You may have heard that Radical Self-Reliance is one of Burning Man’s Ten Principles. And so is Leaving No Trace. When you put them together, it means that whether it’s a costume, or a vehicle, or an art installation, your food, your camp, your bike, your trinkets, or whatever, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MAKING SURE YOUR STUFF DOESN’T BECOME MOOP (aka Matter Out of Place).
And that brings us to the subject of feathers on playa.
Back in the day, folks would show up at Burning Man with cheap feather boas, and they’d inevitably fall to pieces, blow all over the playa, get stuck on the trash fence, blow past it, and generally create a super MOOPy headache for everybody.
So, to prevent a MOOPocalypse, we’ve long had a warning in the Survival Guide to not bring feathers (primarily this was directed at those cheap boas, since it predates when the headdress and fedora fads kicked in), and even had the Gate crew prohibit them from being brought into Black Rock City.
Now here’s the thing … some feathers are super MOOPy and others, well, aren’t. What we’re saying is this: if you want to wear feathers, that’s fine … but make sure they’re attached in ways that won’t fail, and if you can’t then don’t wear them, because it’s on YOU if they become MOOP. (And that goes for anything you bring to Black Rock City.)
So be smart, use good judgment, and be careful about what you do and don’t bring to (and wear on) the playa. In order to help you make sound judgments, here’s a list of things that are known to be especially MOOPy:
wood chips, splinters and sawdust
burn barrel ashes
mylar (once it dries out and cracks)
firecrackers and fireworks
anything that may dry out, break up and/or blow away in the wind
sheets of paper
disposable drink cups
swimming pools (soaked playa = moop)
glass containers (they can shatter)
One last thing … we’re keeping our eye on this ball. If feathers prove to be a MOOP problem in the future, we may be forced to ban them.
In 2014, through coordination with the BLM, we will be opening the Black Rock City Gate to participants earlier and closing it later in order to maximize use of daylight hours, minimize traffic impacts on local roads, smooth out traffic flow, and create a safer travel situation for everybody. This is a one-year experiment, and if it goes well, it could mean we continue it in the future.
This year we have approval from BLM to open the Black Rock City Gate for Burning Man participants at 10am on Sunday, August 24. NO early arrivals are allowed before that time without an Early Arrival Pass!
The event itself officially starts at 6pm Sunday, August 24, and it’s expected that participants use the earlier arrival time as opportunity to set up their camp infrastructure during the day. The event ends at 6pm on Monday, September 1, 2014, after which people must limit their activities to breaking down camp, conducting Leave No Trace efforts, and preparing to depart the city.
This year we have authorization from BLM to allow Exodus to extend through Tuesday, September 2 at noon, allowing for a safe and smooth egress period. So if the line of cars in Exodus is too long, and your schedule allows, you may want to wait in your camp. Use the extra time to rest for the drive, secure your vehicle loads, MOOP your campsite, or your block. Plan accordingly so that you’re out of the city by Tuesday at noon.
Remember, this is one-year experiment by the BLM and Burning Man to help ease the traffic backups on entry and Exodus. If everyone works together and is off the playa by noon Tuesday, we will look at continuing the extended opening and departure in future years. Help us smooth out the traffic flow!
Late one night, the furniture on the side of the building on Howard Street started to move. It had been suspended up there on the wall for 17 years; but one night, one of the chairs wiggled, pulled, then popped a leg free. It tore another rusted steel foot off the wall, shaking loose a few rusty bolts that tumbled down onto the sidewalk below.
The others looked over, lamps craning their necks and throwing oblongs of light, the grandfather clock swiveling its head to see. The chairs plunged down the wall, scampered onto the sidewalk, and out into the dark.
Before long, the tables and televisions made their way down, one fat couch inching down like a caterpillar, thumping away in all directions. After 17 years, Defenestration was no more.
“This is the castle of Bohemia,” said Defenestration creator Brian Goggin, standing outside the Hugo Hotel during a going away party. The hotel had been a blown-out shell of a building when more than 100 people crawled all over it, driven by humor, love, and incredulity to install coffee tables on a building.
The art installation Defenestration – a real word which means the act of throwing something out the window – has been a San Francisco landmark for years, at a busy SOMA intersection downtown, proof that enough people working together can make the contents of a Goodwill store march up the side of a wall. If you never had a chance to see it, it was more than 30 pieces of furniture, tables, a TV that worked, side tables jumping out a window, lamps that turned on and off. In the fog, on your way to work or the water, day in and day out.
