Posts by Caveat Magister

October 17th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Down the Library

Peruse it or Lose it LibraryIn 2003 posters went up around Los Angeles featuring cuddly dogs and the cutest of kittens.  Above them, in big block letters, were the words:

We will kill our pets to protest the War.

If President Bush didn’t pull out of Iraq, the poster went on to say, “We, the Raelian Pet Owners United to Stop War, will kill our pets.”  It listed a date and time.  At a dog park, of course.

It was hilarious … and actually generated a police investigation … but it was only so interesting.  Because of course the Los Angeles Cacophony Society (the poster’s true author) wasn’t really going to kill any pets, and of course George Bush wasn’t going to pull out of Iraq, and there was nothing any members of the public could do about it anyway.  So, yeah:  very funny joke, but nothing to see here.

Ten years later, two Arizona Burners may have just done Cacophony one better.

In July Admiral Fiesta and Sista Turtle Dove began work on the “Peruse it or Lose it Library,” which had its first shelf life at last weekend’s Arizona Decompression.  The premise is simple:  they built a library for Decompression, and at the end of the event they burned it – along with whatever books were left.

If you didn’t want a book to burn, you … yes, you, the person walking by … had to take it.  Otherwise it went up in flames.

“We were compared to Nazis on several occasions,” Admiral Fiesta told me.  “To paraphrase a friend’s argument on Facebook, the Nazis were burning books as an act of censorship – particularly censorship of deviant art and pornography.”

The Nazis, however, were not famous for willingly letting things go.  The “Peruse it or Lose it Library” was different:  practically begging passers-by to be their own Schindler.

“During the event I had many people come up to me and ask, ‘Are you really going to burn books on Saturday?’” Sista Turtle Dove said.  “My typical response was, ‘Only if there are any left…’” Read more »

October 10th, 2013  |  Filed under Participate!

Why does Burning Man seem so much like a political movement?

This is not Burning Man.  Not even close.

This is not Burning Man. Not even close.

As America convulses and political gridlock is on everyone’s mind, it seems as good a time as any to look closely at the facile relationship between Burning Man and politics.

I caught heat, back in 2011, for saying that Burning Man and Occupy Wall Street actually have very little in common.  I think time has vindicated me, but that heat shows that a lot of people see Burning Man as a kind of political movement … or something close to it.  They see Burning Man not just as something capable of influencing society, but as a movement capable of taking power – though they might not use that exact phrase.

And sure, watching people work on their art cars, build their structures, prep their costumes … and especially coming and going from Burning Man, it’s hard to shake the idea that Burning Man is a force that will change the world.

But is it a political force?  Is Burning Man a political movement?

The answer is:  No.  Obviously.  Fuck you.

But … if you disagree with me about this, you’re in good company.  A lot of people do.

Read more »

September 26th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

What if my art project is a loaded gun?

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter My Art Project

It was Tuesday in the desert.  The hottest part of the afternoon.  I was sitting on my favorite couch in BMIR when a woman I’d never met before came in and asked for the Rockstar Librarian Guide.

“Box,” I told her.

“What?” she asked.

“Box,” I said again.  This was a little game we played:  when someone asked for the Rockstar Librarian Guide, sometimes we’d just keep saying “Box” over and over, until they realized it was in the box they’d already passed on the way in.

She got it fast.  Satisfied, she looked around and realized that there was no shadier spot to be found anywhere on the playa.

“Hey,” she asked.  “Can I sit down?”

“Sure,” I said.  She took her tool kit off from around her waist and sat down next to me.

I don’t remember her name now, but we got to talking.  She’s 23.  Third year on the playa.  I asked her what she’d seen so far, and she rattled off a list of art projects.  I asked her what she wanted to see, and she rattled off another list.  Mostly things I’d heard of.

“But what I really want to do,” she said, “is meet the poet.”

“The … poet?”

“Yeah.  There’s this amazing poet.”

That was interesting … but … “I have no idea.  I’ve never heard of that.”

She nodded.  “Some of my camp mates met him.  Nobody knows where he is.  I hope I can find him.  I’m looking.”

“Well, good luck.”

