About Burning Man 2012
Here is a quick introduction to Burning Man as I precieve it.
Burning Man started in 1986 when a guy named Larry Harvey went to the beaches of San Francisco with a group of friends in an effort to get over a bad relationship and ended up building a man out of driftwood and burning it. It was generally agreed to be a pretty good time so they decided to do it again the next year where it became a yearly event. Eventually (1990) the crowds and event started to get larger than the beaches of SF could handle so at the suggestion of some industrial artists, the event was moved to the Black Rock Desert, known as “the playa”.
The playa is a large desert in Nevada that used to be an ancient lake bed that is now part of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) holdings. It is the flattest place on Earth, where the land speed records are attempted at, and probably what you see anytime a car commercial comes on with a car driving across a flat featureless plain. It is basic in nature, bubble if vinegar or some other acid is poured on it, and will corrode metal if moist. When wet if forms a clay like substance and when drying will harden but will break apart. Under the constant tread of feet or vehicles it will eventually turn into a powder like chalk dust that the wind will blow at times to white out conditions.
The early years on the playa were the wild west days of Burning Man which many people heard about it first. It was the time of the “drive by shooting range”, the “molotov cocktail practice range”, hot springs with people covered in mud, random fireworks and flares, and burning cars. As Burning man grew many of these activities had to be given up not only for safety reasons, but also to protect the surrounding lands by useage of thousands of people. Many of these activities are still done on the 4th of July (4th of Juplaya) when thousands of people go to the playa as campers in small groups.
Now, Burning Man is a private arts festival consisting of near 60,000 people. Although still run by Larry Harvey and the LLC he created, it is currently in the middle of a five year transition period where control is given over to a non-profit group meant to take over as he steps down. The idea is to create a community where everybody participates and nobody is a spectator. Most of the working positions, the people who show up months ahead of time to survey and lay out the roads, those who build the Man and other public structures, the people who man the gates, the people who work in the cafe, and the people who clean up after the event is over are volunteers receiving no pay but room, board, and a ticket to next year’s event.
What the event and the city means is different for everybody who attends. Like any city, there are many things that go on, and different people are interested in a variety of different things. Asking what Burning Man and getting a correct answer as it is about different things to different people. With that many people and things going on, one person may spend their entire week doing things that another person never even knew were happening. With the number of theme camps and art installations, it would be impossible to visit them all, let alone experience each one as intended by the people who built them. There are a number of things that Burning Man is supposed to stand for and adhere to and those include:
1) Leave No Trace - The playa, being a flat featureless plain, can be thought of as a blank piece of paper. Part of the ageement with the BLM is that when Burning Man leaves, there will be no trace it was there. People are to pack out everything they brought with them. There are porta-pottied, but there are no trash cans or recycling except for aluminium cans. Whatever trash one creates while there should be carried back out when you leave. If you see trash, it should be picked up and carried out. When your camp is broken down, holes should be repaired, marks errased, and nothing that would cause damage to the playa left unrepaired.
2) Gift Economy - Except for drinks and ice in the center camp, no money is supposed to be used at Burning Man (and in those cases, all profit goes to the local school district). Instead the idea is that things should be given if exchanged. Originally, it was a barter economy, but people just ended up with a box of useless Archie McPhee junk that nobody really wanted so it was easier all round to just give stuff away. The places that serve food, and the bars that serve drinks just give it away. It’s easier on everybody that way. Some places might still require payment in the form or jokes told, talents performed, or participating in whatever that particular camp does. Payment in the form of trinkets (ie swag), cigarettes, food, or other gestures are still done to show appreciations or required for things that might have a fairly high value in the “default world”.
3) Be a Participant, not a Spectator - Ideally, everybody there should be there to add something to the event, not just to watch what other people do. Be in the theme camp, volunteer for one of the many jobs needed to help put on the festival, or just share what you have to bring. This is also for people’s own enjoyment. Go there expecting to be entertained and you may wander around aimlessly for days as it’s nobody’s job to make sure you have fun. Almost everybody there, even the guys driving the heavy machinery frantically yelling into their radios are on vacation just like you. Go there expecting to entertain instead, and you’ll have thousands of people to interact with.
