How you can prevent art censorship at regional burns & why it’s important

Recent cultural changes have lead to more people living in an ideological “echo chamber.” They are rarely exposed to diverse ideas or the experiences of people from different backgrounds or outlooks.

The exchange of ideas and different opinions enriches all parties that partake in mature discussion. Unfortunately, civil discussion is on the decline in America, and this decline is invading the regional Burning Man scene.

I have had a piece censored twice at two separate regional burns. The first time, at Playa del Fuego (PDF), I thought was a fluke due to a unique relationship between the people that owned the land and the PDF directors.

The second time it was censored, the explicit reasons given were that someone complained that the sculpture constituted “hate speech.”

The exact same piece has been displayed with no problems at Frostburn, Freeform, Transformus (multiple times) and Burning Man itself.

Censorship has happened to me twice, and it can happen to you or an artist you care about. It has a suffocating effect on human interaction and must be stopped before it spreads further.

What you can do

  1. Contact the Burning Man Organization. Do this right now. Tell them that you are concerned about censorship, and to force regionals to have a no-compromise anti-censorship policy before they will receive Burning Man’s sanction. Regional burns go through a lot of trouble to be recognized by Burning Man, so success here is a good way to preëmpt any wannabe petty tyrants who run the regional events.
  2. Talk about issues of expression and censorship both online and with people you meet at burns. Tell them about this campaign. Help us get a buzz going.
  3. Follow Töad Meädow’s social media accounts (linked in the right sidebar of this website). We will have a lot more to say as time goes on. Subscribe on YouTube, follow on Twitter, yadda yadda. Signing up for the mailing list will let you know when we post new blogs about this issue.
  4. Share your experiences with censorship either in our post comments or privately through our contact form.

A tale of two bannings: The bare-bones facts

My sculpture is untitled, but we call it the Töad Cross if we have to, has been banned at two regional burns.

October, 2011: Playa del Fuego, a sanctioned regional burn in Delaware.

October, 2011 was the public debut of the Töad Cross. At the time, Playa del Fuego (PDF) rented their land from a Motorcycle Club. Several members of the motorcycle club had strong religious convictions, and interpreted the piece as anti-Christian or Satanic. They did not want such a sculpture on their land and demanded that it be censored. The PDF Board of Directors made no attempt to negotiate or argue the point, and immediately complied with the landlords’ request. The Board ordered me to shut it off “or else,” and in doing so, failed to uphold their responsibility to encourage artistic expression.

July, 2017: POrtal Burn in Upstate NY

POrtal Burn is another Burning Man sanctioned regional burn that takes place in Upstate New York. We displayed the Töad Cross without incident the first night of the event. Our camp was very busy that evening with over a hundred people stopping by to hang out, interact with our automated flame effects or get a drink from our bar. 

The following morning, two members of the Board of Directors approached me and said that they had received “several” complaints and that I was no longer permitted to run propane through the piece. When pressed, the Board Members would not reveal exactly how many complaints constituted “several.” They said that the piece is “hate speech” and that if I did not comply with shutting it off, “There would be consequences.”

POrtal Burn’s crimes against free expression are much more egregious than PDF’s were. At POrtal Burn, the Board of Directors proäctively took steps to censor artwork. At least PDF’s Board could plausibly claim that they had no choice but to roll over and piss on themselves based on the demands from the landlords.

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