We kept talking.  Burning Man stuff:  how do you like the Man standing on a UFO?  What do you think of the theme?  Goddamn there’s a lot of cops around. That kind of thing.

Eventually Ken Griswa, the Mad Artist in Residence at BMIR, came over and wanted me to sing somebody a song.  For … some reason.  I can’t remember now and I might not really have known then.  It can be hard to tell with Ken.

“Sure,” I said, opening up my bag and pulling out a book in which I had a list of songs.  It was part of an art project I’d brought to Burning Man.  “Let’s see if I can find an appropriate one …”

“Wait …” the woman next to me gaped.  “YOU’RE THE POET!”

Ken and I stared at her.  I blinked.  “I … I don’t think I am.” Read more »

September 16th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

2013 was a great year for pranks, too

Subway token 1Is it just me, or is too much attention being paid to the Art at Burning Man?

Yeah yeah, I know:  it’s an art event, we love art, we love artists, fire is awesome, blinking lights are cool, and giant churches tilted at 45 degree angles are just what we were missing in our lives.

I agree.

But the fact that there’s art at Burning Man sometimes overshadows the fact that art is *one of the things* you find there.  And so far I haven’t heard nearly enough people talk about the whimsy.

You know:  The pranks, the tricks, the inspired moments of lunacy that make you fall in love with people all over again.  The stuff the Org doesn’t fund … because who in their right mind would pay for a guy to stand outside a party pretending to be security and searching people’s backpacks for stolen bicycles … but that we do for its own sake.  Because we want to live in a world where this happens.

2013 was actually a very good year for whimsy at Burning Man.  I saw a lot of creative, topsy-turvy, and otherwise insane human interactions that make me feel good about life.  Whoever these 68,000 people who came out to the desert were, some of them were high-caliber tricksters.

So I’m going to take this time to list some of my favorite whimsical events that happened at the 2013 Burning Man, and I hope you’ll use the comments space to mention all the hilarious moments I know I missed. Read more »

September 10th, 2013  |  Filed under Afield in the World

Welcome to the Burning Man Media Frenzy. Here’s how we win it.

Photo by Polaris

Photo by Polaris

Did the sideways attempt by an astringent horse-meat peddler to associate its tacos with Burning Man on a television commercial get your ears burning?

It did mine.

And then there was a New York Times article suggesting that Burning Man is “running on fumes” because Paris Hilton tweeted about it.

Really, New York Times?  You’re a newspaper quoting Paris Hilton’s tweets, and *we’re* the ones who are running on fumes?  I’d humbly suggest that the Principles of Burning Man are a lot more stable than the pillars of journalism just at the moment, thanks.

Then there was P. Diddy.  Then there was Stacy Kiebler (full disclosure:  I don’t know who that is) talking about Burning Man on “Live with Kelly and Michael.”  (I’m assuming that’s actually a real show, and not a clever prank.  It sounds fake).

Then there was the photo spread on The Atlantic’s site.  And the photo spread in Business Insider.  And the animated GIFFs on Buzzfeed.  And what I’m just going to assume were dozens of photo spreads on the Huffington Post, because honest-to-God do I not have time to actually check.

And then there was what’s-his-name … the internet billionaire … and then the other internet billionaire (I have a hard time telling them apart).  And the twins from the movie about the website.

And then there was the sorta-outrage that Mark Zuckerberg would helicopter in and help give away grilled cheese sandwiches.  Which is baffling, because:  is there actually a better use of his time?  Anything that keeps him from working on Facebook is a win.

And then John Stewart made a crack about Burning Man on the Daily Show …

Yep:  our ears are burning.  When titans of industry come looking for something that a guy with a tutu and a tent has been rocking for years, you know you’ve got the world’s attention. Read more »

September 4th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir – Epilogue

This is the last information I have on Augustus St. George.  By the time you read this, he’ll be in the exodus.  Find links to the rest of this series here.  – Caveat

 

Photo by Polaris

Photo by Polaris

I’ll be drinking at the jazz bar for a while.  Too many memories in the French Quarter right now:  too much heat.  I don’t know whether some of the people there got played by Duchamp or if they’re members of his orchestra.  I don’t know if Tanya will feel betrayed when she finds out her tip led to Crispy Crown’s arrest.  I don’t want to watch my back in my favorite bar.