Most people go as a part of a Theme camp. Theme camps are like any other group of campers but usually have a theme that binds them together. They might invite people into their camp to entertain them, run a bar, give out food, provide a stage for others to perform, or have some other set purpose such as being a roller skating rink or theater for example. Others may work together to build and support an art installation on the playa or an art car. Some are just common places for people to camp while they go do other things.
Then, there is the burning of the Man which happens on Saturday night. It’s hard to describe 60,000 people all gathered around for the Burn. A perimeter is set up around the man during the day as it is gotten ready for the burn by removing things that need to be saved, setting up fireworks, and setting up the other pyrotechnics inside the Man. People will start to gather around the perimeter and be asked to sit down by the Rangers (Black Rock Rangers, not the BLM Rangers, another volunteer group for the event that generally tries to keep people from hurting themselves and otherwise get along). The crowd of people sitting will go back about fifty feet where the crowd will be standing. That will go back another fifty feet or so until you start to reach the sea of bicycles laying around where all the sitting and standing people left them. Outside of that will be the ring of art cars that surrounds the entire ordeal providing their riders a platform to see over everybody else and blasting their music. Other people will be watching from much farther back, even from back at their camps almost a mile away as the height of the man and absolute flatness of the playa means that even an 8’ platform will put you above everything but the tallest art cars between you and the Man. Once night hits, the man will be lit up with neon and eventually the arms will raise to the traditional Burning Man stance. This is the sign to everybody that the Burn should be in 20 minutes. The Burn proper starts with the fire conclave, consisting of hundreds of fire performers, coming out and doing their thing between the crowd and the Man. They might also be joined inside the perimeter by marching bands or art cars that will circle the Man. As everything winds down, then the fireworks will begin, which will include water falls of sparks and other pyrotechnics that will begin to set the man on fire followed by large fireballs that will accelerate the process. Once the Man is burning well, the fireworks will be over and it’s just a matter of time till he and the structure it was on finally falls. Once that happens, the perimeter is opened up and things go crazy as this is the point everybody has waited for.
Other large artworks are burned too, some before the Man, and some on Burn night, but the next main burn is the Temple on Sunday night. The Temple was originally built to remember an a member of the designer’s crew that had died prior to the event. Now the Temple is used as a cathartic event to get past things that have happened, namely when people have died. The wooden walls are filled with writings, photos, and other items detailing people, pets, relationships that have been lost that will all be burned with the Temple. The Temple burn is a much more subdued event than that of the man. The art cars do not play any music. People speak in hushed tones. Despite still being in a crowd of thousands of people, you can hear the fire crackle as it burns and a person cough 50 yards away.
My photos from Burning Man 2012
Black Rock City Hardware Shoppe
This is my theme camp. We’re a close group of friends that go out to Burning Man every year to run a hardware shop. We bring tools and supplies to help people who have things break on them out in the middle of the desert or need help building things. While we do a lot of work on bikes, we’ve also fixed shoes, art cars, art installations, generators and all sorts of other stuff as well as given out nuts, bolts, rope, nails, etc that people find they end up needing while in the desert and a four hour drive minimum to anything larger than a gas station.
All my photos of Burning Man
This is the actual web page for the event with lots of information on what goes on and why.
Current TV - The Burn
A 30 minute video of The Burn and its highlights should you want to watch it.
Current TV - Crude Awakening
A video on one of the art projects on the playa back in 2008.
Current TV - Thunderdome
A video on Thunderdome, which is the project done by Death Guild, a goth bar in San Francisco, that has been a camp for more than a decade.
Other Links to Burning Man 2012 pictures
Rueters photos on The Atlantic site
Picture 33 are some of my camp on our friend’s art car shooting the flame throwers.