The Revelation of the Human Spirit
by Anthony Lanni
When I first encountered the Human Spirit she was lying on her side. Even reclining, she was a powerful figure, several hundred pounds of tempered steel welded into curves and points as sharp as knives. I helped load her into a truck with a dozen others, looking forward to seeing her displayed properly.
The next day was Los Angeles’ Decompression 2012, the first exhibition of the Human Spirit. It was also my first foray into Burning Man culture, and I jumped in with both feet, volunteering all day before enjoying the festivities that evening. The Human Spirit stood on top of the hill at the center of the L.A. State park, a silent sentinel watching over the proceedings below like a guardian angel.
My youngest brother Michael was the lead artist on the project, and he’d told me all about it. At Decompression he spun the Human Spirit and showed me the Seraphim, the massive wooden structure that had been intended to house the metal sculpture. They were supposed to be burned together that night, until the Fire Marshal ruled that it was too dangerous.
In March of 2013, at the first regional Burning Man celebration called ‘Bequinox’ (as it was held on or about the Vernal Equinox), no such permission was needed. The Seraphim served as our Temple both at Decom and at Bequinox, and had been covered with messages and offerings. As night fell and the crowd gathered, I sat down at the very edge of the safety margin to watch my first Burn.
I found myself in a unique position; I was a newcomer, a spectator, unsure of the import of what I was about to witness but confident in the depth of its meaning to those more experienced around me. On my right were crowded a family and next to them other people, excited for the burn; on my left, no less excited but for slightly different reasons, were many of the build team of the Seraphim and the Human Spirit. I was at once an innocent and in the know, for I was privy to the secret that only the build team knew; that the Human Spirit was present, and its reveal was imminent.
The Seraphim was an inverted cone of planks twisted to look like a massive tornado, supported by a square structure flanked by an angel at each corner. The tornado represented the chaos of Los Angeles; each angel was decorated to represent one of the four major races of L.A., white, black, Asian and Hispanic. They stood tall, supporting the storm of the city but also separated by it. As the flames rose up the sides of the Seraphim, people whistled and cheered, then quieted to a steady murmur. Fire spun in miniature tornadoes, some sideways, some upright, and as the flames and heat rose I sensed a palpable tension on my left side. Would it work? Would everything come together as planned?
As bits of the Seraphim fell away, a hush rolled over the crowd. There, in the flames, as the wood collapsed and sparks flew, the head of the Human Spirit was visible. From my right one of the children cried out, ‘What is that, mommy?’ The same query hung on the lips of everyone else. There was a universal gasp, followed by a wary silence that descended over the crowd. More of the Seraphim fell, and as the entire Human Spirit became visible the rising heat caught its wings and it began to spin.
The build team began to hoot and holler in triumph, and the cry was taken up by everyone around. As the flames burned down and people were allowed closer to the embers, Michael explained to anyone who asked; as the trappings of race and the madness of our everyday life burn away, the only thing that remains is the very thing we all have in common, the one thing that unites us all: the Human Spirit.