So I listen to a quartet on old instruments scratch some classics out of the dust and nurse a gin and tonic because they don’t have the whiskey I like, and wonder what might have been.  That’s a dangerous place to visit.  It’s even worse to live there.

The city’s closing down around me.  The Temple doesn’t burn for another hour or so, but you can see the empty spaces where sculptures used to be and hear drills pull screws out of camp facades.

Maybe it’s all a façade.    In a couple of months, when everything and everybody’s gone and the desert is the way it was when we got here, who’s to say different?  The trouble with a Leave No Trace event is that you can’t count on the things you leave behind to tell your story.

This will be my last Burning Man.  That’s what I tell myself.  That’s what I always tell myself.  The heat gets to me.  So does the noise.  So does the lack of sleep.  The people are always smiling.  Everyone always looks like they’re having more fun than me.  “Screw it,” I tell myself every year.  “They’re just not savvy enough, not sophisticated enough, to see through it all like I do.” Read more »

September 1st, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir 7 – A community of one

Don’t ask how I found Augustus St. George again on burn night, or where my pants went.  Read part one of this series herepart two herepart three herepart 4 here;  part 5 here , and part 6 here – Caveat

 

Photo by Polaris

Photo by Polaris

The Man had burned.  60 thousand people had surged and pulsed and danced with the flames, overflowing with life and spilling it out like a geyser into the desert.  The celebration goes on all night, getting dumber and dumber as everyone gets happier and happier.  Eventually stupidity wins out over happiness, like it always does, and the party caves in on itself, ending with a moan and a blackout.

Some people can’t make it.  That doesn’t mean they don’t celebrate, though.  Or try.

Crispy Clown was shielded from prying eyes by a rectangular fort of RVs.  In the middle was a court yard, and he was sitting in a lawn chair on astroturf, underneath a patio umbrella, surrounded by blinking lights and tunes from a little stereo.  All his friends were out celebrating, but he wasn’t allowed to take any chances.  He thought that precaution made him safe.  I’d watched him for an hour from inside his own RV.  He was trying to have a party alone.

Bad idea.  You can read alone.  You can think alone.  You can create art alone.  You can cry alone.  But there’s no such thing as a party of one. Read more »

September 1st, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir 6 – what gifts around comes around

By some miracle I saw Augustus St. George crossing the open playa just as we were dancing around the open flame of the Man’s body.  Here’s what he told me tonight Read part one of this series herepart two herepart three herepart 4 here; and part 5 here – Caveat

 

IMG_20130826_200611I was back to the French Quarter again.  Everything kept coming back here.  Maybe they’d recreated mythical New Orleans too well:  real criminals were landing on it like flies on wax fruit.

Or maybe that was the point.  Maybe that’s why they built it, and the fruit is all too real.

“Botanica Bodhi Manman nan Bejeezus” offers tarot and palm readings, and provides magical oils and talismans to the needy.  Some say it’s a shtick.  Some say it’s one more example of New Age mumbo jumbo being play-acted for adult children.

But some swear by it.  Some people swear by anything, sure.  But I challenge anyone to walk into a gypsy voodoo magic shop in the middle of the desert, see the hand painted tarot cards, and not be impressed.

It’s a small room:  colorful faces painted on the walls stared at me as I walked in the open door.  Knives hung from the ceiling.  The priestesses of Haiti-in-the-desert can do a brisk trade, but that was the burn night, and it was obvious they were getting ready to close up shop and head out to the big bonfire.

Chakra Kahn wasn’t anywhere to be seen.  But they run a tight knit community here, they know each other’s business.   I was willing to be that all I had to do was find the right member of her crew.

A white woman with dreadlocks wearing a ceremonial robe smiled at me when I walked in.  “Welcome stranger,” she said.  “The spirits will guide you today, if you’ll let them.”

“Mostly they lead me to whiskey.”  I looked over at a table where a deck of tarot cards was spread out.  “But in this case I’m here for a reading.” Read more »