HomeScienceAnimating the Animalia Theme Through the 2023 Man Pavilion

Animating the Animalia Theme Through the 2023 Man Pavilion

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The Man Pavilion is our central plaza, for many a form of annual pilgrimage, a place of gathering, and a place of both memory and promise. It serves not only as a pedestal for the Man, but also as a playground where Black Rock City participants can explore and inhabit an artist’s interpretation of the year’s theme

We asked 11 artists to submit design sketches for the 2023 Man Pavilion. Read on, as we share their brilliant concepts, each of which uniquely resonates with the Animalia theme. Of course, we’re also announcing which design we ultimately chose to be Black Rock City’s 2023 Man Pavilion. 

As you browse these submissions you may wonder, “How do they choose?” We would answer, “Thoughtfully.” Indeed, each artist developed beautifully thematic and inspiring concepts and sketches. We make our decision based on three criteria: the relationship to this year’s theme, the aesthetic (subjective indeed, but there are several of us), and our ability to build it within the time, budget, and human capacity available to us.

Opening the submissions as they come in from the artists is a sort of surprise package. I like to think of it as a birthday gift to the late Larry Harvey; submissions are due during his birthday week. Larry embraced the process of designing the Man Pavilion in collaboration with numerous artists and builders who helped him fulfill his annual vision for the theme and the event. I recall him talking to me about his process of reading the signs, symbols, and zeitgeist of the moment to conjure each theme. Today the theme is authored by his close friend and collaborator (and Director of Burning Man Project’s Philosophical Center) Stuart Mangrum. We endeavor to honor Larry as we work with artists to bring Animalia to life, animating its spirit and underlying ideas through creative expression.

Artists’ Submissions (and Our Selection) for the 2023 Man Pavilion

We invite you to join us now on a fantastical Animalia journey replete with birds in whimsical cages, intertwining serpents, creatures of the ocean deep, and the entire animal kingdom, accompanied by the words and visions of the artists who created them.

Julia Nelson-Gal
“The Birdcage”

“The Birdcage” by Julia Nelson-Gal

Julia Nelson-Gal writes:

As birds move ever faster toward extinction, they become the “canary in the coal mine” for the continuation of life on Earth. While appearing delicate, they are known for their strength, fortitude, freedom, community, diversity and beauty — all qualities we Burners cherish. There are few among us who haven’t wished to soar freely with the birds who represent so much about the beauty of life on Earth.

“The Birdcage” shares the beauty and struggle of the animal kingdom with participants, serving as a stark reminder of our deleterious impact on and need to control nature. This Man Base will honor our rituals of beauty, art, fire and ephemerality, while addressing sustainability by using far less wood and creating a shorter burn.

About Julia Nelson-Gal

Dave Keane

Untitled by Dave Keane

Dave Keane writes:

I was drawn to the idea of putting the Man in a birdcage or specimen jar to celebrate and gaze upon the Man as animal, as its place in our world both immediately and in the bigger picture. But ultimately the man will not be caged — hence the removable top section.

About Dave Keane & Folly Builders

Esmeralda Nadeau-Jasso

“The Snake” by Esmeralda Nadeau Jasso

Esmeralda Nadeau-Jasso writes:

The snake is a bridge between worlds; it winds its way upward from the earthly physical realm to the celestial. Its representation in this art piece draws on native Mexican traditions. From my mother I inherited a history that connects me to the Aztecs and Purépecha first nations people. She is native Mexican and follows many of the ancient ways.

The rich history of Quetzacoatl spanned many different cultures and meant different things to different peoples. To the Aztecs and Purépecha, Quetzalcoatl is a symbol of dying and resurrection as well as life force and the path to knowledge. It also features in the first people’s creation stories. On their search to find home they were directed to find an eagle with a snake in its beak — the fusion of these two animals became Quetzacoatl. Burning Man similarly represents a pilgrimage for many and has become a spiritual home.

About Esmeralda Nadeau-Jasso

Leeroy New
“Bakunawa the Moon-Eater”

“Bakunawa the Moon-Eater” by Leeroy New

Leeroy New writes:

The Bakunawa is an aquatic serpentine creature from Philippine mythology that is said to have eaten six of the moon’s sisters and would repeatedly attempt to eat the last remaining moon. This is how the people of ancient times explained the occurrence of the lunar eclipse. 

The versions of the story vary depending on the region of the Philippines, but it is common among them that Bathala, the creator, made seven moons to illuminate the night for the humans. The Bakunawa fell in love with the moons and wanted to be eternally one with them. This prompted the Bakunawa to eat the moons to become the sole possessor of the moons. Bathala, seeing that there is only one moon remaining, planted bamboo on the moon to prevent the Bakunawa from devouring it. The bamboo can be seen as the dark spots on the moon. 

