THE WALL (2019)

In the far desert nothing lasts; ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’. Tom Herck turns the piñata into an iconic Burning Man Festival concept, to lure, attract and enhance creative participation, then to be destroyed but never forgotten. Burning Man’s art theme 2019 is metamorphose.   The festival is routinely described as transformative. From “It changed my life” to “It’s changing the world“ Burning-Man is a million stories, and the through-line across them is change, mutability.

Inspired by the story of the Trojan Horse, the Belgian artist Tom Herck creates a 7m high piñata facing a wooden wall (12m wide and 4m high), celebrating change and examining uncertain times ahead. The Mexican piñata represents hope and blind faith in higher powers. Piñatas are originally stuffed with candy, the Trojan Horse contained soldiers; this work however, remains empty inside, because we can never be totally aware of what is going on in the inner circle and public authorities. The mule’s head points towards Washington, and his back towards Mexico, since the piñata (supposedly) entered the US from Mexico. By enlargement and de-contextualization the artist turns everyday objects into icons.

Tom explores both sides of the wall conflict, not just in reference to the Mexican wall and the wall Trump wants to build around the Burning Man premises, but to a global trend of forting up. In all, over 70 different countries have fortified their borders. Forting up also implies cyber-hunting, the proliferation of gated neighbourhoods and homes with security fences. David Frye points out “No invention in human history played a greater role than walls in creating and shaping civilization.” Not just a wall; a state of mind is built. "The division caused by the Mexican wall campaign reminds us of the Berlin Wall (exactly 30 years ago), and of a country divided by opposing ideas and unwillingness to compromise.” 

A piñata is a temporary, fleeting object, made to lure, attract, then to be destroyed. In ancient cultures worldwide, piñatas represent hope and blind(folded) faith in higher powers. To survive the perilous journey, immigrants need blind faith and -often misplaced- trust. During periods of exclusion or social control, writing or drawing can powerfully undermine the forces that erected it and provoke a debate (f.e. the Berlin Wall). This concept fascinates the artist, raised in the unauthorized graffiti culture, now devoted to socially related installations and performances. Toms work exists through dialogue, referring to the audiences collective memory and allowing their primary reactions. Major themes in Toms work like vanity and decay -often with an unexpected, comical twist- are incited in ‘The Wall’.

During the interactive exhibition, visitors are encouraged to write slogans with their future beliefs and visions on distributed T-shirts. Presenting an enhanced self through costuming and adorning are prominently visible in Black Rock City. A piñata is usually covered with colorful papers.  By dressing up the piñata with these T-shirts, the artist creates a spontaneous unity from the (creative and physical) DNA of the individual participants. The end result of the dressing up (colour, composition and whether or not piñata will be fully dressed) is uncertain. This unpredictability creates a momentum of spontaneity. 

According to Carl Gustav Jung (1875- 1961) clothes signify the body or the particular incarnation out of which an individual is living. The end result of the dressing up (colour, composition and whether or not piñata will be fully dressed) is uncertain. This unpredictability creates a momentum of spontaneity. Once removed, the naked, essential psyche is being brought into visibility. The image of undressing can also refer to the extraction of the soul. 

On burn night the piñata will be stripped from the clothing, and left naked and vulnerable, freed from opinions or ego, and together with the wall it will be scorched. The T-shirts will head to Europe where the artist will document them in a new work.

Herck views the countercultural event Burning Man through the lens of the ritual process. Participation may lead to the creation of alternative moral practices which ultimately fuel the creation of communities in everyday life, aiming to revitalize cultural values through the lifeworlds and personal narratives of participants.

Anchored in the present, Tom Herck’s art inspires us for the challenging times ahead. The artist embraces the pleasure art creates for its beholder as well as the social functions of art and its ability to reinforce critical thinking. The fantastic yet extreme setting of Burning Man appeals to Toms creative mind from a early age. Participation means independance from traditional art institutions and freedom of expression, without interference of media and commerce. The burning tradition signifies the circle of life, and the festival means a new international beginning for the artist.


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© Text by Lara van Oudenaarde
Special thanx:
Jan Hendrikx, Leander Kippers, Nick Van Soest, Kris Mathijs, Roel Stels, Jeremy Mouton.