Goggin would, incognito, join walking tours to hear what people said about Defenestration. “One told me that it was it was representative of people in San Francisco being kicked out of their homes,” or “the dreams of all of those who live on the street to have a home,” he said. The Hugo Hotel will be torn down this year to build affordable housing. In some ways, it’s the opposite of Burning Art ethos: an installation that was only supposed to last six months, staying around for 17 years.
Goggin has continued to hang things from buildings – most recently a bunch of flying pianos - but for the Burning Man community, Defenestration has special meaning.
“Defenestration was the first large-scale art project produced by Burners outside of the Burning Man event,” said Burning Man co-founder Michael Mikel (aka Danger Ranger), who wired the electricity to the lamps, TVs, and a phone set to randomly ring.
About 40 people lived in the decrepit building during the moving-in period, cooking meals, throwing concerts inside, hanging off of walls.
“The first thing we built was a chest of drawers coming out of the window,” said Mikel. “A neighbor saw it and called 911. The fire department came and chopped it down. The first art piece was chopped down by the fire department.”
Defenestration was conceived and designed by Brian Goggin, but it was scores of Burning Man community volunteers that came together to support, build and install the artwork, he said.
The massive opening party in 1997 closed off the street, and had tall bikes rambling up and down. Fire artist Scott Generic swung a giant flaming ball of steel wool around on the roof, sending mass sparks into the crowd. Some of them landed on the SFPD, setting their uniforms on fire. They ran into the building and up the stairs to stop him, but Generic made it down a staircase and escaped out the back of the building.
The art gallery Varnish is running the Defenestration garage sale, returning the former Neighborhood Cleanup furniture to its new vaunted place in arts heaven. They do not require that you hang one of the chairs from the side of any walls, although the furniture will always be animated.
“This is the castle…” said Goggin, stopping to convince someone to let a piano stay on the sidewalk. “I regret that I can’t put cannon up there and protect it better. I would shoot flowers out into the city to stop them from taking it down.”
(We’re basing this discussion on Terry Eagleton’s “Culture and the Death of God.” Read all the book club entries, including the previous post on Chapter 2.)
One thing that is clear from reading this chapter is that Burning Man (the entity) has avoided the fate of the German Idealists in no small part by not creating an aesthetic. (Air Freshener made a similar point in the comments of the last entry). Creating an aesthetic grounded in spirit to heal society was, ultimately, the whole point of German Idealism
Burning Man (the Organization) takes a lot of heat from its critics for being top-down rather than bottom-up, but in fact nowhere can its “hands off” approach to Burning Man (the event and culture) be better seen than in the area of aesthetics.
Burning Man is notable for its lack of aesthetic requirements. There is no dress code (and clothes are even optional); there is no limit to musical styles; you can make as much or as little noise as you want. While they curate and place the art that they sponsor, there is no censorship of any given camp’s art or theme. No body shape is celebrated by the Org more than any other; you don’t need to be this tall to ride the ride. For all the carping about how many rules the Org has imposed since Burning Man went “official,” there are in fact fewer restriction on personal aesthetic choice at Burning Man than there are at any other cultural event on earth.
Which is not to say there isn’t a “Burning Man” aesthetic out there – even a dominant one. But the point is that it’s bottom-up. The People of Burning Man themselves have decided to make fuzzy boots and hair extensions a signature style; to make techno music a dominant form; to make blinky lights a staple. Ironically the “group-think” that Burning Man is frequently accused of is actually a democratic aspect.
People come to Burning Man, where they have more freedom than anyplace else on Earth, and choose to imitate each other. Or, if you prefer positive language, to be inspired by each other.
For its sesquicentennial celebration, the state of Nevada has recognized Burning Man as one of its official events. It’s an honor to be a part of history, and we’re excited to hang out in Nevada’s future, too. From the Nevada 150 organizers:
Nevada’s Sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of Nevada’s admission to the Union, will provide opportunities for celebration and reflection as we come together statewide to commemorate our shared history and build a foundation of cultural appreciation for generations to come. Nevada’s one of a kind and diverse history will be celebrated throughout the state for an entire year in order to promote pride in the shared heritage of all Nevadans. Nevada’s Sesquicentennial celebration will commence on Nevada Day 2013 and conclude with an expanded Nevada Day celebration October, 2014. For more information, please visit www.nevada150.org.
The desert valley of the Tankwa, Karoo is a six-hour drive north from Cape Town, South Africa, and is home to Afrika Burn – the world’s largest official Burning Man Regional Event. A well-paved highway dotted with the occasional police checkpoint gives way to a “tyre-munching” washboard dirt road. Over the final three hours, the drive goes from amusing to bone jarring.
