GLC ’14: The Olympics of Art and Expression

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By the morning session of GLC day two, it was clear that something fundamental has shifted in Burner culture. Enough of us were feeling uncomfortable with the term “default world” that it had to be acknowledged from the stage. “Say ‘playa-adjacent world’ instead,” GLC producer Rosie Lila told us, and the room felt relieved.

When Burning Man was one temporary city in the desert, it was an exception. The rest of the world carried on with its default settings, and the playa was the radical departure. But by now, it’s no longer serving us to distinguish between how we are “out there” versus how we are “out here.” In fact, as our GLC presenters show us, “out here” is becoming “out there.” There’s Burning going on year-round, worldwide, so let’s admit it.

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GLC ’14: Burners Bringing Worlds Together

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Burners have a lot to be proud of here at the GLC. After a rousing first morning of high-level talks about the power of Burner art and values, we were treated to a series of presentations by Burners from all over the world about how they pulled off some fantastic feats of civic art. Not only will these works be a part of Burning Man history, they’re useful templates for us to consider when we’re out building the next crazy thing. (more…)

GLC ’14: How Burners Do The Impossible

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Well, here we are! The eighth annual Burning Man Global Leadership Conference is underway. It’s a gathering of the people who are defining the global future of Burning Man culture, and it’s a whole new world. Sixteen percent of GLC attendees are international. Half of them are here for their first GLC, and another quarter are back for their second. While the average GLC14 attendee has been to Black Rock City four times, three people here have never been, and that’s just fine. They get their Burning Man kicks elsewhere in the world, and that’s what this conference is all about. (And hey, Terry Dovido, here from Boston, has been to Burning Man 20 times, so GLC is all about that, too.)

The GLC is for figuring out how we’re doing in our mission of bringing Burning Man culture to the world at large. It’s driven by the inspiration we find on the playa, but its purpose is to focus that energy on repairing the world. As Stuart Mangrum, the Burning Man Project‘s education director, put it this morning, there are two ways to get more Burning Man into the world: The first is “sister cities,” the regional burns put on around the world by so many of GLC’s stellar attendees, and the second is Burnerly projects back in the off-playa world, and the people at GLC do a lot of that, too. We saw some of the highlights in Friday’s opening session. (more…)

Life Cube Burns in Downtown Las Vegas

Last Friday, the Life Cube burned in the middle of Las Vegas. The flames carried 35,000 wishes written by the public up into the heavens.

Artist Scott Cohen has built and destroyed The Life Cube Project on the playa for a few years running, and now he’s brought its message into the default world. Anyone who passed by the structure before the burn was able to write down their wishes, and Cohen also brought cards to local elementary schools. DaveX (Burning Man’s Fire Art Safety Team manager) said his favorite of the kids’ wishes was “I want a gold monster truck.” He and a few other veteran Burners were on hand to make sure the Life Cube burned safely — including the inimitable Flash Hopkins, who emceed the proceedings.

There’s a beautiful photo gallery in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and here’s a great piece about the burn on the local news:

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Holy War in Black Rock City

One hot Thursday afternoon in Black Rock City, Root and I stopped at Center Camp to catch some shade. We lucked out; the first Jamaican reggae band to ever play Burning Man was on stage, and people were getting down. I danced by the stage while she hung out in the front row. There’s nothing better than the ecstasy on dusty faces when a live band breaks through the week-long fog of indistinguishable DJ sets.

The band finished playing, and we all rejoiced. Wiped out, I sat down next to Root to watch the next act, a couple of lawyers dressed like ancient Egyptians who were there to tell us how to deal with law enforcement on the playa. That sounded useful.

After all, it had been a big year for run-ins with law enforcement on the playa. We had read plenty of stories about severe and surprising busts in the run-up to Burning Man, and we heard more tales of woe from friends after we arrived. The Bureau of Land Management had insisted on tighter control at the gate. It seemed like a good year to brush up on our rights.

For a while, this talk felt righteous. We were becoming better citizens. But the conversation gradually turned toward philosophical pronouncements, indignant rants, and wild warnings about undercover narcs. “This is a little too us-versus-them for my taste,” Root said to me. “Plus, I’m getting kind of paranoid about there being cops everywhere. Aren’t you?”

I sure was. So we hopped up off our floor cushion, hoisted our packs, and stepped out of Center Camp into the afternoon heat, only to be greeted by an enormous convoy of federal agents in SUVs with their lights flashing, rolling right through the middle of Black Rock City.

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Rembert Explains Burning Man

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I was honored to have my friend Rem join us at camp this year. It was his first burn, although he’d been threatening to visit for a while. I expected him to have a good time, but, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how good. The second I saw him on the playa, it was clear he was a natural.

Now that we’re back in Reality Camp, Rem’s had a chance to file his two-part Burning Man chronicle over at Grantland, and I’m getting all verklempt about how clearly he Got It. I’m going to be pointing first-time Burners to these stories for a long time.

Rembert Explains America: Enter Burning Man

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Rembert Explains America: Burning Man Forever

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How To Work Through Feeling Weird After Burning Man

Hi, Burners. If you’re anything like me, this has been a rough week. Re-entry after Burning Man is always strange, and I think it gets stranger every time.

Fortunately, my friend Hannah is getting pretty practiced at dealing with decompression, and she wrote up a list of suggestions she’s shared with us for the Burning Blog. Read on!

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Does Burning Man culture make us feel better?

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It’s always nice when science has your back, isn’t it?

The journal Frontiers in Emotion Science, a section of Frontiers in Psychology, published a paper last month showing that people deal with their emotions differently at Burning Man than they do in the default world. I doubt there’s a Burner who didn’t already know that intuitively, but numbers are reassuring.

The study, which involved 16,227 Burners over four years, found that Burners are more emotionally expressive on the playa. But they’re also more in tune with their emotional states, so they’re more aware and expressive of both positive and negative feelings.

Now, this was a self-reported, on-playa study. Lead author Kateri McRae came right out with its biggest caveat in an interview with PsyPost: If you ask people about their default-world emotional states while they’re all high on life at Burning Man, they might give biased responses. They might over- or underreport how inhibited they are or how well they appraise their emotions at home. So we shouldn’t get too excited about exactly how much of a difference Burning Man makes, according to this study.

But the researchers are trying to get at something bigger than Burning Man itself. They think cultural context — the shared mix of values of a place and its people — can actually change the emotional norms. It might be more socially adaptive to be emotionally intense at Burning Man than it is in the default world. And if that’s so, it’s worth looking critically at the way any cultural context affects people’s emotional lives.

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Burning Man’s context is temporary, and that’s key to this study’s line of inquiry. What we really want to know is whether a brief, deliberate break from our default social arrangements can affect us profoundly enough that we come back to the world healthier and happier.

This is where we tell a story about consumer culture and mass media in the default world versus gifting and the Ten Principles at Burning Man. The default world is repressive, and Burning Man frees us to be ourselves, so the story goes. It’s always tempting to let ourselves feel like we do it better.

But don’t forget that Burner culture is self-selecting. It’s too easy to say that we go to Burning Man because it is an emotionally liberated place. We go to Burning Man because we want it to be that way, and then we try to make it that way.

This study makes an interesting case that cultural context, even when it’s temporary, can change the way we feel and know ourselves. But let’s not get hung up on whether or not Burning Man is better than therapy. Rather, let’s take heart in this: If a bunch of emotionally liberated people want to get together and build an emotionally liberating place, they can. We did.

Photos by Scott London