Margaret left a trace

DumpsterWe always think of the principle of “Leave No Trace” as applying to things. To garbage. To left over zip ties. To empty cans on the ground.

But does it apply to people?

Do we want it to?

I was struck, this week, by an email that “This is Burning Man” author Brian Doherty sent out encouraging people in the Bay Area to see a show produced in large part by burners this Friday at the Castro Theatre.

The show is about a woman of whom there was no trace. Whose life was, literally, thrown in the garbage.

While hunting for a place to illegally dump some trash at three in the morning, an old-time Burner (Chicken John) found a magnificent leather scrap book at the bottom of a dumpster. It was, all but literally, the life of a woman named Margaret Rucker. It had her birth certificate, pictures of her life, clippings from news articles about tragic things that befell her, and excerpts from poetry magazines of verse she’d had published. It ended with her death certificate.

It was all there. At the bottom of a dumpster. If he hadn’t found it, it would have been destroyed.

What happened? He had no idea. Nobody knew. For maybe 15 years he carried this scrapbook around with him, read from it, shared it with people – put on shows devoted to Margaret’s poetry and the mystery of her life.

No answers. Except insofar as we all know, deep down, that people are disposable. That at some point all we are will be left in a trash bin. That no trace will be left. (more…)

Crimson Rose Addresses World Cities Culture Forum

World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 - Day 2Burning Man founder Crimson Rose attended the 2014 World Cities Culture Forum and Summit in Amsterdam and brought back insights from some of the world’s greatest cities. These insights can help us think about Black Rock City in new ways, of course. But they’re also lessons Burners can bring to any city at any time, just as we do with the art and the values we’ve developed in our home of Black Rock City.

The overarching issues discussed at this year’s summit were remarkably relevant to Burning Man culture, and it’s a good thing a Burning Man founder was there to offer reactions. Crimson reports that there was a pervasive attitude among the representatives in attendance that the culture of a place can be “branded” and sold like any other economic product. Crimson’s response was that culture is more like a living organism; it must grow, eat, breathe, and change, or else it will die. Black Rock City residents know this well.

Crimson Rose (r) speaks at the World Cities Culture Summit, 2014
Crimson Rose (r) speaks at the World Cities Culture Summit, 2014

In another example, Amsterdam is attempting to change the word “tourist” to “visitor” in its tourism culture. We know this “no tourists!” problem well enough to understand that changing the word for it is not enough. All the norms around integrating newcomers into the city have to change, and that extends to all residents, not just official policy. That challenge is going to be harder in Amsterdam than it is in BRC; the Netherlands is starting to see anti-tourism protests during big events.

Cities are also often hosts to spectacular cultural events, like sports and performances, which have a tried and true formula for how they run: people buy tickets, buy concessions, sit down, watch the show, and leave. Crimson was pleased to see that some cities, particularly Montreal, are beginning to push for more interactive and participatory events.

World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 - Day 2Crimson herself appeared on a panel called “Transformational Outdoor Creative Projects.” The other panelists were Pep Gattell of La Fura dels Baus, Helen Marriage of Artichoke (a Burning Man Project partner), and Mark Ball from Lift. The moderator was Ruth MacKenzie, director of the Holland Festival. It was an open, free event attended by Summit attendees and locals. In further conversation after the panel, Crimson introduced Daniela from the Amsterdam Regional Group to some of the officials and guests at the Summit, many of whom didn’t know about the Burning Man Decompression event happening in Amsterdam two days later. These kind of serendipitous connections are just waiting to happen at a summit like this.

Crimson says Amsterdam was delightful, bike-friendly, and arts and culture were bursting into the streets. Sound like a dusty city you know?

Tyler Durden Invented Burning Man

Perhaps you’ve still never heard of the Cacophony Society, Burning Man’s parent group.

Pardon the cliche, but for history’s sake, we’re going to have to talk about fight club.

Fight Club is a book written in 1996 and then turned into a movie released 15 years ago this fall (we won’t provide any spoilers if we can help it). Author Chuck Pahlaniuk confirmed at several book-release events last year the “Project Mayhem” group in Fight Club’s story is indeed the Cacophony Society in real life … a wackier bunch of people, without the men-only Iron John subplot or all the property destruction and violence. (Well, serious violence, anyway.)

