Art on the Playa: A Moveable Feast

It was our first night out on the Playa after spending nearly a week getting Temple Guardians camp up and running, when we saw what appeared to be a traffic jam — albeit, a very colorful one — along the Esplanade. Once our eyes and brains had adjusted to Black Rock City phenomena we realized that it wasn’t heavy traffic we were seeing, but a long line of art cars waiting for their stamp of approval from the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles). We had never noticed a line with so many cars in previous Burns, and we were stunned by all of the creativity in one spot. The effort people put into designing and building art cars is extraordinary.

Art cars lined up for DMV licensing

We’ve often thought about building an art car and bringing it to Black Rock City, but have never had the commitment or skill to do so. Still, I can’t imagine anything more fun than riding around the Playa, picking up Burners along the way, melding into the array of Burning Man activities, and making indelible memories. But it’s not easy to do. Burning Man sets a high bar for approval of art cars. Check out this link for more about the requirements.

Art cars purportedly began with the Cupcakes – motorized, round confections that zipped around the Playa. These one-person mobile snacks return every year even as most art cars have morphed into elaborate designs with room for passengers. My first year at Burning Man (2005), the most memorable art car was a gigantic flower built on a cherry picker. The blossom moved up and down and reached out toward people in an inviting, albeit scary, way. I’ll never forget that flower. It symbolized the size, scope and creativity of art at Burning Man, and it inspired me to return year after year.

Another art car played a major role during my second year on the Playa. We were telling a couple we met at Elders’ Camp about the wedding we would be holding in a few days to celebrate our 40th anniversary, and they offered to take us on their art car. It was a solar-powered trike with a gigantic toilet at the center. You had to climb up to and through the toilet to board the car, and we laughed our heads off about riding to our wedding in a mobile commode.


Art car picking us up at our RV

Happy couple aboard their wedding chariot


Some of our favorite art cars over the years have included a gold duck apparently built on a large truck chassis. It required spotters walking in front to help the driver avoid obstacles – including people. This year we were entranced by a mobile bear that kept changing colors. We’ve always loved the rolling Boom Box, and this year we also saw a roaming Rockola jukebox. The last two were blasting music from speaker displays that might have been found at an arena rock show. Wherever these art cars stopped, a crowd of dancers gathered and a party commenced.

Our favorite art installation this year was the lighted tree in deep playa. It continually changed, rotating through the four seasons – the deep green of summer, the multiple colors of autumn, winter’s frost, and spring’s light greens. We sat mesmerized in front of it along with hundreds of other Burners who couldn’t get enough of this homage to nature.

Burning Man is endlessly stimulating. We had forgotten, after a two-year absence, how much we had missed the intensely creative environment of the Playa. It always inspires us, urging us to keep moving forward, no matter what our age.