The Bakunawa’s consumption of the moon, in reference to the lunar eclipse, symbolizes rebirth and renewal. The burning of the Man can also be interpreted as a form of rebirth and renewal.

About Leeroy New

Shilo Shiv Suleman
“The Serpentine Pavilion”

“The Serpentine Pavilion” by Shilo Shiv Suleman

Shilo Shiv Suleman writes:

In my mythology the serpent is everything — transformation, fear, reverence, ancestor. The lord lies asleep on an eternal snake, Ananta Sesa (the one who has no end). Below this world exists another sleeping world, Nagaloka, where serpents shift tectonic plates of the macrocosm. While in our microcosm, within the spinal column lies a coiled snake that uncurls itself to revelation.

As this year’s theme emerges into animistic worlds, wrapped around the Man is a mythical metaphor that exists across cultures as temptation and revelation. The burning of this creature then represents a skin shedding, and transformation into eternal life.

About Shilo Shiv Suleman

“The Man is the Fifth Beetle”

“The Man is the Fifth Beetle” by Pyroglyphics

About Pyroglyphics

“Perla del Desierto”

“Perla del Desierto” by El Nino

NiNo writes:

In the beginning… the first creatures known to science that populated our planet started in the oceans and the lakes around 800 million years ago. The origin of life evolved from there to where we are now. The comb jelly, sponges and all the fossils we have found prove this to us; water is where it all started.

Our own Black Rock City is created once a year in a dry lake bed, also as we know, the playa that formerly contained a full standing body of water. The Man Base design is inspired by a seashell to honor our first water creatures. The sphere shape represents a pearl, or perhaps some will see a globe. It is a celebration of all the animals that inhabit our planet.

About NiNo

Kate Greenberg

“Porifera” by Kate Greenberg

Kate Greenberg writes:

“porifera” • a phylum of aquatic invertebrate animals that comprises the sponges

The site of the Black Rock Desert was underwater until 9,000 years ago, and the first animals to call it home were sea creatures. Sea sponges evolved over 500 million years ago, and are believed to be some of the oldest known forms of animal life. Many porifera fossils have been found across present day Nevada, where ancient lakes once existed. What if the basin valley could be refilled, and we could adventure through the aquatic garden that lives on the bottom of the lake bed?

At night, the playa becomes a bioluminescent reef, where we pedal after sea monster art cars in neon-lit aquanaut schools. At dawn, we see again the great effect geologic time has cast on this other-worldy landscape, and set out to expedition through its fossilized magic like sci-fi archaeologists. This proposal celebrates animal life that was on playa long before us, with a Man Pavilion inspired by the unique structure of porifera.

About Kate Greenberg

Jack ‘Opa’ Haye
“Hall of Animals”

“Hall of Animals” by Jack ‘Opa’ Haye

Jack ‘Opa’ Haye writes:

This structure honors a variety of animals by making the facade of each wing represent an animal. It is also reminiscent of American vernacular barns with high ceilings and exposed trusses and skip sheathing to allow the wind to pass through and a soft dappled light to enter.

My submission honors all of the animals of the Burning Man ecosystem by providing a museum-like space where artists are invited to bring and display their individual visions of the many varieties of animals — from playa chickens to narwhals and everything in between… and outside the lines as well. I envisioned the Hall to be a place for hanging animal art, but there is also space on the walls for large 2D pieces.

About Jack ‘Opa’ Haye


Untitled by HYBYCOZO


Six structures represent the six major animal groups. The Pentagon represents the five characteristics of Animalia. Speakers in each structure will play sounds that represent the animal group in that structure. Possibly separate artists and groups could be responsible for the interior of each structure. The outside of each structure could have CNC-cut animal patterns. No animals will be set on fire during the Burn.



We are thrilled to present Tim Bremner’s “The Hive” as the 2023 Man Pavilion!

Tim Bremner
“The Hive”

“The Hive” by Tim Bremner

Tim Bremner writes:

Like a proper bee colony, we Burners all have our roles and exist in a beautifully designed place. This year the theme lines up nicely with what we’ve always been… one big-ass dusty beehive of applied creativity. For this year’s Man Base pavilion, I’d like to propose “THE HIVE”.

About Tim Bremner

Tim Bremner is a designer, artist and creative director from Oakland who has been coming to Black Rock City since they started putting bases under the Man in 2001. Primarily known for small snarky art, he occasionally will rally a community of super talented weirdos to make big beautiful things such as the “La Victrola” gramophone. He designs his art in visual systems based on a theme. For “La Victrola” Tim dove deep into Art Nouveau patterning, for the Hive Man Base he designed the entire concept using just two sizes of hexagon to make it simple, yet incredibly intricate at the same time.

Cover image of “The Hive” by Tim Bremner


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