Larry Harvey Interview ...

Larry Harvey - When did you found it? What made you do it?

L - You know I've been thinking about that, increasingly over the years, because it's a question people keep asking. I made the mistake, perhaps, of telling somebody that I was exorcizing my own native devils. I'd broken up with a girlfriend, and it was a heartbreak and it lasted for about 3 years, the pain from it. And I'd come up upon, when your mourning that kind of loss the anniversaries are what will kill you. We had gone to a solstice celebration actually that a friend used to do at the beach, that was a lot of fun It was at Baker Beach, where the Burning man began, for 3 or 4 years, she had a bonfire. I remember the last year they did it they put three mannequins dressed up in leisure suits on a car seat and burned them. Which I thought was funny. I'd gone there with my lover at the time and it was at the height, the romantic height of the relationship and I think it had something to do with the reoccurrence of that. And rather than sit home and feel depressed about it. It seemed better to act. I regret telling somebody that, because of course, that story's been repeated in the press and elaborated to the point that it's come back to haunt me. That was one thing, I don't know, you know, it was done on an impulse, I just thought, suddenly, that it'd be a great thing to build a large wooden man and burn him. You know the more I think about it, the farther back I can trace, in a sense, I've always been fascinated by religious ritual, by sacred architecture, by monumentality. I was working as a landscape gardener; trying to sell lower middle-class clients on building monumental lattice work frames in their backyard, perfectly ill-founded. If you look at the Man you'll see he's a glorified pergola. You could train a vine up for a pretty good effect . A great freestanding latticework. I think essentially, I was trying to build giant Men in people's backyards. I didn't find many takers. I didn't care about the plants very much, I like the hardscape. You know, I realized at an early point, that working with latticework, you can span space on a monumental scale very economically . You can create prodigious effects using very little material and certainly in the Black Rock Desert that 's especially true in a space that's virtually a total void or vacuum. Less is always entirely more. I had always for years been fascinated by ancient temple complexes. By things that architecture was devised to evoke - a certain emotion, certain feelings of awe and cosmic connection. And clearly, when we went to the beach so casually, and burnt figure that was only 8 feet tall, slightly taller than us, we weren't quite prepared for the experience. Suddenly, poised against the flat horizon of the ocean, he seemed prodigiously bigger than us. And when soaked with gasoline, he incandesced! Gasoline was the wrong fuel to use; it's very volatile. We're lucky we didn't blow ourselves up. He just turned into this wonderful ball of fire instantly . And we were thrilled, we were transfixed by it . It turned out to be a more moving image than I had guessed it would be, and instantly drew what few people were on the beach to it. People are fascinated by fire, and when you combine fire with the human form, I think it has a certain significance that certainly transcended our intent. So we just came back and did it the next year. I don't even know if we discussed doing it again. It was simply apparent that we were going to do it again. Having done it, we got ambitious, as people will. And it got more and more grandiose as time went on, until it finally reached it's present scale. Four years into the project it had grown to 4 stories in height.

R - And that's where it stays, at the same height?

L - It stays there. He'll get bigger, I think we'll make him bigger, down the line. It stayed there really because as the project has grown, especially as these last years in the Black Rock Desert , for practical reasons he hasn't grown. It's hard enough to transport a 4 story man to a remote desert. If we made him 8 stories, it would be more than twice as hard. Beyond that, as time has gone on, I've become more interested in people's response to it and less interested in the figure itself. It's not that much of a fetish for me. What interests me, is how people respond to it. And so we've been striving every year to keep up with the public response. To somehow cope with the social challenge of dealing with so many people in one place. We'll get back to the Man. When the festival gets large enough, we'll simply have to make him bigger, lest he not be seen. Still at 4 stories tall, in that environment, situated by itself, on that enormous empty plain, it bulks prodigiously large. He'll grow larger. People are after me a lot, they used to be after me all the time, to make him bigger every year. 'Cause Americans always want to grow and make things bigger and brand new, every year. I think actually, the people working on the project have gotten used to the idea of ritual time, and have become more tolerant of repetition. Which is probably just as well, it's a good lesson to be learned. When we make him bigger, it'll be a lot of fun. It'll bring back that existential edge to it, 'cause we really won't know what 's going to happen. It's become routine for us to burn him, we know how to do it. We've become experts at it. When we make him larger, it will again become this intense challenge. And Burning Man is about that kind of immediate confrontation with forces that you can't necessarily control. So we'll do that, and that'll be a lot of fun. Especially for the organizers. It'll make an adventure. It'll put us on our toes, again.

From an Interview with Larry Harvey 12/8/94

From the Burning Man Archives