To start it only takes a spark

To start, it sometimes takes as little as receiving call from abroad with your friend’s voice on the other side and waterfall of words you hope you understand right. “I found great place, it is in nature, has enough space, they do festivals there and we can grow up to 2000 people. It is on the Austrian-Czech border. Let’s start the Central European Burn.” And your answer? Why of course “OK, let’s do it”.

IMG_0521This happened last Autumn and I can’t swear he said it like this word for word, but it is pretty close. It took 8 months and around 150 people from 12 countries gathered in Austrian countryside surrounded by fields and forest with a cold stream running in the middle.

Pirate ship at Spark
Pirate ship at Spark

Three days event with two days of preparations on site (and the eight months before over emails, Skype and calls, hours and hours of work) brought a bunch of creative people who share their love of Burning Man Principles and culture, and on a smaller scale recreated the thing we called Home. Because the reason we put ourselves through months of work and planning and sleepless nights is: we want to have Home closer to our homes.

When I arrived there was already Gate running and after some greetings, hugging and spanking, I jumped through the gate yelling Spaaark as loud as I could. And the world of magic opened in front of me. There was huge pirate ship with a swing and silk hanging down for acrobats. There was a treehouse on little island in the middle of the river and mud bath right behind our tents.

Workshop schedule at Spark
Workshop schedule at Spark

There was full timetable of workshops and performances from Japanese dance, shibari, human car-ass wash, screen writing to pimp your own cup. There was a cow with crazy projections. There was an installation of a camera which took pictures and shuffled them on three screens. The camera was supposed to take the picture every 30 seconds or so and after 20 minutes in front of we just didn’t figure out what the camera is really doing. I think the art project was actually to watch the people waiting for the pictures appearing on the screens. Funny.

Interactive art installation by Dawn, which tricked me to stand in front of it for ages:)
Interactive art installation which tricked me to stand in front of it for ages.

And there was this white dome with mini(do)me inside and I had to wait until the darkness to come to really see this interactive masterpiece of lights. I was actually rushing to bathroom when I saw it in all its blinkiness and said to myself, let’s stop for a minute. Yeah, I know, what was I thinking. I spent over 30 minutes (until my bladder was screaming out loud already) playing as a kid with the mini-dome, because by touching it you could change not only the light pattern and speed, but also the colors. It was like DJing the lights on the cutest mini(do)me ever and when you looked up, the big dome was shadowing the mini(do)me.

Mini dome by Mephy Kling and mini-participant.
Mini dome by Mephy Kling and mini-participant.

We talked about Burning Man a lot and how to bring it home and how to repeat and improve this event for next year and involve more people and have more art and our brains were working all the time. It took a spark on the phone and Spark happened with everything that one could expect from such an event.

And then, at the end, during packing, pirates attacked the ship, but they didn’t see this coming (none of us did). A troop of mud people surfaced out of nowhere and fought them off and it was epic.

The Baltics On the Rise

This one time at Burning Man, I saw a ridiculously beautiful cloudy sky, tasted delicious honey beer and met elves. Wait … well no, it didn’t happen on playa, but still, it did happen at Burning Man.

Misty morning. Photo by Sasha Baridhara.
Misty morning. Photo by Sasha Baridhara.

In late June, I visited Latvia for the second annual Burn Degošie Jani (DeJa), a Regional Event hosted by the Latvian Burner community and attended by people from neighboring countries. This gathering brought together around 170 people from Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland,  USA, Ireland, Poland, Australia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Thailand and UK, all to participate, contribute and volunteer for magic to happen. I also made a quick stop in Estonia for Bling, an event organized by a group of like-minded people trying to create a participatory experience.

This picture was almost too much. Sky, clouds and sea.

When I arrived in Riga, the capital of Latvia, it felt right. For some unknown reason I felt at home and even the strange language kind of made sense to me. The airport was tiny. The public transportation bus stop was just few steps outside the main entrance. As I waited, I noticed that everyone looked stylish and I quickly learned that internet lied to me because Latvians no longer use their own currency LAT, but switched to EUROs (damn internet liar). After my fight with the bus ticket machine, I looked up to the sky and felt in love. For the rest of my stay in Latvia, I actually had to try hard not to look at the sky ALL THE TIME. Seriously, I do have a stupid amount of photos of their cloudy skies. Tourists!

In the city, I met my dear local friend Aya, had traditional Latvian meatballs, tasted honey beer (and I wouldn’t believe, coming from the land of the beer, that I would appreciate this one so much) and after a while Steffen from Germany joined, then Sascha from Switzerland landed, and soon enough we were group of Burners, each from a different country, all excited to share the same adventure in Latvian countryside.

