In the early hours of a Thursday morning, deep within the transient city that emerges annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, a remarkable event unfolded. A massive wooden structure, standing at 26 feet tall and 13 feet wide, was set ablaze. Flames shot high into the sky, enveloping the wooden tower for more than 20 minutes before it crumbled to reveal a hidden monument – a colossal steel phoenix symbolizing the enduring spirit of war-torn Ukraine.
This spectacular display was part of the Burning Man arts and music festival, where attendees gather to ignite a wooden effigy each year. However, unlike other installations that meet the same fiery fate, this one, titled “Phoenix,” bore a profound message. Crafted by a team of 14 artists and fabricators from both Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and Chicago, it left festival-goers in awe.
Leading this collaborative project was Ellen Lopatkina, a Ukrainian American, who described the artwork as a representation of the “rebirth of our identity.” She noted that the emotional impact on festival attendees was profound, resonating with the symbolism of cleansing and forging in the face of adversity.
The mystery surrounding “Phoenix” added to its allure during the opening days of Burning Man. Attendees, often affectionately referred to as “burners,” speculated about what might be concealed within the enigmatic wooden box. The structure itself held symbolic significance, mimicking the protective casings constructed around public monuments in Ukrainian towns and cities to shield them from Russian shelling.
The minimalist design of the phoenix, rising majestically from the ashes, carried additional layers of meaning. When viewed from different angles, the sculpture transformed, resembling the tryzub, or trident, a symbol featured on Ukraine’s coat of arms since gaining independence in 1992. Oleksiy Sai, one of the artists behind “Phoenix,” emphasized the importance of showcasing Ukraine as a rich and resilient culture rather than just victims of aggression.
While Sai couldn’t witness the momentous burning of “Phoenix” in person, the event was live-streamed via SpaceX’s satellite internet service, Starlink. Burning Man tradition involves the fiery destruction of multiple installations, creating dramatic spectacles.
The artists behind “Phoenix” aimed to keep Ukraine in the public consciousness. Their sculpture celebrated Ukrainian culture, serving as a testament to strength and a contemplation of the devastating effects of war.
Burning Man, which originated in 1986 with a modest gathering in San Francisco, has since grown into a massive event, attracting tens of thousands of attendees to Black Rock City. This year, it anticipated an attendance of up to 87,000 people.
Oleksiy Sai and Bogdana Kosmina, another artist involved in the project, hoped that burning “Phoenix” would draw more attention to Ukraine’s plight. Sai emphasized that Ukrainians were not merely suffering but working diligently to overcome their challenges.
After the flames subsided, the site still smoldered, with plans to maintain a smoky effect emanating from the phoenix’s head and a fire projection on its body in the coming days.
Ellen Lopatkina expressed the hope that “Phoenix” would keep Ukraine in the global consciousness, at a time when the world’s attention had waned concerning the ongoing conflict. She underlined the importance of showcasing Ukraine’s resilience, innovation, and artistic creativity, asserting that the nation was not only a productive member of the global community but also the heart and soul of Europe.