The annual celebration of art and the individual— the Burning Man festival
Monday 25 September @ 14:18:19
by SKY HORNIG
My friend Dante and I were on our way to get coffee. We had pedaled our bikes over dry, cracked desert through a mass of naked or costumed people, while parachuters descended overhead. Out of nowhere, a man painted entirely silver darted past us on a silver skateboard. “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed Dante. I laughed. It was Dante’s first day at Burning Man and he was bound to utter that exact sentence at least a dozen times a night for the next four nights.
Burning Man is a week-long festival where 35,000 participants gather in Black Rock Desert, Nevada to construct “Black Rock City”—a collision of each and every creative mind present.
it you find larger than life, interactive art installations—such as the
90-foot, coiled, fire-breathing, fang-gnashing “Serpent Mother”
built by the Flaming
Lotus Girls, a Bay-Area women’s art collective. (The installation
used nearly 8,000 gallons of propane.)
Roaming among the stationary art pieces are bicycles and art cars, or Mutant
Vehicles. “Imagine giant Cheshire Cats. Or mobile disco parties. This
year there was a gigantic Venus Fly Trap—it must have been over 50 feet
tall,” says Jonathan Kleves, second-year attendee.
And, at every turn, are enormous domes where DJs spin nonstop.
“It is at once the biggest art exhibition, playground, and party you could
ever imagine,” said two-time participant, Betsy Winston.
Every participant is considered a citizen. The website explains, “Everyone
is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play.” People dress in costume,
or nothing at all.
“Pretty much anything goes here,” said Greg Snyder, in his favorite
“Pink Trapeze Artist” costume. “Yesterday, I danced with a
man on stilts and three naked people.”
Burning Man festival dates back to 1986, when Larry Harvey and Jerry James held
a small fire ceremony on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Today, at the height
of the event, Black Rock City is the third most populous city in Nevada.
“These people make the journey ... to be part of an experimental community,
which challenges its members to express themselves and rely on themselves to
a degree that is not normally encountered in one’s day-to-day life,”
states the Burning Man website.
This year’s gigantic installation “Uchronia” exemplified the
collision of work, art and play at Burning Man. An amorphous cavern, 15 stories
high, constructed of 2-inch by 3-inch beams that ranged from 8 to 10 feet long,
Uchronia became an all-night dance haven drenched in neon green light and electronic
Jan Kriekels, who funded the project, said it began as a drawing on a napkin
at a pub in Belgium. He said, “[it] is a message from the future. ‘Uchronia’
means ‘no time.’ We are all living in logical systems today …
[this project] represents a more creative system … [it] will hold a lot
longer than something created by an architect because it is organic. It is coming
out of you.”
homage to creativity required 100 miles of wooden beams, $250,000 and the help
of 90 volunteers.
As the Burning Man principles explain, along with “radical self-expression,”
comes “radical self-reliance.” At 4,000 feet above sea level, Black
Rock Desert is a harsh environment. Temperatures can rise above 100 degrees
during the day and can plunge to the 40s at night. Common ailments range from
sunburn to extreme dehydration and sunstroke. Participants are expected to bring
all necessary survival tools.
“I never would have made it without the Gatorade,” said Amy Benziger,
a first-time participant.
And what participants bring in, they must pack out. Burning Man has a staunch
Leave No Trace policy. Volunteers return to Black Rock for up to a month following
the festival to collect “MOOP,” or Matter Out Of Place, and return
the lakebed to its natural, pristine condition.
take Burning Man very seriously. The most surprising part of the event is the
sense of community,” said Winston. “It is a place free of judgment,
where everyone is here to help out one another. There is no commerce, only gifts.
There are no strangers, only friends. In many ways, it feels this is the way
the world should be.”
Burning Man culminates on Saturday night with the “Burn.” The entire
community gathers to watch fireworks erupt from the 40-foot “man”
as he bursts into flames and finally topples to the ground.
Sleep-deprived, sunburnt, dry-skinned participants pack up their costumes and
camps for the journey home—until next year. “This year, I finally
understood why the greeters say ‘Welcome home!’ when you arrive,”
Perhaps it is because in its guiding principle of immediacy, the website says,
“[Burning Man] seeks to overcome barriers that stand between us and a
recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation
in society and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea
can substitute for this experience.” ||