Who would not look up all the time at this beauty.
Who would not look up all the time at this beauty.

DeJa takes place on a hemp farm about 2 hours from Riga and the whole ride is lined by green fields and trees. There was a Newbie in our car and because one of the Principles of DeJa is “each one teach one”, we decided to put her to the test. She blew our minds by not only knowing the Principles, but also by the way in which she explained them to us. I can’t tell you what she said, but the way she did it left us with our mouths open. We were ready for DeJa!

The ride was swift and we kept ourselves entertained by sharing stories. One time, we were storytelling  so intensely that we missed the exit from the roundabout. It was an enormous roundabout, so our concentration on the exit faded away with another story and we missed it again. The third time was our time and we finally made it out of the circle with a lot of laughter and, after few minutes, we got to the last part of our journey to Deja. We had to follow exact instructions to get on the right dirt road, follow the right fence and end up in the right middle of nowhere in a giant green field.

Making huge wreaths.
Making huge wreaths.

DeJa is inspired by both the Latvian and Lithuanian Midsummer tradition and Burning Man. It is fascinating fusion and evolution of these two elements, incorporating the ethos of the Burner culture with the holiday that is integral to culture of Latvia to create a regional event. Old songs and stories, wreaths in the hair from flowers for women and from young branches for men, fires everywhere and of course jumping over the fire and dancing around it. It was beautiful to observe how natural all the traditions still are for people, not something “old” we do just because it is expected, but something we want to do because it defines us.

For entertainment, there was a mixture of old Latvian traditions, LED lights, drum circles, “new noise music” (i.e. everything from 60’s until today, even classical music as I remember), art, a Russian camp with a bamboo tower, Lithuanians with burn barrels, projections, and fog slowly sneaking in on us, the sky of such a bright colours with clouds so close you wanted to touch them. And, of course fire.

New sauna.
New sauna.

To attend Deja, you had to apply for a Visa. Once you were approved, you were gifted access to the event and were welcome to pitch your tent under 200 year-old apple trees, or next to the pond, or on the field further away from music. There was an outdoor common kitchen, a barn for electronic music, and even a barn for more relaxed music and gatherings. During the event, people built a sauna which, along with some art, actually stayed on the property after Deja.

“Leave a better place.”

The core of Baltic Altar installation.
The core of Baltic Altar installation.

The evenings were full of storytelling around the fire. We heard interesting stories about survival, about funny drunkeness, and even about scary experiences with voodoo. The days were full of conversation about the future and about plans for a bigger Baltic Burn, which would include Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian Burners. These groups are already preparing projects together. This year in Black Rock City, the group is presenting a Midway project together as a part of the Man Pavilion. Baltic Altar was interactive installation which allows you to compose music along with other participants.

As I’m sure many of you can relate, once you’re at a Burn, it can be really hard to leave … even after it’s over. A few of us at Deja were intrigued by hearing about Bling in Estonia happening in Vango Wonderland with around 200 participants and we promised the organizers that we’d stop by. So we did! We all  just jumped into the car in the morning and hit the road again. It was the funniest ride ever. I do not sing, usually for safety reasons. This time we all sung and danced on our seats and every now and then made “aww” sounds looking at the beautiful nature of the countryside and cloudy sky.

Elves and fairies in Estonia ride unicorns.
Elves and fairies in Estonia ride unicorns.

Once we made it to Estonia, we met elves. Estonians are elves and fairies. That’s it. I have no other explanation. Like elves and fairies, they are loving, joyful, laughing and open. This was also true of the Bling event itself.

Though Bling is not an official Burning Man event, it’s very much created in a similar spirit. In fact, it was one of the most beautiful events I have ever been to. My usual snark and sarcasm vanished away once we arrived and I enjoyed the fairytale site of wooden houses and soft grass while surrounded by beautiful human beings and lot of good tunes, workshops and talks. The sun never really set because of the Summer Solstice and how North we were and time just seemed to exist on a different level.

Fairytale in woods.
Fairytale in woods.

People were touched that we made the effort to come only for one day and they were blown away by the crew of the second car from DeJa, which came just for the evening to support their friends and be together.

Deep Dark Night - sort of
Deep Dark Night – sort of… Photo by Sasha Baridhara.

The very bright night sky and great music kept us awake, dancing, talking, laughing. In the morning, when we were all gathered together and kids were climbing on the dome (and let me tell you, there are few cuter things than a five year-old girl in a dress learning how to climb), I heard someone make a speech to the crowd. Then, about seven guys stood up and went away. In few minutes, they were back with a huge pot of oatmeal and marmalades, fruits, nuts, coffee and tea and the whole meadow turned into the breakfast picnic. (The only thing which kept me from wondering if this all was really happening were the excessive amount of mosquitoes, serving as an ever-present reality check.) Then, the day rolled on into more workshops, talks, music, and even a sauna!

