I saw a Reno 911 episode today where the guys try to make it to Burning Man to bust some "LSD-heads". They get lost outside of Gerlach and never make it. But, damn they had some good participation costumes.
I'm working on a few articles at the same time. I'm going over all my notes and making sure I am quoting correctly. Don't worry, more is coming soon.
"What is Burning Man?"
“What is Burning Man?” Without time to answer the first, the second and third arrive. “What do you do there” “Who goes there?” Traveling back from Black Rock City and telling people of my travels, I am barraged by these same questions. Honestly, there is no easy answer. In fact, the answer is as complex and hazy as the true origins of the event.
In 1986, Larry Harvey and 11 friends needed to get away from the everyday life of San Francisco. These individuals were not social outcasts or people even on the fringe of society. According to a camp-mate of mine named Jeff from San Francisco, the collective group were known as “intellectuals”. These intellectuals gathered on a beach in San Francisco to get a few things off their chests, namely Larry’s former relationship. Over the course of three days they forgot about the outside world and let their inner selves out. In the end, they gathered some driftwood and sculpted it as a figure, which they promptly burned. It was not a specific effigy to anything or anyone, as far as the tale goes, but an effigy of events and times of which they wanted to leave behind.
The 12 friends became 30, or more. The following year it is rumored to be 300. It was not because the event was a party beyond parties, or an orgy on the beach. The appeal was (and remains at the core) a time for the demons inside to be let out and then burned at the end, so as to have a clean slate for the following year. The expression of these demons has become to be known as “participating”. The cleansing has become the burning of the ever more elaborate figure known as “the Man”, the Temple, and now a Pagoda.
The evolution of the event to 35,000 or so for 2004 means a lot of souls are asking to be cleansed. The manifestation of this comes in every single shape and form. I can describe it like this: Think of something you would NEVER EVER do in your normal life. This includes your after hours. Think of the things that you only ever do in your dreams. Burning Man is the place where those dreams are realized and not criticized (except for a few yahoos on Saturday). Have you ever been naked for seven straight days?
Back in the day, the idea of doing something you would never normally do made the selection of the site ideal. Participants could walk out onto the edge of the playa and shoot a gun (because they had never had or wanted a gun (and this is now not allowed because you cannot have guns on the playa)) or jump out of a friend’s airplane without the fear of hitting something on the ground. The playa caused a default thought of “pack in, pack out” mentality that is strongly encouraged to this day. But it wasn’t because they had no services, but because the area was so beautiful that it was ridiculous to think of littering this place. Nowadays, it is a rule and demand by all to keep the streets clean. Rules are delivered in any and every form so every citizen of Black Rock City knows to “pack in and pack out”. The playa is still a beautiful place, but the collective social dynamic within the city no longer is able to retain a default attitude for cleanliness.
Burning Man can be anything you want it to be. If you want to sit and read a book for a week, you can. If you want to rave 24 hours a day, you can. The major underlying premise of the event, though, is how people appreciate what is said or done in the streets of the city. Congratulations are delivered to people for taking a voice, even if people do not agree with what is being said. This is not a normal city. As Larry Harvey proudly states, “People still look you in the eye here.” This acceptance stems from one of the most well know laws of the city: “There are no spectators at Burning Man.” (And as the tour guide for the Artery Bus emphasized, “Get you ass off the bus!”) As long as people are participating in the events, or creating their own, it is appreciated. Burning Man is a place that is temporarily created for us to cleans our demons and have a chance at starting over for the year with a clean slate. It’s also a chance for the other side of everyone to be the front side, even if it is only for a week. My best answer to all those questions is, “You’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself.”
More to come…
"Documenting this event is like describing a kaleidoscope to a blind person."
--Carol, aka "Big Momma", Burning Man 2004
Nothing could be truer. Never have I experienced a city, place or environment like I experienced in the past 7 days. The people I met spanned the globe, yet we were all bonded by an event meant to be for the cleansing of demons inside us.
I have hours of tape to sort out and 300+ pictures to deal with. I spend every day on the playa riding my bike all day to see everything I could, and I barely even scratched the surface. My mind was overwhelmed with the variety in expression and celebration. The next month I will decompress what I found out about the event, the participants and myself in the Featured Projects section of Glowlab.
Before I go any further I want to thank everyone I met and talked to at Burning Man for spending a few minutes with me for this project. Hopefully I will run into you all again.