Eventually, the dusty road – South Africa’s equivalent to Highway 447 – opens onto rolling hills, scrub brush and Stonehenge Farm — home to Afrika Burn. 2014 marks the event’s eighth anniversary, launched in 2007 by South Afrikan Burners most of whom first attended Burning Man in 2006. Decompressing in Yosemite Valley, they laid their plans to bring Burning Man home and make it their own. In early May, 2014, over 9,000 people braved heat, washboard roads and overdoses of electronica to trek to the event.
Afrika Burn is organized by a lean production team with oversight from a sizable group of Members, which in the U.S. would be known as the Board of Directors, helping to steer the direction of the non-profit community-building event organization. Afrika Burn shows some of the hallmarks of the processes, departments, and organizational systems that developed in Black Rock City during the late 1990s: the city layout is reminiscent, there is a Greeters Station with a bell, they have a newly formed Rangers department, emergency medical services, a central effigy that burns on Saturday night, a temple that burns on Sunday night, they provide grants for art projects, there is a version of Center Camp, and The Ten Principles describe the city’s culture. But all of these elements have been adopted by the organizers and modified with a South African sensibility and sense of humor. Center Camp became “Off Center Camp” and there is no cafe beverage service.
The Greeters Station bears the event emblem of “the clan” or “San Clan”, an image found in ancient cave paintings in the area, and that embodies the interconnectedness of people and community.
An eleventh principle was added. The city layout has its own design tailored to the land, the street names are in Afrikaans, and the avenue names run from “2:00 ish” to “10:00 ish”.
The central effigy sculpture changes entirely each year, with the presence of the clan emblem providing a sense of continuity from year to year. The 2014 event theme was The Trickster, manifested in The Interpreter, a 19 meter- (nearly 60 feet) tall robot sculpture with one arm raised and wearing a rabbit mask. Long-time central effigy builder and self-described troublemaker Brendan Smithers was the project lead behind The Interpreter. He describes the meaning of the sculpture as a representation of the duality of human nature, of technology and nature, of masculine and feminine. He shared that behind the mask is a slightly cynical commentary through the robot that speaks to participants adopting a sort of “Burner fundamentalism”, one where people allow themselves to be sucked into “group think” without discovering the opportunity for authentic expression, and eventually they develop a sort of inflexible attitude in what is supposed to be a very flexible environment. In the spirit of The Trickster, Brendan initially designed the robot with both arms raised, a nod and an irreverent poke at “The Burning Man”, but after Nelson Mandela passed away earlier this year, the sculpture design changed to one “fist” raised, an iconic gesture made popular during the African National Congress’s rise to power through the 1980s and early 1990s, led by Mandela’s commitment to equality in South Africa.
While Afrika Burn may be the largest Burning Man-inspired event in the world, it still feels young in a very vibrant, exciting way. Many people say that it feels how Black Rock City felt in 1998. The event is scaling slowly so that the organizers and community can support the spread of the ethos that is the spirit of Tankwa Town. To this end, Afrika Burn added an eleventh principle to the Burning Man Ten Principles: “Each One Teach One”, which states “All of us are custodians of our culture – when the opportunity presents itself, we pass knowledge on.” With a proposed planned growth rate of no more than 25% per year, and a possible self-imposed population limit, this event is being stewarded with great care and thoughtfulness.
One of the remarkable aspects of Afrika Burn is the noticeable family environment that is woven into the fabric of the city. There are families everywhere, people of all ages, all socializing and bonding in a most wonderful and playful way. There is a very tribal sensibility to peoples’ camps at this event, evident in how different families watch over each others’ children and how integrated they are in the activities of the event. A common sentiment among many of the youth is that they love Afrika Burn. This is a potential win for our collective future because, as with other Regional Events, it instills universally useful values in the people who could be the great artists, leaders, and creators of tomorrow.
As several of the Directors of Afrika Burn described, these types of events are a training ground for people to learn to be engaged. These experiences are an antidote to the insidious passive consumption that feeds on a life devoid of creativity, permission, and empowerment. Event Directors Liz Linsell, Graeme Allan and Monique Schiess all echoed that Afrika Burn is training people in “the Do-ocracy”. As Monique said, “If you see something that needs to be done, just do it. You don’t need to wait for some sort of authority to do it. You just do it.”
Afrika Burn is held annually in early May. More info may be found at AfrikaBurn.com.
Additional Contributions: Special thanks to $teven Ra$pa, the Afrika Burn production team, and the Burning Man Communications team.
My response to Chapter 2 – The German Idealists – was getting so long and convoluted that I decided to split it into a couple of short, convoluted, essays that I’ll post this week. I should have known that no discussion involving the philosophy of Immanuel Kant could be kept to a sensible blog post. This entire book club is a terrible idea. I apologize.
