Alexander Milov-Love Essay
Alexander Milov’s sculpture, Love, appeared in the 2015 Burning Man festival, which was themed Carnival of Mirrors to reference the confusion in the modern world of media and to call into question who holds the real power, who is being tricked, and how to discover one’s genuine self in a media-saturated world (“2015 Art Theme: Carnival of Mirrors”). Milov’s sculpture references this theme by showing his focus on the conflicts that arise between one’s inner identity and their outer persona. To fully understand Milov’s piece one must not only understand the message of the theme but the festival itself.
In 1986, Larry Harvey and Jerry James initiated the Burning Man festival when they burned an eight-foot effigy on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. The burning effigy quickly attracted the attention and interest of many passers-by who joined in the merriment. The success of that night lead Harvey and many other participants to want to continue this event every year. Subsequent years included taller effigies and larger crowds until it relocated to the Nevada desert due to its increasing size (Gilmore 6). Eventually, the desert the festival evolved to surround ten main principles, key among which are decommodification (a social environment free of advertising), radical self-reliance (relying on one’s natural inner resources instead of corporations), and radical self-expression (showing natural gifts to others who in turn show respect). The ten principles create a counterculture environment where individualism and authenticity are key. As a result, the Burning Man festival tends to feature outsider or visionary art, embracing artists like Alexander Milov, who made his debut at the festival with Love.
In Love, the two adults sit back to back, shoulders slumped in anguish and despondency. Constructed out of rebar, a product of the industrial world, the two adults represent the reclusive and independent nature acquired in adulthood. The use of a material known for its connection with cages strengthens the idea of restriction and oppression. By using a modern material, Milov is saying that it is our current society that has created a cage for our inner selves. However instead of the rebar cage, it is a cage of our values that have restricted our lives and burdened our spirits. Within the context of the Burning Man festival we can construe that the key values that confine us are independence, success, and prestige. These values combine in a way that has created a society that values independence from others at all times, and success and prestige by society’s standards above one’s standards. The desire for this independence contradicts our natural need for companionship in our times of distress, as symbolized by the inner children encased within the two wire-framed adults.
The children are glowing and transparent, standing erect and facing one another, touching hands through the metal framework as a sign of unity. The transparency of the children illustrates how easily individualism can be influenced. The key component of the children is their glow. The illumination represents the innate purity and sincerity in every human being that society tries to cage. In times of distress we look to others to provide us purity and sincerity, to bring us together.
Milov continues to emphasize society’s hierarchy of values in contrast to one’s inner self through his choice of characterization in his figures. Adults typically stand for power, independence, authority, and influence. Having them represent isolation and independence demonstrates the importance placed on these values as well as that society instills these values in their promenade members. In contrast, children are seen as naïve, dependent, and powerless. The association of one’s inner self with the child (or childhood) contributes to society’s view on individualism and interdependence among people. The use of children illustrates society’s perception of juvenility in the idea of needing others in times of distress, while the adults show sophistication and strength in independence. This comparison between the two stages of life reflects Milov’s message, we come into this world interdependent and society shapes us into what it finds useful.
He amplifies this adult-child contrast with the materials he uses to create his figures. The rebar used in adults creates a cold, rigid environment, clearing showing Milov’s disposition towards this mindset. However, the children give off a warm, soft glow creating a warm and welcoming environment. This glow has no restrictions or limitations as the rebar does. Instead, it radiates out in all directions indicating Milov’s idea of connectedness among people. It is important to note that in Love interdependence- the glow- has overcome the independence- the rebar- society prefers. This interaction reflects Milov’s message that our primal needs can’t be stifled by the oppression of modern societal demands .
Society, however, have been less receptive to Milov’s message, calling into question the authenticity of his work due to its association with the festival. To put this criticism into context, one must understand the controversies surrounding the Burning Man festival. Daniel Soulweine from the Huffington Post and many other critics of the festival believe modern society has corrupted the temporary city through law enforcement (Soulweine). They reflect on how the community once patrolled itself where now undercover police officers do, perceiving an invasion on their self-expression. Others feel as if the ten main principles are no longer strictly adhered to, like radical inclusion. With the majority of the Burners being Caucasian and less than one percent being African-American, many believe radical inclusion is more of an idea rather than principle. But no matter the criticism of the festival many others like Anna Garget believe Love stands on its own merit (Garget). That Love doesn’t rely on the festival’s principles or atmosphere, instead Milov has revealed the inner struggle in all mankind.
“2015 Art Theme: Carnival of Mirrors.” Burning Man. Burning Man Project, n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.< http://burningman.org/culture/history/brc-history/event-archives/2015-event-archive/theme/>
Garget, Anna. “Burning Man Sculpture Reveals Inner Child Glowing within Giant Wire-Framed Adult Bodies.” My Modern Met. N.p., 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 July 2016.< http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/alexander-milov-love-sculpture>
Gilmore, Lee. AfterBurn : Reflections on Burning Man. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005. Print.
Souweine, Daniel. “Burning Man Critics Miss the Point.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 July 2016. < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-souweine/burning-man-critiques-mis_b_8130462.html >