers and engineers, and Open Austria, the official Austrian representation in Silicon Valley. They design all their art installations in a joint creative practice.

“In a reversal of the original thought experiment by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, here we are turned into a lab rat, the cat’s uncanny prey.”

Rendered images of “Schrödinger’s Rat,” 2021 (Images courtesy of the artist)
“Schrödinger’s Rat” at Ars Electronica, an electronic arts festival in Linz, Austria, September 2021 (Photo courtesy of Juergen Gruenwald and Philipp Blume)
“Schrödinger’s Rat,” as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (Images courtesy of the artist)

Zoe Fry

(Photo courtesy of the artist)

is a California-based artist and founder of The Introverts Collective, a group of artists exploring the intersection of art, consciousness, and activism.

The “FIRE” installation features a grove of fire-ravaged manzanita trees from a California forest. Each tree will stand as a unique individual, formed and reformed by natural forces.

A preliminary (smaller) version of “FIRE,” shown at the recent Local Love Summer Art Festival in Oakland, California, 2021 (Photo courtesy of the artist)
“FIRE” as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Abram Santa Cruz

(Photo courtesy of the artist)

is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work draws from his many years as a graphic designer, photographer, and painter. By combining photography with painting and lighting, he creates works that are bold, bright, and intense.

Kukulkan is the Mayan serpent that is the portal between the physical and spiritual worlds.

“Kukulkan’s Portal” is lined with 10,000 individually programmable LEDs. The lights are highly interactive, embedded within the acrylic layers of the merkaba. The aluminum cube truss is lined with strands of LEDs and is diffused with lexan panels behind the lasercut design of kukulkan on aluminum skins.

“Kukulkan’s Portal” by Abram Santa Cruz, at the Toronto Light Festival, 2020 (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Ryan Mathern

(Photo courtesy of Rose Riot Photography)

of Atlanta, Georgia, has refined his approach to steel sculpture for the past 10 years. He’s known for using woodfire and propane flame effects to bring his pieces to life, and more recently has been using plastics and resins as the translucent skin of the creatures he creates.

“Whether via the light source or the outer material, giving a piece an inner glow is important to me.”

The Charnel Lords (aka crew), working cooperatively on “Citipati,” 2021 (Photo courtesy of the artist)

The “Citipati,” Funeral Lords, are depicted here enacting the eternal dance of death within an arching fire of perfect awareness:

“Citipati,” as envisioned for Black Rock City in 2022 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Barry Crawford

(Photo courtesy of The Elko Daily, 2017)

is a kinetic artist, inventor, and fabricator based in Elko, Nevada, who has been producing mechanical art from found objects and custom fabricated parts since 2010.

“As a kid, I was always interested in machinery and making things that moved. I’d take apart little VCRs and make robots out of them, and Legos were a big thing for me.”

“Ratchetfish” is a mechanically styled fish based somewhat loosely on the deep sea hatchetfish. Fabrication is nearly complete… see for yourself! (Video courtesy of the artist)

As always, the 2020/2021 Burning Man Honorarium artists—along with the thousands of creators and artists within our global community—have inspired and touched us over the past year. We cannot wait to see what all of YOU bring to the dust next year!

You can read more over on the Burning Man Journal about how artists around the world created Art No Matter What during this unique year.

Any questions? You can reach us at art@burningman.org.

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