What do you get when you cross a giant, flaming duck with a chocolate factory and a smiling tyrant? A bird, a plane…and my recent visit to Russia.
A few weeks back, I traveled to Moscow to participate in an academic Urban Routines conference at Strelka Institute. The invitation was a fortunate one as it also gave me the opportunity to visit the thriving Moscow Burner community and to meet a fascinating and fun loving Black Rock Arts Foundation grant recipient.
My first day in Moscow, I wandered, sleep-deprived but excited, over a set of small bridges to find myself on an island in the Moscow River that houses the Krasny Oktyabr or “Red October,” chocolate factory, built in the 19th century. The factory complex is now the home of art galleries, cafes, and Strelka Institute.
In the Strelka Café, I met Sergej Korsakov aka Tyran, the “Tyrant” of Cardboardia, a country that materializes in the form of large-scale cities made entirely out of cardboard. Seriously. Within two seconds of meeting Sergej, it was clear that this tyrant was of the smiling, loving absolute ruler variety. I’d been hearing about Sergej’s imaginative projects for some time from the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) staff, who awarded Carboardia a grant in 2009 for CardboardTown Free!, a project that kicked off at the Red October chocolate factory space. Coincidence? Playa serendipity? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Over a bizarre meal of strictly pineapple, the byproduct of my cute but broken attempt to communicate my dietary desires in Russia (LOL!), we spoke about Burning Man, about creating the conditions for creativity and expression, and about Sergej’s plans to set up an international outpost and workshop space in Riga, Latvia. Though Sergej’s never been to Burning Man, he’s a Burner brother if ever I’ve met one. It was easy to relate to Sergej as we share a love of creative culture, of wackiness, and of giving people opportunities to be resourceful and outrageously silly.
After pineapple, Sergej and I walked along the riverbank overlooking Christ the Savior Cathedral, a site known widely as the place Stalin blew up in 1931, which was rebuilt in the 1990s. In Moscow, you stumble over history constantly. As we walked, Sergej explained that, as a tyrant, he actually loves protests and that we were walking on a protest route. He described the colorful Cardboardia Parade, an event that features giant mobile cardboard art pieces that the people of Cardboardia create together through hands-on workshops. When we made it to our destination, the site of the BRAF-funded CardboardTown, we took some pictures to document our experience. Check out the tyrant posing as the Burning Man. We promised future meetings and collaborations, and even dreamed up a possible Cardboardia presence at our Euro Summit 2015.
Later that evening, I ventured to Moscow’s Burning Bar, an event hosted by Katya Vinnikova, our Russian Regional Contact, and by Dasha Zelenskaya, camp lead for Kulture Haus, the Russian camp coming to Burning Man 2014. About 70 Burners and Newbies were in attendance, including artists behind last year’s exquisite Cradle of MIR project. The crowd listened intently as Katya and Dasha presented plans for the Kulture Haus stage as well as for the Library Souk, the exciting Russian contribution to the Caravansary Souk at the base of Man. The Library Souk will feature a giant archway built entirely out of Russian books. The Library Souk will be a place of study, learning, meditation, and relaxation. The group will have daily readings of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Pushkin and they’ll host translation workshops and language classes. They will also have posted translations of “playaspeak” into Russian and of “Russianspeak” into other languages. Check them out at the Man base! The crew plans to do the bulk of their build at the Generator in Reno, too, so you may even catch them on your way out to the desert. A big camp AND an art installation? You go, Russia.
But, it’s not just that the Russians are bringing their culture to Burning Man, they’re also bringing Burner culture to Russia. I had the pleasure of meeting Bart Dorsa, a long-time Burner and visual artist who was born in the States but now spends a lot of time in Moscow. In the Summer of 2011, Bart shipped his giant 760-pound flaming duck back to Moscow and drove it through the city streets, shooting flame 30 feet into the air. Quack! And, this November, the Russian Burners hosted their first “Decompression” event in a former gas factory in the Nizhniy Susalniy district of Moscow. It’s clear that the Moscow Burners will continue to raise the bar (and the flame effects) and I can’t wait to see what they do in Moscow next!
The next day, I participated in the Urban Routines conference at Strelka Institute. The culmination of a year-long study of the daily movements and rituals of Moscovites, the Urban Routines conference brought together a range of speakers who showcased aspects of daily routines. I spoke about Burning Man with a focus on Black Rock City as an urban environment and brought their students through a “typical” day for myself and for the citizens of our fair desert home. They delighted in hearing about our daily commute featuring giant art cars, a visit to the local “coffee shop” in Center Camp Café, and a hike up one of our fanciful art installations to see the sun rise over the city. I also delighted in tracing a day in the life of a Moscovite, as featured in their student art installation at Strelka which visually depicted the lives of 11 Moscow residents. At the conference, I met a woman doing a DIY Film Festival in Moscow in the Fall who is interested in featuring some Burner-created films. Strelka and Moscow, I think this is the start of a beautiful relationship.
Ironically, my time in Moscow for the Urban Routines conference was anything but routine. From smiling tyrants, to chocolate factories, to Burner artists, I wended my way through the creative heart of Russia, and am delighted to know that we have kindred spirits over 5,000 miles away.