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The Leonardo Gallery

The Faces of the Man

by Dan Das Mann

© Dan Das Mann. Photo © Karl Seifert.

In March of 2000, I went to Mexico for the Tultepec fireworks festival. One night I watched this massive face-like structure of fireworks light up the entire village and I remembered the faceless Burning Man on fire. The Man needed a face or three. The theme for the upcoming event was The Body. Suddenly it all made sense. The Faces of the Man would be my fourth offering to the Burning Man festival and at the same time, it would be the largest sculpture of my career. Three twenty-three-foot-tall mask-like assemblages with steel-framed superstructures, one skinned with driftwood, one with copper and one with grass were designed and madly constructed throughout the summer of that year. On the Black Rock Desert, they would sing and cry tears of fire, water, and sand and give people a place to congregate throughout the night.

There were about one hundred people involved in the Faces of the Man project. I constructed the steel armature for each face, and then this army of helpers went about the task to help apply the skins. I wanted to explore the possible textures of the faces (metal, wood and sod) and the tears they would cry (fire, water and sand) from an elemental angle. I had always imagined the Man as some relic crafted by the earth herself, so it only made sense that his face was some poetic form abstracted by the simple fabric of the natural environment.

As the process began to unfold, I became aware that my work on the three faces actually helped define the Man and what he was really about for me. Early on, the copper face, with its teardrops of liquid fire and guitar-rock soundtrack, captivated my attention and clearly became the image I could most clearly attach to him. Beyond a simple visual effect, it was like an induced physical high crafted by my visual cortex. The use of copper and fire had long been a fixture in my art, and every night during ten hours of darkness, his copper face would pour forth its fiery liquid methanol teardrops. I can close my eyes even now and see the blue and yellow flame stream down the copper cheeks and puddle below the chin, hour after hour. The Man represented a doorway to a place where we could really feel something. That fleeting moment of emotion was captured and harnessed for just a little while longer as the burning tears rolled down his copper face all night long.

In the day, the hollow eyes, blackened by the nightlong fire dance, were so reminiscent of those who had spent the dark evening hours in the trance of the fire tears - dancing, dreaming and meditating. I am often asked to define the meaning of the tears, and I have to answer in the most general of ways. They represent many emotions. Joy, sorrow, pain, ecstasy - pick an emotion and I can guarantee that the tears were about that expression of humanity at some point. Each person who was drawn to this massive copper construct crying fire and looming over the vast desert landscape was given the choice to feel and to project through the tears. That was my true reward.

Building the faces gave me a thread to follow as my crew and I reached to the depth of our creative and physical limits. In the end, the memories of those burning teardrops have taken me closer to the place within that yearns to create large-scale installations that might just mean something, at least to me.

Dan Das Mann, dan at dandasmann dot com

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Updated 13 April 2007.

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