“But Larry Harvey invented Burning Man,” you may be saying to yourself. No, he and his homeys Jerry and Dan brought the statue to a “Zone Trip” the Cacophony Society had already planned to take to the Black Rock Desert.

The rest of the event didn’t spring, Godlike, from one man’s mind, and materialize like so much ganja in Shiva’s dreadlocks. Cacophony built Black Rock City. It was a group whim — a hive-mind good time which snowballed and splintered, glittering, like breaking mirrorglass.

art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society
art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society

Even if you don’t know it, Burning Man is and will always be the Cacophony Society’s yearly extended-family check-in and show-and-tell. It’s a fight club convention where old-timers don’t make a big deal about showing up to tweak and observe the city they created. This product of new collectivist activity reads like a neotribal Kumbh Mela which embraces chaos as spirituality. The event requires, and has always required, a dark army of dirtbags to make it all go flash bang boom.

Burning Man’s blank slate started as an anarcho-cyberpunk paradise away from the squares, on the moon. A living, breathing Internet, this equalizing Paper Street Soap Company in the dust churned art, analog, digital, fire, lust, danger, meetings, and magic into a whirlwind of construction and yelling. (more…)

Art Beyond Burning Man – Making, Thinking, Understanding

Building art for Burning Man always seemed to be part of my yearly cycle. I love what I have been a part of creating in Black Rock City; I have grown up and cut my teeth building art out on that remarkable desert canvas. Over the last several years, though, I’ve found myself bringing more art to life out here, “beyond the fence.” Thanks to the efforts of so many, we can now cite several instances of Burning Man art in many cities around the world.

Zoa Crew Photo by Kim Sikora
Flux’s Zoa Crew Photo by Kim Sikora

At FLUX we have created 12 works of art in our 4 years of existence. This is something we are truly proud of. We’ve successfully made interactive art accessible to a wide audience, and we use this art as a platform to engage people in the core values we have cultivated as Burning Man artists. Our works have been experienced by people in Oakland, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and now, San Francisco. Sometimes, we are so busy building we forget to take a moment to celebrate and share what we’re creating. In this case, we are celebrating our newest interactive sculpture, Carousel.

Flux Building Carousel
Building Carousel Photo by Jess Hobbs

Inspired by the shared experience and wonder of the swing rides of childhood carnivals, Carousel uses a variety of materials, a playful color palette and communal interaction to create an immersive environment. In this space, people will contribute to a cumulative visual expanse, reflect on inspiration, and engage in conversation. Participants will return to a sense of wonder as they sit beneath and contribute to its creation.

Flux Building Carousel
Building Carousel Photo by Jess Hobbs

Carousel has been commissioned by the Abundance Foundation and built for Making, Thinking, Understanding, a conference created by Harvard’s Project Zero. The conference will start tomorrow, October 10-12, 2014 at Lick Willmerding High School in San Francisco. (more…)

Experiments in Radical Gifting and Ticket Sales

PresentRight now a Bay Area group consisting of a number of past and present Burners is putting together an event so ambitious that I am thrilled to be part of it.

I can’t tell you anything about it. Not what it is, or where, or who else is involved. I can tell you when, but that’s only mostly true. We’re revealing so little, in fact, that we actually sent out a press release announcing that we’ve created the least informative Kickstarter in history.

But what I can tell you … and what makes this an interesting experiment with Burning Man principles … is that there’s only one way to get a ticket. And that’s to be given one by somebody else.

You can’t buy a ticket for yourself.

It might be possible to engage in round-robins where a group of people buy tickets for each other, but we’ll be watching out for that. (I can’t tell you how.) Because the hope, the ideal, is that it will make the experience of going to an arts event more like getting a surprise gift: you have no idea it’s coming, it’s a gesture of thoughtfulness and goodwill because somebody cared enough to think of you, and you honestly don’t know what’s going to be there when you open it up.

Will it have that affect? Will it be possible to actually fund a high-infrastructure event this way?

We’ll find out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I was against the whole idea. (more…)

David Best and Artichoke Building a Temple in Northern Ireland

Temple of Grace interior, 2014 (photo by Robert Bruce Anderson)
Temple of Grace interior, 2014 (photo by Robert Bruce Anderson)

David Best, creator of the beautiful Temple of Grace at Burning Man this year, will be traveling to Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland for his next project.

