Color Story: "Burnout Orange"

The Techy-Trippy Red-Orange of Being Culturally Fried

  • Text: Olivia Whittick

In Nevada, Area 51 is designated from the rest of the surrounding areas by bright red-orange stakes pounded into the dirt at its perimeter. This is Burnout Orange, the color that lives between the scorched orange earth of the Mojave and the mirage of electric neons of the Las Vegas Strip. It’s the color of UFO sightings, described as “fiery disks” in the sky, a Fear and Loathing high-for-art mescaline-induced paranoia shade. Its temperature conjures both Red Rock Canyon and Red Rock Casino, the undulating unreality of a desert metropolis.

A groovy techno-futurist, Burnout Orange is someone who might wear a tin-foil hat. It’s the infrared orange of artist Jon Rafman's video “tunnel” for the Balenciaga SS19 runway, so explained in the show’s notes: “The journey continues through eerie digital ecosystems, alien landscapes, and late-stage techno-fetishist civilizations on the verge of collapse.” Rafman is an artist concerned with the impact of technology on our lives, obsessed by virtual realities, known for work in VR, video games, investigating unreal—in the digital sense—dimensions. The LED set he created for the show was titled “Ride Never Ends,” bringing the viewer into his digitized psyche by producing an immersive, consciousness-expanding, pure technology environment.

Burnout Orange is seen in an illuminated EXIT sign, as an LED stop light or a traffic cone, red and orange for indicating hazard, the carnal vibrancy of the colors most able to puncture the mundane, grab attention in a landscape awash with dull tones. It’s a new follower, a missed phone call, a pile-up of emails—a notification shade. Burnout Orange is the color of alert in excess, of the contemporary “burnout” epidemic, the physical side-effect of a tech-mediated life. A hyperactive, hustling orange. An Off-White zip-tie tag, a plastic mini muleta for attracting hypebeasts. An Aperol Spritz posted to Instagram, sweating, electric. Clout-seeding Caviar, Hermès Birkins. But also Tide-Pod orange, memes of Gritty-turned-Communist-icon, or Gritty on the cover of Artforum, too, mimicking the virality of a Red Tide’s rapidly multiplying algal blooms, or the Rayleigh scattering that turns a sunset red. It’s a buzzing orange of the brain on sensory overload.

Contemporary in its ostentatiousness, but vintage in its fade, Burnout Orange has been loud so long it’s mellowed out. Like Lil Yachty’s hair between colorings. It’s brighter in the dark, an otherworldly glow radiating inexplicably off of material, as seen in Acne’s FW19 show-opening look, a Burnout Orange sweater featuring a cross-section of peripheral nerve fibres, the nerves that facilitate sensory perception. To wear this color is to summon a spectre of the past, to call back to lost spirituality, a higher plane of pop-consciousness offered by the 1960s and 70s, colored orange through appropriating the saffron robe “style” of Buddhist Monks and the Hare Krishna.

Left: Dries Van Noten, Spring/Summer 2019. Right: Marni, Spring/Summer 2019.

Burnout Orange is a stab at a meditated elegance. Dries Van Noten’s SS19 red-oranges, radiating across button-ups, pants, and coats, inspired by Dutch designer Verner Panton’s psychedelic, magma interiors. Gucci’s Pre-Fall 2019 shag coat, amidst a hyper-gaudy hippie-costume collection, or Eckhaus Latta’s SS19 orange knitted dress come undone. Hermès FW19 backdrop like hot coals, firing neurons and A-Cold-Wall*’s models literally sweating in the heat of their red-orange suits. Off-White’s FW19 logo tank-top merging early internet graphics with crocheted knit exemplified how Burnout Orange can feel simultaneously retro and futuristic, trippy and techy.

Like a hot knife, an electric element left on max heat, Burnout Orange is a red so hot it’s turning white, bleaching itself back to orange. The gas-press thumb on a Bic lighter. A slow-churning lava lamp fire hazard, a particularly mesmerizing basement carpet. It’s the orange of Terence McKenna’s “Jungle Spice” DMT, and we can only assume, the galactic “hyperlight drive ships” he claims to know how to build in his memory, high on shrooms. Burnout Orange might once have been red, but now it’s fried, living in the gradient between orange and red, between solid states. It’s interstitial, transitioning between planes. The moon as it phases into an eclipse and the color of Mars’ recently discovered underground lake. ATLiens Outkast’s Stankonia Mandelbrot album art, and the credits appearing in an orange slice for Claire Denis’ upcoming sci-fi, High Life, ft. Andre Benjamin.

Left and right: A-Cold-Wall*, Fall/Winter 2019. Centre: Marni, Fall/Winter 2019.

The brain activity of people meditating and using psychedelics is known to be similar.
Burnout Orange is the healing color of WARP 75, a glowing red LED lamp developed by NASA to heal astronaut’s wounds, and to help grow plants in extraterrestrial environments. Burnout Orange is a trip sitter, a spiritual guide. It is also the latest color of trendy “wellness,” a modern-day spiritual supplanter, red light therapy a new aspect of a determined health (beauty) routine, believed to stimulate collagen and expel “toxins.” (Aperol gained its elegant reputation by initially advertising as a drink for sporty people and weight-conscious women.) With the glow of Dr. Dennis Gross’ SpectraLite Faceware Pro, an at-home infrared light therapy head-piece (“In just three minutes this FDA CLEARED, LED device smooths wrinkles and zaps acne-causing bacteria—hands-free!”), and the penetrative, restorative heat of an infrared sauna, red-orange is the latest color of “detox,” momentarily displacing everything “green.” It’s the color of a burnout, and now, of the condition’s remedy. It’s Orange Mycena magic mushrooms, mushroom powder wellness.

In the pre-Silicon Valley early days of internet, the most infamous tech innovators of our time used psychedelics to see what wasn’t yet there. Steve Jobs said that taking LSD was one of the most significant events in his life. Other, earlier computing pioneers were known to experiment with the drug, Al Hubbard, “The Johnny Appleseed of LSD” having introduced it to many engineers in what would later become Silicon Valley. Personal computers were born out of a 60s counterculture moment, a tripping-balls approach to innovation and freedom of information. The internet, with its increased stimuli, with its ability to scatter a material reality and fixed identity into something intangible and omnipresent, is a logical extension of a psychedelic experience. Workday microdosing of LSD remains a common practice in tech hubs—How can we know which technologies currently dictating our lives were developed by California tech-bros trying to materialize the next revolution, ripped on hallucinogens? Burnout Orange is futurism folding back upon itself, a retro-future re-run. Our burnout is a result of their trip.

Olivia Whittick is an editor at SSENSE. She is also managing editor at Editorial Magazine.

  • Text: Olivia Whittick