How many Burners are German Idealists and don’t even know it?
To find out, let’s read Terry Eagleton’s description of the German Idealist dream circa the 1800s, only replace the word I’ve bolded with “Burning Man.”
“The fractured bonds between citizens, as well as the threatened alliance between Nature and humanity, might be restored by a communality of image and belief. Coterie ideas and common opinions, high theory and popular practice, would no longer be at daggers drawn. Myth would serve as a mode of displaced religion, uniting the mystical and the mundane, priest (or philosopher) and laity (or common people) in a shared symbolic order. The abyss opened up by the Enlightenment between a coterie who lived by the idea and a populace who lived by the image might accordingly be bridged.”
Convinced yet? It goes on. Replace “poet or philosopher” with “artist.”
“The poet or philosopher would be invested with the status of secular priest and art or mythology converted into a set of quasi-sacred rites. The damage to the human spirit inflicted by individualism, as well as by a withered rationality for which Nature was so much dead matter, might thus be repaired. A more organic ideology of everyday life would evolve, one which reunited the cognitive, ethical, and aesthetic domains.”
Admit it – you’ve heard a regional rep in a mesh body suit give this exact speech. These are sentiments I’ve heard often (if less eloquently) from those Burners who believe Burning Man is more than a fantastic party, who see Burning Man as the next major step in the evolution of a sustainable global culture.
Which is a problem, because German Idealism didn’t really go anywhere.
Don’t get me wrong, it was HUGE in the 1830s, but it hasn’t appeared at any major festivals lately. You only see it popping up when somebody quotes Immanuel Kant in a high school debate tournament, or when somebody proposes a “science of history” to incorrectly predict what will inevitably happen next.
While the German Idealists’ critique of religion is every bit as trenchant as their critique of rationalism, as effectively as they identified “the problem,” their solutions ultimately satisfied no one and (if pressed too hard) tended to dissolve into mumbling about “spirit” with no substance.
To the extent Burners are closet German Idealists, we should take it as a warning sign to do better.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that Burning Man is waaaay more fun than German Idealism ever was. We’ve got that going for us.
Friday evening of my second Burn, I had one of the holiest meals I can remember. As the stars came out, a big group gathered at camp Sukkat Shalom, lit candles, gave blessings, drank wine, and fried up crispy, savory latkes for each other to eat. It was an ideal way to ground the frenetic energy of the week in preparation for the following night’s burn. The cross-section of Burners interested in gathering to welcome the Sabbath was unlike that of any other on-playa scene. The wine, talk, and song flowed late into the night.
In subsequent years, the scene has been crazy. An overwhelming number of people show up. While I think that’s a great sign, it overloads the camp, and food is scarce. No theme camp’s gift is inexhaustible. But this year, Sukkat Shalom is crowd-funding a blowout Shabbat dinner experience. Here’s why I hope you’ll support it. Disclosure: I know and love lots of the people who run Sukkat Shalom.
The next-level Sukkat Shalom Shabbat dinner will begin under a blinky dome with LEDs that respond to the group’s singing as it welcomes the Sabbath, the holy day of rest and reflection, which ends at sundown on Saturday before the Man burns. The multi-course meal will be served at a Bedouin-style communal table in a subtly designed sound environment. It will be a sacred celebration, but it will also be a full-spectrum stimulus any Burner will love.
Sukkat Shalom is not a religious camp. Its name means “shelter of peace” in Hebrew, which is a thoroughly Jewish concept, but surely it’s one that makes sense to anyone who’s ever been to the Black Rock Desert. The camp calls itself “Jew-ish” (emphasis on “ish,” a term I personally can’t stand), but it does so in the name of inclusivity. It’s a camp run by some Jewish people and some non-Jewish people, and it has no religious requirements or expectations, but it’s framed by some Jewish concepts that apply beautifully on the playa. Shabbat is, in my opinion, the most powerful. Who doesn’t feel the specialness of Saturday at Burning Man?
I think about religion the whole time I’m in Black Rock City. There are so many pieces of religious life there if you’re inclined to look at them that way. The annual trek out there can feel like a pilgrimage. One of the central architectural features of the city is its Temple. Over the course of the week, time is demarcated by a series of ceremonies and offerings, the burns being the biggest examples. The desert itself is a classic site of personal revelation.
But the most powerful part of Burning Man culture is that it’s not prescriptive. These components of the experience are not specific representations of religious ideas. They’re archetypes of them, there for participants to share through their own lenses of meaning, even totally unreligious — or sacrilegious — ones. Just like the Temple is for everyone on the playa, regardless of what it means to them, I think Shabbat can be, too.