“We don’t want to be a background for Instagram photos.” What Ukrainians bring to Burning Man 2023

Last year, the iconic Burning Man festival was held without the participation of Ukrainian artists due to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This year, two teams will go to the desert and present their work. Kurenivka brings The Hedgehog Temple. The team of Oleksii Sai, author of PHOENIX (Trident), will also present their project. Currently, Sai does not disclose any details. But Yaroslav Korets, the leader of the Ukrainian Burner community, told AIN.Capital about The Hedgehog.

Yaroslav Korets and project co-author Oleksandr Slobodianyk. All photos in this interview were provided by the interviewee.

Tell me why you decided not to go to Burning Man last year.

Last year, Kurenivka planned to build a camp at Burning Man for the third time. But in February, the Russians invaded our country… In early March, when the primary issues related to personal safety were resolved, we held an online meeting with the camp team. We publicly decided that we had to cancel our participation because almost every participant was busy defending our country. Some joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, some volunteered, some joined the IT Army, some were involved in our refugee assistance initiative, and some bought armor, helmets, and turnstiles…

Therefore, like all Ukrainians, we understood that Mission No. 1 was to confront the enemy.

Who from the Kurenivka team will go to Burning Man this year, and why did you decide to go?

We decided for the participation this year because we can’t miss the opportunity to speak loudly about the war in Ukraine on the international stage.

Burning Man is a community with the highest concentration of leaders, people who influence the opinions of others. Telling them about the war through art, through emotion, and not through a smartphone screen is a very effective tool of cultural diplomacy.

In addition, we have another goal, but we can talk about it after Burning Man.

Speaking of the team, I want to mention the entire Kurenivka camp, which is involved in both the construction and financing of the project, and especially the key members of the art team, Oleksandr Slobodianyk, Mitya Zinoviev and Leila Zhdanova.

Tell me about The Hedgehog Temple project. How the idea came about, why a hedgehog, what structure it has, how long it takes to assemble it, and other exciting details about the exhibition.

For me, the hedgehog is one of war’s most widespread, simple, and meaningful symbols. It is elementary, but at the same time, it stops enemy tanks. Before the war, the hedgehog was a civilian, used to build houses from this C-channel, but when the war started, it became a military man. It is a symbol of danger, protection, and unity simultaneously. It is very close to me personally because at the beginning of the war, I worked for a construction company, and we made hundreds of these hedgehogs to defend Odesa. And when Burning Man announced the theme for the year, Animalia, it all became obvious: We had to make a hedgehog, an animal made from anti-tank hedgehogs.

But creating cool and visually exciting art is not enough to achieve the goal we set out to achieve. I wanted it to have the energy of war, to convey the emotions we experience daily in Ukraine. We added a goal to dedicate the project to my fallen friends, and this is how the puzzle came together.

The hedgehog itself is a pavilion built of 3 tons of metal, with 100 giant hedgehogs inside and covered with a camouflage sand net. And inside, there is a war memorial with stories, photographs, and personal belongings of the fallen heroes.

You got a grant from the Burning Man administration. How? What is the amount of the funding, and what are the terms?

Every year, the Burning Man Project announces the theme of the year and invites applications for grants, this program is called Honorarium. Anyone can participate. You don’t have to be a professional artist or have any history with Burning Man. So I just submitted my application according to the general procedure.

This year got over 700 applicants, and the organizers selected 70 for partial funding. Under NDA, I can’t disclose the terms, but usually, it’s 50% of the project cost — in our case, this money was enough for construction materials.

With the support of our very cool and influential friends, we settled the logistics and lighting of the project, and the production itself was done at the sites of Oleksandr Slobodianyk and Mitya Zinoviev in Kyiv. I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to everyone who is helping the project reach the desert! Thank you!

Do Ukrainians have to pay to participate in the festival? What is the ticket price this year?

Of course, they have to; there are no exceptions because the first principle of Burning Man is radical inclusion.

The tickets cost $575, but the art team received free gift tickets, for which we are grateful to the organizers.

To what extent do you think the ideas of the Burning Man festival correlate with what Ukrainians want to convey to visitors? Will the reminder of the war not irritate the participants?

Burning Man is about radical self-expression and community, so we don’t think our art will annoy anyone. But we definitely don’t want to be a decorative art object or a background for Instagram photos. The Hedgehog Temple should evoke emotions.

I would also like to take this moment to invite Ukrainians to join the project and send the stories of their loved ones who were lost in the war. They can do that on the project’s page.