The first time she went to Burning Man, Kate Raudenbush was not an artist. Not yet. She made her first journey into Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in 1999 and five years later built her first art installation there. In the decade-and-a-half since, her monolithic, immersive sculptures have become a regular delight in the temporary metropolis of Black Rock City as well as being exhibited in galleries across the world from the Smithsonian to Seoul. “Burning Man was truly an awakening for me,” says Raudenbush, speaking over Zoom from her home in New York. “I say I’m self-taught, but really, Burning Man was the school where I learned how to make art.”
Raudenbush is just one of the many artists featured in Burning Man: Art On Fire, a new documentary by BAFTA-winning director Gerry Fox which looks past the event’s famed orgiastic debauchery to instead focus on the incredible feats of creativity and ingenuity required to bring large-scale art to one of the planet’s most inhospitable environments. In doing so, it gets close to the heart of what makes Burning Man so different from other festival experiences. I’ve been going since 2014 – my friends and I run a British pub-turned-pink-hued-drag club there called the Queen Dick – so I’ve felt firsthand the magical way Burning Man converts its 80,000 attendees from wide-eyed gawkers into fully-fledged participants.