In late August each year, thousands of people trek out to Black Rock City in Nevada to experience the week-long communal event of Burning Man. Everything that is brought in must be taken out, so the city that forms for just a few days leaves no trace when the event comes to an end.
This isn’t just a week of camping—elaborate structures, spaces, and art are built for temporary enjoyment and personal transformation. One such artwork at the last Burning Man was Michael Benisty’s In Every Lifetime I Will Find You, a sculpture of two figures embracing.
Whitewall talked to the artist about bringing his work to Burning Man.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe Burning Man?
MICHAEL BENISTY: Burning Man is an experience truly unlike any other. It is challenging, magical, and free. We experience a place and time that is absolutely out of this world. Burning Man is primal and communal. It requires preparation both mentally and physically. It’s a calling for those seeking freedom, enlightenment, something higher, to experience something unreal.
You have to understand, this is an experience that changes us. We learn to better understand the world we live in by escaping it, by creating our own camps, art, community, and knowledge. We are able to really connect as humans and souls out there, and we are able to be ourselves, our inner selves. We wear what we want, see what we want, feel what we want, share what we want. We lose control, we gain control, we learn, we grow. We come together, we build a world together, we live together, dream together, thrive together, and then we burn it. We tear it down and leave nothing behind.
WW: Why do you think it’s such a powerful experience for those that attend?
MB: I think everyone has a different experience during Burning Man. It would be hard for me to translate for the masses what is such a personal and spiritual experience.
However, it’s impossible to leave without a profound feeling, story, or experience. Whether you left more positive, negative, confused, or uplifted, you did it. You trekked to the desert, you carved your own path, you dipped your toe in different waters, and you learned from it. You learned more about yourself, and no one can deny that.
WW: Tell us about your project In Every Lifetime I Will Find You that was at Burning Man this year.
MB: In Every Lifetime I Will Find You was built as a symbol of love, unity, and magnetism. I believe that we are all connected to each other, through multiple lifetimes, as spirits and souls. People come into our lives that teach us intense lessons of life, love, and expansion. These thoughts and experiences happen at Burning Man. These types of connections are found there. This feeling—a yearning for connection—is all around the air.
This was my second installation at Black Rock City, bigger both physically and inspirationally. The whole process to bring this project to life was pretty intense due to the logistics of getting it to the desert, setting it up in the harsh elements, maintaining polished mirror. I spent an entire day driving around to find where they belonged. I wanted it to be a shimmer of silver that could barely be seen in the distance, but innately drew people to the piece. Was it a mirage? As people got closer they begin to feel, think, and breathe in the magic of them. These two figures together—are they dancing, are they kissing, are they protecting each other?
WW: How different is it to show an art piece at Burning versus a gallery?
MB: An artwork that’s displayed at Burning Man becomes part of a changing environment. It’s an immersive experience, one that is impossible to be experienced at an art gallery, as Burning Man is not only in nature, but otherworldly. Daytime, nighttime, extreme heat, drastic cold, wind, dust, whiteouts—the piece changed as the elements changed. Galleries are white walls. Interaction with the art at Burning Man provides a more physical and emotional playground.
To see how this sculpture touched so many people was incredible. I am so grateful and humbled by the love and support of the community. I felt incredibly honored to share something that evoked so much emotion from people.
WW: Where will it go now?
MB: The sculpture was acquired by a Norwegian collector who will loan the artwork to the city of Oslo for a public display by next year. We are in discussion on the exact location, but we are planning on a public display. I am just so happy that they will be stumbled upon, again, and enjoyed by more people.