Traditional cake served during the burn.
Traditional cake served during the burn. Photo by Sasha Baridhara.

Before we left the event, it took us ages to say goodbye to all of this beauty. The burn of the effigy at DeJa was waiting and was absolutely worthy of coming back for. Girls had made elaborate wreaths from flowers, guys from branches with green leaves. We all made big circle around the effigy, some people started singing, some dancing and we all were present to the Midsummer night. The sky got surprisingly dark and the fire was consuming the wood and hemp while thousands of sparks flew through the air.

The magic of Baltics truly happened.


The Man Burns in 349 Days

Last week, early morning so as to miss a non-existent Exodus, the Mighty Mr. B arrived at my camp and, after loading my generator and whatever else fit into his car, he and I made our way off playa. That was a few days after Burning Man had officially ended and it seems like just yesterday or years ago now.

sunriseThat morning I saw the Black Rock City sun-rise one last time, pink and heavy over the aftermath of our event with black smoke rising from random sites out on the open playa. We drove slowly, trying to find and follow streets that were so defined only days ago. We passed the dismantled colorful detritus of last week’s Black Rock City; deconstructed domes, impossible buses stacked high with bikes, and poles and tarps that sat alone in places, hopefully waiting for someone to come pick them up. Camp strike was in full force just a week after Black Rock City was invaded by all manner of ecstatic pilgrims who built structures to hang their themes upon, and now spent and winding down, gradually one vehicle of tired pioneers repatriated at a time, carrying off all that made our city amazing.

We passed the straggler groups of people packing up the last of their encampments, loading trucks and trailers, cars and semi-trailers. Small last gasp ghost camps of dust colored citizens waved goodbye as we passed them, some reclining beneath minimalist shreds of shade. They sat in fold out chairs sipping morning coffee, milking the last sweet dollop of camaraderie cultivated since they’d first arrived.

We waved back. Bye bye last Happy Campers. See you next year. We were quite happy to be out of there.

This year was wonderful and as they keep saying, challenging.

one view of the Burn

Small cultural idiosyncrasies of this young, new century have invaded Burning Man. They are little trappings that let you know our culture is not within an un-breakable bubble. There were selfie sticks and drones. I never once saw someone walking along the Esplanade talking or texting on their phone, thankfully. Hopefully the cell towers were overwhelmed. There was a lot of vaping this year.

The night of the Burn I was on the periphery with art cars parked and once the fireworks began I made my way past Ranger Sarah Problem into the outer circle and found that I was standing behind a concert sized wall of phones and cameras held up all filming the Man. Once the fireworks ended, only about five of the one hundred folks who were filming kept holding their phones and cameras aloft. I’m not sure if the massive fire balls that rolled up to engulf the Man flashed their video and they quit or if they just wanted to see a good fire and perhaps contemplate what was happening rather than just recording it for later entertainment. I like to believe it was the latter.

Need a ride to Center Camp

As Mr. B and I navigated out of the city on 6:30 towards Laughing Sal, we saw a few young couples clumsily pulling luggage being them, sending up white alkaline powder as they dragged their bags to the Burner Bus Depot to depart. I felt like we were moving through some post apocalyptic video game dream-scape of a frosty dusted roofless airport terminal. A girl was followed by her mate, both of them laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the puffing surface tossing up white spew between their once black rubber luggage treads as they forged on. We saw MOOPed and abandoned properties with only a semi-trailer or a big fresh water, black or grey tank awaiting pick up. It seems that you can rent those now and have them delivered then picked up after the event.

Black Rock City at 70 thousand is a real city and the days of knowing everyone are long gone. We are no longer a small town and there’s no turning back. A Man must burn and everyone knows he will and they want to be there to see it. The cowboys of Burning Man Past still ride before and after the event, masters of that lake bed building it or restoring it, but the event belongs to a much larger swath of humanity now.


RIP Jay Houston Marx

Jay speaking at the anti-nuclear vigil’s 25th anniversary in 2006
Jay speaking at the anti-nuclear vigil’s 25th anniversary in 2006

I’m hardly the only person to whom Jay Marx offered a memorable introduction to Washington, DC. Jay passed through this world entirely too briefly, but he touched a great many of us and presented a powerful example of how to apply the principles of conscious counterculture beyond building community to help refashion a new default world.

