Burning Man Spotlight: Why Naked Women Rule

An artist's quest to empower women using 9,000 pounds of steel.
Burning Man Spotlight: Why Naked Women Rule

Few of sculptor Marco Cochrane's nudes have ever made it into an art gallery, let alone been sold. But the 48-year-old artist has kept at it anyway, for reasons even he didn't fully understand—until he recently uncovered an old memory he'd suppressed since childhood. In 1970, when Cochrane was seven years old, a young girl visiting his family was abducted, raped, then eventually returned home. They never found the culprit. "I was completely devastated," he says. "It just haunted me for the rest of my life. I thought about it everyday. I didn't even realize why I think about rape all the time."

For 25 years, Cochrane has created bronze sculptures of naked women, which are noted for their remarkable detail and a Roman-style realism. Cochrane's aesthetic lives on the fine line between artistic nudity and nudity that makes people uncomfortable, and that's for a reason. "What society teaches us is that if you find something attractive you should have sex with it," he says. "Men are totally capable of appreciating women's beauty just for its own sake. They're just trained out of it."

In 2009 Cochrane attempted his biggest piece yet, a 40-foot-tall geodesic steel replica of one of his sculptures, in which a naked woman strikes a dancer's pose. As illustrated in this slideshow, the structure originated with the pose of female musician Deja Solis and eventually turned into an engineering feat involving 6,000 steel balls, 27,000 feet of steel rod, and enough steel netting (2,000 square feet) to gift-wrap a two-bedroom apartment. The total project cost came to around $250,000, taking more than 10 months to complete, and requiring 11,000 hours of labor by volunteers, including three full-time and 30 part-time staff.

The piece, entitled "Bliss Dance," debuted at last year's Burning Man festival in Nevada and is now erected on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. This week, Cochrane is back at Burning Man with his latest larger-than-life steel woman, "Truth is Beauty," with an added feature: Visitors can climb her. Cochrane talks about the piece in the video below:

Truth, Beauty & Burning Man: Interview with Marco Cochrane from Matador Network on Vimeo.