Annual Ritual Art Burning
First of all, I want to thank you if you are reading this. I sat down to write this post in 2018, in the month after my art burning, this post has sat in my draft folder since then, unfinished. It was originally titled "That time I burned my own art and the internet lost their minds, then I lost mine." I wasn't sure what I wanted to share or how to say it. I think what had happened was still too fresh for me. I had to take time to process what had unfolded and understand how this was just one step in my journey.
How and why did I start burning my own art?
After a weekend of experiencing the beautiful sacred Tibetan ritual of the Sand Mandala, I was so deeply moved and inspired by the idea of impermanence that I was inspired to burn some of my own artwork. I picked out a painting I had done, that I decided I could do better and burned him that night in our fire pit. I pulled out my camera phone and shared that moment. That was in August of 2017, it was a quiet moment, that ultimately 'fueled the fire' (so to speak) to make this an annual ritual event, which has become an important part of my creative journey as an artist.
I organized an art burning and invited some fellow creatives to join me the following year. I asked my friends at Jerks productions to film it, as this burn would be much bigger.
The paintings I chose had different reasons for being thrown into the fire. Closure and growth summarize what I felt after watching those pieces burn. I share a lot of my art, it's process, and my life on social media. By sharing my journey online I am connecting with and finding others who enjoy my art. No one would know that I was here creating art if I didn't share so openly. So, on August 17th 2018, I held my second ritual art burn. (Click to view the live video) I burned 28 paintings equaling, 17,697 square inches of painted surface. If I laid the canvases flat on the floor they would fill a 38’x38’ room with painted art. Here's a look at the pre-video we did, that shows the artwork more clearly.
After we burned art, the party continued. We ate, laughed, shared stories by the fire. It was a
really fun night, and I appreciate and have a connection with the group of people that came out. A beautiful Luna moth landed on the doorknob that night, right after the burn. Because I believe in symbolism, synchronicity, and messages from the universe, I took a photo of her and posted it online. ( I know that may sound like some Hokey-Woo-Woo BS. But stay with me, because it's quite important later in this story. I would think it's obvious in my artwork that I am like this.)
I didn't sleep that night, I was too pumped full of adrenaline. Instead, I stayed up, creating art with my best friend. That art went with them, to their first time at burning man, and I so wished that I could go along. You can see the empty canvas stretchers still stacked against the bookshelf.
Meanwhile, my art burning video was circulating around on Facebook. These videos were publicly shared live and had struck an emotional chord with total strangers. I looked at my phone, totally not prepared for the number of negative comments, hateful messages, and anger that I would receive, mostly from other artists. In the days after this art burning, my phone would load notification, after notification of just the worst possible opinions from total strangers. There were positive comments too. But, because I am human, my anxiety honed in on the sheer amount of negative ones. Especially from talented artists whose work I looked up to. Those were the comments that stung the most. I didn't sleep. I couldn't sleep. Every time I looked at my phone, all I saw was myself being shamed, for something I did, that hurt no one. I couldn't make sense of it. My anxiety was through the roof. After 9 days of no sleep, I became paranoid. I checked myself into the hospital, for my first ever stay in a mental health ward. My heart rate was elevated, loud noises caused me to panic. I became delusional. This was a full mental breakdown. I remained at the hospital for 9 days, where they eventually helped me sleep, and all my other symptoms resolved.
I've never had a mental breakdown before. I have constant anxiety, but I never thought this would happen to me. Our society treats talking about things like this as taboo. I am openly sharing this because it happened to me, and it can happen to anyone, for any number of reasons. Stress contributed to a sever reality distortion for me. I want people to be aware that being mean on the internet, has a cost. There is a human on the other end of your negativity. I should also note that going viral, isn't always necessarily a good thing, so be careful what you wish for. Now in the time since my mental breakdown. I have done lots of therapy. I've gained perspective and turned that entire experience into a positive one. I've also made art. A WHOLE LOT OF ART! I've been making art this entire time and I feel my artwork has gotten better.
To the left is an example of a piece that was thrown into the fire and recreated. The top image was my initial concept, I changed the person represented in this piece on the same canvas, that ultimately I felt wasn't good enough. I burned it in the fire in 2018 and the bottom image is the piece I created, that is in my opinion, such an improvement. THIS, right here is why I have made burning an integral part of my process as an artist.
Many of the same people from the 2018 burn, also attended the 2019 art burning. We once again, celebrated another year of creativity, making stuff, failures, growth, and making more stuff. The group had grown a bit, and we even had the added bonus of beautiful classical guitar music. After the burn, a luna moth showed up again, and here's why the symbolism meant so much to me. It didn't just happen once, it happened twice. Now, luna moths mate from April to August, so maybe it was just a coincidence, but the fact that they symbolize rebirth and renewal, and they've shown up after each burning, felt like a sign it was a sign from the universe.
The fact that in 10 days I would be on my way to Burning Man for the first time, and the 2019 theme was Metamorphosis, also struck with its synchronistic symbolic meaning. I held back 5 paintings from the fire that night. Those 5 paintings I took with me and burned in the temple, at Burning Man. They were pieces of art that I did for myself. I didn't create those pieces to sell. I wrote on the back of each one before hanging them in the temple. I let myself cry. I cried with strangers when the temple burned, on the last night. Burning Man was a life-changing experience for me and I am lucky to be able to have had that in my life. Especially since Covid kept it from happening this year.
I certainly want to go again. I felt like I was among the people who get me. The fact that exactly a year from my mental breakdown, I was on playa, practicing radical self-reliance, gave me a real sense of strength back. Losing your mind can make you feel fragile. I still struggle with sleep, and my anxiety from time to time, but I'm constantly practicing self-care. I still burn art every year in August. In fact, I'm burning art this weekend, for my 4th ritual art burn.
If you follow me on Facebook, I'll share a live video. It'll just be me and the family, due to quarantine. But that's exactly the way that I think it should be this time around.
Burning my art is a cleansing, cathartic, part of my artistic process. I don't burn all my art. I explain in the videos why each piece that I choose meets its fate in the fire.
I'll share more about my experience at Burning man in future posts. I plan to get back to regularly posting here on Wednesdays. So keep an eye out for my posts! I'll finish this with a photo from the night of the temple burn last year.