Jay and I first crossed paths in 2002. I’d finished an internship interview with a law firm office on K Street, and stumbled into a peace march that he had helped organize six months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We went on to organize, perform, and party together in countless settings over the next 13 years before he passed away at Transformus in North Carolina this July. (more…)

Corporate Courting

The line in the sand has been getting more and more blurry over the years.

While there is no commerce on Playa, obviously we need to buy goods and services for our trips. As a community, we are still working out how corporations can work with Burners in a healthy way.

For example, many rental companies have had an “illicit affair” model in place where lying was a part of the process. “Don’t come back with hickies, lipstick on your collar, or dust in the engine…and whatever you do, don’t tell us you are taking it to Burning Man!”

But check out U-Haul’s olive branch offering to Burners renting trucks: A video showing how to cover logos (and honor the Decommodification Principle) without damaging the truck. Plus they share a list of clean up tips and local resources.

U Haul would have scored 100% except for the cutesy use of “Barter Supplies” as a header at the bottom instead of just “Supplies.” (Gifting is NOT Barter.)

Now, if this video is a part of a marketing push, I may change my tune. But for now I’m giving big dusty props to U-Haul for addressing the reality of the situation without pandering or exploiting the community.

NOTE: I am a 17 year Burner with a passion for the event, the principles and our community. Like the vast majority of writers in this space, I am not a representative of the BMORG. This is not an endorsement of U-Haul by myself and especially not by Burning Man. It is simply an (interesting to me) data point in the ever-evolving integration between the default world and Burning Man.

Barron Scott LevKoff’s Mystical Midway

This year the Man will be surrounded by a most exquisite clever Midway, a Carnival of Mirrors where participants can turn the surfaces reflecting themselves inside out if they dare, and by participating they may very well discover the multifarious circus of our ordinary life and create new personas. The Midway beckons to us to discover new perspectives and bring them out into the world at the conclusion of our week in Black Rock City.

Our Midway is going to be populated with mind-bending and playful attractions, and I was most fortunate to meet one of this year’s artists, Barron Scott LevKoff aka The Professor, who will be bringing his Mystical Midway to that space around the Man this year.

Barron Scott LevKoff Talking with Scott you get a feeling of how whimsical yet intentional he is. A self described dandy with a very sharp and developed mind highly attuned to the creative force, he is a font of brilliance and ideas flow from him in rapid succession; ideas that range from casual mentions of conscious evolution, social theater, the Human Potential Movement, Wisdom Sharing Networks and Cosplay, to his use of carnivalesque motley fools, hobos, devils , angels and roaming puppetry to provide tools for the creator culture that he cares very deeply about.

He’s spent time sharing the Beauty Engine Social Design he and Polly Superstar created in the early 2000’s. He told me about his work with Polly on another venture, Mission Control, where they tested out, in his words, the “language for creative collaboration” and the “commonalities of social dynamics, social techniques and methods that are similar among creative communities.” Mission Control worked with thousands of people, some of them digerati, and provided inspiration for social networks that came into being including the Abundance League that became Shareable.

Edwardian Ball  Mystic MidwayHe and I sat down for tapas and sangria in the Mission and Scott shared with me his experience of the last 25 years as a performer. Barron Scott LevKoff has had a hand in creating or participating in some of the more surreal ongoing events in the San Francisco Bay Area including Anon Salon, The Edwardian Ball, Mission Control, The Renaissance Faire at Black Point Forest, Club Ritual, Soookeasy, Master Mondos Cabare’, Lost Horizons Box Trucks, Kinky Salon and the Lagunitas Beer Circus to name a few, with his most recent foray being his Mystic Midway.

His involvement in the San Francisco Alternative scene is somewhat epic.

I asked him to tell me about his Mystical Midway that will grace Black Rock City this year and the description poured out of him …

“The Mystic Midway is a trans-media STORYWORLD based on the characters and attractions you might find in a strange, mystical carnival: “The Hat of Many Closets”, “Mister Nobody’s Swamp Shack”, “The Mirror Maze”, the “Haunted Castle” and characters such as Lady Fortuna, Mister Nobody, the Blue Mystic, Professor Grimaldi, The Snakeoil Salesman and others. Each of these characters and attractions has a corresponding card that illustrates a specific area of inquiry attributed to each. Our Mystic Midway ensemble of performers brings these characters to life and we have also created a Cosplay guide crafted specifically as an invitation for anyone to create their own Midway persona and join the Midway!

