Theme Camps – Why and How!

[Affinity, a Burner since 2000, was legally married on the Playa in 2001, and was wedding coordinator and then training coordinator at Burning Man, before becoming the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) Social Media Coordinator and an Advisory Board Member. She interned with the Human Awareness Institute for 10 years, and is a craft dilettante. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

Destiny Lounge Theme Camp
Destiny Lounge Theme Camp, 2009

Theme Camps are arguably the cultural lifeblood of Burning Man.  Participants gather their friends to camp together, establishing a common theme on which to base the interaction they hope to engender with the citizens of Black Rock City.  As freeform and wide-ranging as they can be, from the sublime to the ridiculous, Theme Camps create an ambience, a visual presence, and in some way provide a communal space or provide interactivity.  As such, they are very much the cultural engine of Black Rock City.

As part of the Metropol Blog Series, we thought you might like to know more about how Black Rock City’s Theme Camps are formed and how they operate.  So we went to the source and did some interviews with a (wildly broad) representative sampling of camp organizers, including Bad Idea Theater (an entertainment camp), Kidsville (for families and children), Mal-Mart Mega Store (a parody camp), Root Society (a dance camp), and Suspended Animation (an BDSM bondage camp).  We asked them a whole bunch of questions, and we’ll present more in future posts.  Here are the responses we received for the first set of questions:

Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro, 2006
Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro, 2006

What is the purpose of your camp?

Bad Idea Theater: Our stated purpose is “To Serve and Project”. We strive to create a safe and entertaining social space along the lines of a friendly neighborhood tavern. In order to be considered a true “Metropolis”, a city must have at least one gin-joint, and a third-rate moviehouse. We are honored to help fill these vital roles.

Kidsville: The purpose of Kidsville is to provide a unique and fun space specifically for children and their families within the larger Black Rock City community.

Mal-Mart Mega Store:  Our purpose is to satirize and comment on our modern society’s need to consume and spend… two years ago during the 2008 American Dream theme, the Original Mal-Mart was conceived as a way to parody the shopping mall culture by exposing reckless consumerism as an essential part of the American Dream… the dream of peace and prosperity for all has been replaced by greed and self-interest.  So this year, the Metropolis Theme demands that Mal-Mart once more takes a stand against the societal drift and reveals that it is the life of the Big City itself  that fuels humanity’s impending doom!  Through the use of irony, Mal-Mart Mega Store stands for the unity of humanity, the co-operation skills we all have, and the power to create our entire world around us… isn’t it time we started using that expansive power for the good of the many instead of the one?


From BRC to Kenya: Geomapping Solutions

[Andrew Johnstone is an artist, muralist, 3D computer designer and enthusiastic geomapper. He was the creator of the first 3D fly-through simulation of Black Rock City (originally using Microsoft Flight Simulator software), and he crafts the 3D models of the Man and Man base found on the Burning Man website. He has been the Project Lead of the Burning Man Earth Project since its inception in 2005. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

In 2005, our city designer, Rod Garrett, saw Black Rock City as the perfect Petri dish for technological experiments in geographic data and digital inter-connection. He began to assemble an exceptional international team of creative innovators and programmers, and formed the Burning Man Earth Project.

Burning Man Earth
Burning Man Earth

This volunteer team designed mapping and communication tools to enable Burning Man attendees to better locate themselves and others within the city, to communicate within the area, and to access and contribute information about artworks and events. The project was aimed at providing a managed digital space to encompass all of the physical facets of the Burning Man experience, both in real-time functionality and as a permanent archive.

It was imagined that this work also had implications beyond the limits of Black Rock City. These tools of “where enabling” would have application for populations isolated by natural disasters, refugee camps, or other devastations. The remoteness of the Burning Man event provides an ideal opportunity to test and adapt our programming into proven solutions for disaster relief. And as it is completely open-sourced, others are able to use and build upon it.


FIGMENT in Boston this Weekend!

FIGMENT is a forum for the creation and display of participatory and interactive art by emerging artists across disciplines. FIGMENT began in July 2007 as a free, one-day participatory arts event on Governors Island in New York Harbor with over 2,600 participants. Since then, FIGMENT has grown significantly each year—in number of projects, duration, participants, volunteers, fundraising capability, exhibitions, locations, overall level of commitment and participation, and public support. FIGMENT now expands to the Boston area, with its first event outside of New York and is one of the 2010 [BRAF]’s grant recipients!

FIGMENT will be produced through a partnership with the Cambridge Arts Council, on June 5, 2010, co-located with the Cambridge Arts Council’s long-running Cambridge River Festival, on Memorial Drive on Saturday, June 5, 2010 from 12 pm to 6 pm.

See the web site for directions:

Fire in the Heart of Black Rock City

[MachineGun Lily (aka Lily Rasel) works on Burning Man’s Government Relations, Legal Affairs and External Relations Teams, and (because Burners are nothing if not versatile) lays out the Black Rock City plan in CAD. An accomplished fire performer, she publishes Kindle Magazine, and will attend UC Berkeley’s Boalt Law School in the Fall of 2010. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

With the ability to control and harness its energy, both physical and spiritual, humans see fire differently than the rest of the animal kingdom.  We do not run away from it, but often gravitate towards and congregate around it.  We use it as a tool, and some of us like to use it as a toy.  We see it as both dangerous and comforting, painful and powerful.  But what is it that draws us to flames like moths to a lantern?  What is it that makes us, as Burners, surround ourselves with it, play with it, and revere it as we do in Black Rock City?

The truth is, humans have had a close relationship with fire for many hundreds of thousands of years, over a million years by the count of some scientists.  Some even speculate that harnessing fire and using it to cook food may have been key to our evolution.  Not only were we able to eat a wider variety of foods made softer and safer after cooking and potentially gain more rich protein from cooked meat, we had more time to spend together as people, preparing meals and eating them around the warm fire.

As our earlier selves sat around the protective flames in the dark night, we began to share ideas, stories, and art.  We drew on caves and invented language to communicate the burning complex ideas trapped in our brains, all while enjoying the warmth of what we once feared and fled from like the rest of the animal kingdom.  We began to ritualize the use of fire, like the forests around us, in cycles of life, death, and rebirth.  Fire is a primal element of our nature as humans, and perhaps that is one of the reasons it is so celebrated in Black Rock City.