Black Rock City, a desert in the Middle of Nowhere, this is Burning Man!
At the age of 16 years old I had already visited more than 30 countries and had lived outside my home country, France, for almost
10 years (U.S, Brazil and Belgium). These ten years opened my eyes to the diversity of the world, seen across landscapes, people,
cultures, sounds and tastes. I love people, I love getting to know others better, I love understanding why people are what they are.
My Dad let me borrow his old camera while we were discovering the world, then bought me a Kodak with Cube Flashes, these
where my first shots. I have never stopped taking pictures since then. As an adult, I continue exploring all the continents. Photography
keeps me connected to the magic of the planet. Across my travels I have taken thousands of photos. From nature to cities, from people
to artists’ studios…
This project, “In The Middle of Nowhere”, was born in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, in September 2014. My son Baptiste
had come to me and said “Dad, a friend of mine just came back from a crazy art festival in the desert, Burning Man”. Curious,
we researched it and discovered something strange and amazing. For my first time at Burning Man I stayed only 3 days, and I
took…3000 pictures! My camera lens ended full of dust, but that probably added to the mystery of my images and the “sense of
In the middle of nowhere, under 100 degrees Fahrenheit, cycling on a lake that dried 30 million years ago, 70 000 people live in
total autonomy for one week, no money is exchanged, and hundreds of art pieces, static or moving, under the heat, in a dust storm,
are admired by visitors in very creative costumes…and burned by the end of the festival, “Ephemeral Art!” I seek to testify for the
ephemeral, fleeting nature of these art pieces and unique moments made lasting by photography. Capturing the place, light, dusty
wind that surrounds this eclectic gathering.
For this project I have selected about 30 images out of 3000, coached by my two friends Gino Castoriano and Jules Maeght, gallerists.
“In The Middle of Nowhere” is about people, places and art. Unique, ephemeral moments I captured through my images that I want
to share with you through this project.
Curatorial statement – Desert forever
Beyond the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville and moving far out West where the traces of culture are less visible, French intellectuals
and artists have continued to be seduced, awed and entranced by the American desert. In 1962, Jean Tinguely and Niki de St.
Phalle were commissioned by NBC to visit and make an artwork in Las Vegas. The Cold-War apocalyptic art performance that
resulted entitled “Study for an End of the World, No. 2.” was inspired by the fact that the venue resembled Yucca Flats, a site for
atomic testing in the 1950s. Tinguely and St. Phalle collected garbage from the Las Vegas city dump, including bicycle wheels and
shopping carts, and then fused them together to make sculptures at the Flamingo Hotel. These sculptures were then lined up in the
desert southwest of the city, and detonated using dynamite, firecrackers, and smoke bombs. This interpretation of the desert by two
French artists was a worthy pre-curser to San Francisco’s own Survival Research Lab and Burning Man.
Later, in the 1980s, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard explored the desert in his cult book “America” 1989 and offered up his
epic interpretation “astral America as a hologram.” Baudrillard’s notion of the hologram is akin to the world of fantasy and “l’amerique
siderale”—a French projection of the American sublime. Baudrillard articulates the spectacular primal shock of the desert; its seismic
form and its irreversible advance in to the desert of time. To add to the discourse of the intellectual desert, later in 2007, philosopherstar
Bernard-Henri Lévy journeyed along Route 66 with his driver and wrote “American Vertigo,” exploring both the grandeur and the
hellish dimensions of America. Lévy would discover the desert to be a place, despite all, where inclusion, in the democratic sense,
remains not just an ideal but also an actual practice.
Now it is Arnaud Gaertner’s turn in the American desert with his camera – Black Rock Desert to be precise and the date is 2014. This
French-born photographer who has lived overseas for most of his life, shifts his focus on the desert space of ritualized Burning Man,
in his words “a stage for art and machines and human expression and creativity. “ Arnaud Gaertner’s mystical photographs capture
the hyper reality of the desert where things lose their shadows, where there is an extreme rarity of traces and where money loses
value to another type of currency. “You can do anything in the desert,” espouses Burning Man culture and its populace. Gaertner’s
images tell us more, they tell us what we know but perhaps had not realized without his photographs to remind us: the desert might
be metaphysical, from its dust to dust ephemeral nature, from desire to desire, but its expanse is in fact, very real.
Natasha Boas, curator – San Francisco