Mystic Midway“We also bring the Mystic Midway to life through fantastical sets, props, banners, wagons, flying airships and more. We host Tea Party ‘socials’ where the community comes together and we go into the Midway, almost like a role-playing game. (The ‘HOME GAME’) We go on storytelling adventures of discovery and inquiry, prompted by encounters with the MM attractions and characters. It’s a collaborative, ‘gameful’ style of group storytelling. For example, something like “Fear” might come up in an adventure and we know that it’s time to bring out ‘Mr.Nobody’, a gleeful skeleton figure who eats fear. So the goal in that moment is to name and release the fear to Mr.Nobody, so it’s a bit like a shamanic story telling game. It’s all about identifying the scripts inside us that rule our actions on the ‘mythic stage’ of our lives.

“What’s ruling us, what’s holding us back, what’s keeping us from sharing the magic within us, but feel scared to give it a name or form?”

Scott is a true believer and he’s up to something much larger than entertainment. About the Mystical Midway’s immersive environment he continued, “There’s almost no separation between participant, audience, spectator, performers. It really is immersive social theater. People can jump in with whatever they’re comfortable with. The first time they come, they kind of sit on the periphery, and say, ok I kind of see what this is about. Next time they come and they have a persona and they’re offering their gifts. Maybe I’ll do readings, or I’m more of a clowny person, or I have fairy wings and horns or whatever. You know what I mean?”

Our nice waiter brought us some bread and butter and as Scott and I conversed, I began to realize that there is a deeper level to this sort of play and creative culture. He’s not just creating an immersive experience that will no doubt delight participants on the playa this year.  I took in this phenomenon of a man across the table from me, wearing a black and white striped hat, spectacles and who sported a well groomed handlebar mustache. We discussed the language of creative culture, how he is producing events, creative community and Improv Theater  and I realized I was in the presence of a visionary. We discussed what a crazy journey these last 25 years have been for him and before that, his childhood of “hippie parents, raised in communes, in boats and vans. My mom was a psychic channel and I was raised around all these different intentional communities. So as a kid I got to see all these intentional ways of coming together so I was primed my whole life for alternate ways of living.” He then brought up his interest in magic and alchemy.

It was then that he leaned in, suddenly somewhat serious, and as he spoke he brought his visage forward and upward and I could see his brown eyes and that slyly mustachioed mouth as he flashed an upward smile and I thought — he’s up to something. Oh he’s up to something.

Barron Scott“I see society as a sculpture; it’s created intentionally by people. And a lot of people don’t see that our society has been crafted by capitalists and industrialists and consumerists towards people like you. You NEED THINGS. Medicine men knew this. Like, oh I’ve got something you need. This is a shiny thing and it’s awesome if you have this thing. You need these sneakers to be more desirable. You need this makeup or you need this clothing, you know what I mean right? And these are scripts that are running in society and so many people think, oh that’s the way it is, that’s the way life is.

“Burning Man is a place where people can look at the scripts and be like, wait a minute, does that serve me? Does this way of being serve me? Does the way of connecting and relating to other people, does this actually have value to me? So I want to create the permissions and give people the tools to examine, do these scripts serve them anymore.

“That’s why we embrace the term SOCIAL THEATER. You know because the Midway is a place of heightened social interaction, where everything is a mirror. Every character on the Midway is a mirror, a card, the story cards of the Midway that everything is based on, that I’ve been developing, I’m taking all my observations of creative culture they’re all in the story cards. Everything’s a mirror, hey take a look at this. What has value to you what are you pulling yourself to?

“How does insight serve you? Are you just a mental, intellectual person or do you have insight and intuition, so everything is inquiry. Hey what do you think about this, what do you think about this, no truths, just inquiry. Just questions. It’s all questions.

“It’s a crazy experiment. And I need a Christmas miracle to pull this off.”

The Mystical Midway, Carnival of Mythic Possibility has an ongoing IndieGOGO campaign to get them to Burning Man.

Go there. Contribute and read on.

Our sangria arrived, we toasted a cheers and I took a plunge into the fascinating world of Barron Scott LevKoff also known as “The Professor”.


Everyhere Logistics: They Bring the Art to You

nightmarketBurners know how much art one can pack into a box truck, but Everyhere Logistics is about to raise the bar. This team, spread out all across the United States, is rolling out multiple convoys of box trucks full of pop-up art exhibitions to traverse the country, descending upon a different U.S. city each Saturday in August. In each city, the trucks will join up with a local Lost Horizon Night Market, an interactive art carnival experience that will welcome in the locals. The point is to demonstrate how portable and scalable even big, inspiring art experiences can be.

“There is a myth that viable art is only found on the coasts and in a select few big cities,” the trailer video says. “Help Everyhere Logistics shatter that myth.”

These people want to build a national network of such Night Markets, to make them a part of the fabric of city life, and nailing this crazy trucking part would enable the free flow of art and artists across this network. You can help them make that happen on Kickstarter for just a few more days.