Burnin’ with the ‘American Dream’
August 18, 2008
A man with a dyed-black beard in traditional Muslim clothes will work on a 30-foot-tall wooden sculpture resembling the Statue of Liberty as he yells down to people at a festival in the Nevada desert next week:
“Thank you America!” he will repeat. “Thank you for my freedom!”
That’s Matthew Welter’s plan.
The 48-year-old Carson City artist said his 13-foot-tall sculpture was set on fire at the Burning Man arts and culture festival last year and, by building a sculpture more than double its size this year, he wants to make people think about the choice “between order and anarchy” by mixing his sculptures with performance art.
The art theme this year is “American Dream.”
“If they’re going to burn down liberty,” said Welter, owner of Timeless Sculptures in Carson City, “they’re going to hear from me. It’s not going to go unchecked.”
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This is how he sees the arrangement of his art exhibit at the Black Rock Desert festival of about 50,000 people. He will dress as a Middle Eastern man while working on his new 30-foot-tall cedar sculpture called “The Hand of Order. This piece of art will be set up by the remains of the old charred statue, now called “The Rein of Anarchy.”
People will be able to participate in the art by casting a vote for “order,” “anarchy,” or “no vote” if they are willing to perform on stage what they consider an act of freedom.
Each vote will be symbolized by a different colored flag ” blue for order, red for anarchy or white for no vote. Each will go up a separate flag pole.
“Let’s hold a vote,” Welter said Sunday at his workshop, a building painted light blue with white clouds. “What do we want?”
He said he’s taking the vote so seriously that he’s bringing a watchtower so he can monitor the process. Three apprentices are working on the construction.
Cameron Atkins, who cut wood for the watchtower with a chain saw wearing sandals and no shirt, met Welter at the festival last year and has worked with him on other projects.
He said they spent a lot of time talking about politics, author Ayn Rand and the wonders and possibilities of Burning Man, which organizers describe as an “annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance.”
“It’s been interesting to see flowers grow from rubble,” said Atkins, 27.
Andy Berner, 18, said he likes being challenged by the creativity of Welter and others at Burning Man.
“It’s very humbling,” he said. “It’s art for art’s sake.”
Welter called the festival one of the greatest cultural events in the country and promised that he would try to stop talking about politics while he prepared.
But he’s never done something as political as he is doing this year, he said, and he knew it would be that way when he heard that the art theme chosen for this year was “American Dream” ” an announcement he saw shortly after the burning of his sculpture.
“An ironic little ‘Twilight Zone’ theme sounded in my head,” Welter said.
– Contact reporter Dave Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.