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Burning Man culture is taking center stage in Phoenix this weekend during a three-day event happening at the Alwun House, where community members can experience art, performance, and fire during a free gathering called IGNiGHT.
Phoenix-based artist Kristin Wesley, whose Friendly Flowers dot the Grand Avenue landscape, conceived the event, which first launched in 2019. It’s organized by AZ Burners, who volunteered their time to create an immersive art experience that reflects Burning Man principles like radical inclusion and decommodification.
Last year, they opted not to do the event due to COVID-19 concerns. This year, they’re adapting to be mindful of public health conditions (masks and social distancing are required), while still holding the popular event.
They’ll be exhibiting works by local artists inside Alwun House, where patrons will see projections, pieces illuminated by blacklight, and interactive elements they can walk through. “Guides will take 10 people through the space at a time,” explains Wesley.
People can then head outside to explore interactive artworks installed throughout the Alwun House gardens, before heading to the adjacent art park. That’s where fire performers and a giant art car will add to the festival vibe.
“People will be able to experience a mini-Burning Man,” says Wesley.
For people who aren’t comfortable gathering in person, they’ll provide virtual experiences online, including livestreaming on Saturday night. People who want to attend in person need to sign up for timed-entry admission. Typically, people show up wearing outfits that reflect the Burning Man principle of radical self-expression.
The lineup also includes ways to learn more about Burning Man culture, including LED Talks (styled after the renowned TED Talks). The event is designed for people of all ages.
Throwback to the inaugural IGNiGHT event at Alwun House.
Of course, a central experience at Burning Man is the communal burning of a human form. This year, a trio of artists is building a Burning Man for IGNiGHT, making ways for the structure to shoot fire during the event instead of being burned on-site.
Rebel Dharma, Sean T French, and Chris Turner spent several weekends creating the sculptural piece, drawing on Dharma’s experience in helping to build several effigies for past Burning Man experiences that typically draw 70,000 burners to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada.
“We wanted to make our own version, which is more elongated and has a different torso shape,” says Turner. “Rebel’s design is a nod to many years of Burning Man designs, which adds a whole other layer to the experience,” adds French.
French, a Phoenix-based sculptor who won the first challenge for a new TV design competition called Assembly Required, created the lighting and fire effects for the piece. “The Burning Man represents different things to different people,” French says.
For Turner, it’s a reminder that life is short. “All that we have is temporary and life goes by so fast; the Burning Man experience is like a kick in the butt, reminding us to live life to the fullest instead of always playing it safe.”
For the dozens of volunteers from the Arizona Burner community who co-created this year’s IGNiGHT, blending the safety of COVID-19 precautions with the impulse toward radical creativity has been a unique challenge. But Wesley says they nailed it.
“We’re all struggling in different ways during the pandemic,” Wesley says of the Phoenix community. “This is our gift to the community and we can’t wait to share it.”
IGNiGHT takes place Friday, March 19, to Sunday, March 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is free, but you have to reserve a timed-entry ticket to attend in person.
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