What will Burning Man artists do instead, now that the 2021 festival is canceled?

Paradise Ridge Winery and other spots will house art projects meant for the festival in the Nevada desert.|

Burning Man, the yearly August gathering in Nevada named for the towering wooden effigies that have become its trademark, will be held only online this year. Like last year’s event, the massive gathering has been canceled because of coronavirus concerns.

That doesn’t mean that thousands of artists, inventors and all-around free thinkers, who create dazzling sculptures and contraptions for the event every year, have been idle. In Sonoma County, the event’s large contingent of annual participants is deciding on alternative destinations for their creations.

One of the largest projects intended for display at Burning Man is the temple “Empyrean,” conceived by Colorado artist Laurence “Renzo” Verbeck and collaborator Sylvia Adrienne Lisse as an eight-armed great star, with a flame at the center.

The artists and a crew of helpers have erected two of the arms on a promontory a short walk from Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, already home to several sculptures by other artists previously displayed at Burning Man.

The 40-foot-tall portion of “Empyrean” constructed so far is visible for miles from below, across the Santa Rosa plain.

“The understanding was it would be built here to take to Burning Man, but now it’s not going anywhere,” said Walter Byck, founder of the Paradise Ridge Winery and longtime patron to prominent sculptors. “Now, its going to stay on our property.”

That is, until it is moved for Burning Man 2022, Lisse clarified. Then, “Empyrean” will be dismantled at the Byck property and rebuilt in the Black Rock Desert.

“We are grateful to the Byck family for their beautiful, temporary location that gives visitors an opportunity to interact and experience the (‘Empyrean’) temple until we can meet again at the Burning Man event,” Lisse said by email.

“As hard as it will be to let the structure go, the Temple ultimately belongs on the playa in Black Rock City. On the playa, the Temple balances out the playful energy of the event as it serves as a sacred space where all are welcome to reflect, process and release the events, losses and troubles we've been through.”

Among the workers who volunteered to build “Empyrean” at the winery was Zoe Fry of Mill Valley, a leader of the 20-member Introverts Collective, which has several ambitious projects underway, including one intended for Burning Man.

For “Fire,” its proposed Burning Man installation, the collective envisioned an altar displaying art made from found objects, as well as photos, based on theme of fire, not only inspired by California wildfires of recent years but also ancient perceptions of fire as spiritually cleansing, Fry explained.

“We invited artists, scientists, fire victims, people who use fire in rituals and the community at large to contribute to the altar,” Fry said.

Now that this year’s in-person Burning Man event is canceled, the collective is looking for another home for the project, possibly at the Petaluma Arts Center.

One of Fry’s previous creations for Burning Man, a large aluminum egg title “Ovule,” was installed in 2019 at the Petaluma Arts Center and remains on display there.

Renee Donmon of Penngrove, who works at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa as membership director, has taken the Snoopy Art Car, a brightly lit vehicular tribute to Schulz’s cartoon creation Snoopy, to past Burning Man events, accompanied by her husband, Paul Chausee, and Schulz’s widow Jeannie.

“Over the past six or seven years, we’ve collaborated on several art cars, including two based on the character Pigpen and the HMS Beagle,” Donmon said. “We were getting ready to go this year, and Jeannie was ready, too.”

Now that this year’s Burning Man trip is off, Donmon is looking for other places to show off the Snoopy mobile.

“Maybe we can do the Penngrove parade on July 4 if that works for them, or we could try the Calistoga Lighted Tractor parade at Christmastime,” she said.

Originating in 1986 on Baker Beach in San Francisco, the Burning Man event has been located since 1991 in the Black Rock Desert, about 100 miles north-northeast of Reno. It was last held as a live in-person event in 2019, when 78,850 people participated, camping out to enjoy music and art.

The Burning Man festival is expected to return to Black Rock Desert in 2022. For information on this year’s online event, visit burningman.org.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add that plans are to eventually move “Empyrean” to the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man 2022.

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