Flemish artist sets installation alight at famous Burning Man festival


Only the second Flemish artist to ever be invited to the legendary festival in the Nevada desert, Tom Herck set fire to the idea of a Trump fortress

The Wall

Tom Herck became the second Belgian artist to ever burn an installation at the famous Burning Man counter-culture festival in the US earlier this week. His eye-catching, interactive wooden figure “The Wall” was set alight on the final day of the festival, along with several other installations – a Burning Man tradition.

Burning Man has taken place every year since 1990 in the Black Rock desert of Nevada. The non-profit organisation that runs the event works year-round to build Black Rock City, where tens of thousands of people travel to take part in the festival based on culture, community and civic engagement.

Burning Man has become a legend among communities of people involved in the arts and social justice. Having started with the burning of a single monolithic figure made of wood, now the festival traditionally ends with the burning of several installations.

The first Belgian artist to be invited to participate in Burning Man was Arne Quinze, who in 2006 saw his “Uchronia” go up in flames.

Nothing is forever, and Burning Man is a very good example of that. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

- Tom Herck

Herck, from Sint-Truiden, built “The Wall”, a seven-metre-high piñata facing a wall. Inspired by the story of the Trojan Horse, the installation represents Trump and his infamous wall but also “the global fortification trend,” Herck says. “The Wall” was created on site by Herck and his team from Belgium.

“The idea came to me based on the Burning Man location,” he says. “It’s a kind of in situ installation because the Mexican border is in the area. It celebrates change and uncertain times ahead.”

While piñatas, a Mexican tradition, are “stuffed with candy, and the Trojan Horse contained soldiers, this work remains empty inside, because we can never be totally aware of what is going on in the inner circle and with public authorities”.

Herck’s piñata wasn’t naked on the outside, however: Much like a real piñata, it was covered in colourful trappings. While a piñata is usually decorated with tissue paper, Herck’s was decorated with T-shirts containing messages written by festival-goers. “The idea was to create spontaneous unity from the participants’ DNA.”

The installation became interactive, as people contributed whatever T-shirts they wanted when they wanted. “The end result was uncertain,” says the artist. “This unpredictability creates a momentum for spontaneity.” The T-shirts were removed before the installation was burned so that Herck can use them in a new work back home in Flanders.

Herck and his team worked every day for more than a month on the installation, so he had mixed feelings on seeing it go up in smoke. But that’s the name of the game at the festival, he notes. “Nothing is forever, and Burning Man is a very good example of that. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”