Yellowknife introduces its version of ‘Burning Man’

Yellowknife introduces its version of ‘Burning Man’
Yellowknfie artists piece together the triskele-shaped Transience art project out of pallets and two-by-fours. Back, left to right: Lachlan MacLean, Michal Serafin, Daniel Gillis and Kuzman Jivkov. Front, left to right: Judy Mah and Kate Guay.Photo: Darren Jacquard.

The familiar and majestic ice castle isn’t the only thing standing tall out on Yellowknife Bay this month to mark the second annual Long John Jamboree winter festival.

Transience, a 16-foot tall art project made of 110 wooden pallets and two-by-fours, went up piece by piece between Jolliffe Island and Dog Island on Mar. 2 and will remain there until Saturday: the designated burn day when it will be torched to the ground.

“In a celebration of winter, there is a place for fire,” Lachlan MacLean, the main artist and organizer behind Transience, said. “We all appreciate a good warm fire in the winter and the pallets are a common sight in Yellowknife. So besides being readily available and burnable, that also brings some special significance – the whole structure becomes a comment on the transient nature of Yellowknife. There are certainly always lots of new faces coming through town, the seasons change dramatically. The structure itself is only here for two weeks, so it’s a transient too.”

MacLean, a team leader for reliability engineering at BHP’s Ekati diamond mine, has attended multiple Burning Man festivals, an annual counterculture art event, in northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. When he moved to Yellowknife four years ago, he said the similarities between Nevada and the vast space on Yellowknife Bay were striking.

“I thought people should be utilizing the ice more and I also feel there needs to be more venues for self-expression here, so when that’s important to you, you just do things to make it happen.”

Last year, MacLean and a group of 14 other artists wanted to do something “fire-oriented” for the Long John Jamboree and ended up implementing a series of fire pits. This year, it was about taking that one step further, he said.

Transience, erected in the shape of a 3D triskelion or triskele (three, nearly interlocking spirals), should be understood as a public, open art gallery, MacLean said.

By coincidence, MacLean learned after the triskele’s construction that the shape was possibly once an ancient symbol of fire.

The group has nailed sheets of cardboard to some of the pallets for public expression.

“We’ve left carpenter’s pencils and pencil crayons there and the public can wander through it, interact with it, contribute to it with words, drawings, anything…The idea is to get people to take a moment to reflect about transience and change in their lives and pay a little more attention, thereby, to the current moment.”


Volunteers piece together the first part of Transience on Yellowknife Bay. (Photo: Darren Jacquard)

The main drive of the piece is to remind people that “everything is impermanent and will one day be ashes,” he explained.

Visitors are also invited to submit their own artwork and leave it at the Transience site, so long as they do not mind it going up in flames as well. All artwork must be non-toxic as Transience is a “leave-no-trace event,” MacLean said.

The burning of Transience, tentatively set to begin around 8:00 p.m. Saturday, will be a part of the jamboree’s “Fire and Ice” event, an evening of the elements, which will feature fireworks, pyrotechnics and ice sculptures.

MacLean hopes to make the burning art project an annual jamboree affair, switching up the theme and structural shape, as well as the materials, every year.

The Long John Jamboree, packed with a number of winter activities from snow beach volleyball to a long john fashion show, kicks off Thursday on Great Slave Lake and wraps up Sunday.

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