In Derry, a city historically split by religious and political divisions, there is a long-standing tradition of burning and building extreme bonfires. UK-based charity Artichoke, who specializes in large-scale interactive public art installations, wants to bring David and his crew to build a temple with the local community that will turn the notion of bonfires and burning in Northern Ireland on their head. The temple will serve as a source of healing, uniting people as they come together for the epic build. Four people from Derry came to Burning Man this year and studied with David as he worked on the Temple of Grace.

The Burning Man Project is thrilled to support this collaboration with its first official grant from the new Burning Man Arts program. Burning Man Arts has also awarded a grant to support longtime Burner and documentary filmmaker Laurent LeGall, who is working on a full-length film about David Best’s life and work. He will shoot the temple project in Northern Ireland for the film, which is expected to be released sometime in 2015.

Artichoke is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise £30,000 for the project and they’re reaching out to the Burner community for their help. Please show your support!

Burning Man Goes BOOM

Burning Man co-Founder Harley K. DuBois was invited to participate in a panel on Leading the Way of Global Transformation through the Arts at the Boom Festival in Portugal. On her way out the door, she exclaimed “I’m going to my first rave!!” She was very excited.

As founder of Burning Man’s Community Services Department, she knows a thing or two about how festivals run, and how communities and culture develop through well-considered infrastructure, guidelines and support. Here’s her report on Boom, and the panel:

What a treat to be invited to Boom to sit on a panel with founders from other festivals. The grounds for their music event were idyllic, situated on the bank of a beautiful lake in the rural farm region of Portugal. The property was 30 minutes from the closest village, where attendees camp on tree-filled rolling hillsides for an entire week. They walk a short distance to the multiple stages playing all sorts of techno music, thoughtfully placed to avoid sound bleed from one stage to the next. Food and other vending were tastefully placed at the edges of the property, so that art and music took center stage.

The 42,000 people were remarkably polite and engaged. There were a lot of families present and children were fully integrated into the scene. The staff was chill and helpful and the founders I spoke with were buoyant and fun! Overall it was hard to tell that there were that many participants present because it was so calm and tranquil. And although there were major DJs present there was little cult-of-the-celebrity to be noticed. People were very engaged with the music, their friends and the lecture series that was held at their Liminal Village stage.

Boom, Fusion and Burning Man: Leading the Way of Global Transformation through the Arts panel. (Photo by Chiara Baldini.)
“Boom, Fusion and Burning Man: Leading the Way of Global Transformation through the Arts” panel. (Photo by Chiara Baldini.)

Our panel (Leading the Way of Global Transformation through the Arts) was on the final day of the festival, near the end of the day. It garnered the largest attendance that week, and people listened and asked questions of us all. Present were Diogo Ruivo of Boom, a lovely, humble and committed man; Eule, Fusion Festival director of production and Kulturkosmos Co-founder, full of passion about their edgy (bordering on anarchistic) festival; and myself representing Burning Man. All of us had spent years creating the processes and infrastructure to build our events. Boom and Fusion began in 1997, so Burning Man was the oldest and most developed event of the three, but the similarities in trajectory and growth were striking.

Burning Man was also the only event that creates the space for the participants to bring the content, where Fusion and Boom both provide the music that people come to hear, but the concerns with culture, future vision, and a need to create a solid foundation to build off of where very closely aligned.

Many questions were asked and most focused on community and growth toward a sustainable future. It was clear that Burning Man, with 10 years on the other events was a source of inspiration and learning for these festivals. The attention we have put on naming, describing and developing our philosophy and intentions globally was very evident. Our vision for outreach and sharing our learnings was greatly appreciated by the crowd. Diogo Ruivo of Boom described us as the parent they come to learn from which I took as a great compliment, but we all know that parents learn from their offspring as well. I look forward to pursuing the development of these relationships.

“Burning Man: Art on Fire” Goes to Haiti

Sidney Erthal and Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly
Sidney Erthal and Haitian President Michel Martelly

Sidney Erthal, co-photographer with Scott London, and author Jennifer Raiser of Burning Man Art on Fire, which is topping the charts at Amazon, was packing to leave Burning Man last week and noticed he had several calls from his good friend Claude-Alix Bertrand, the Captain of the Haitian Polo Team. When he got Claude-Alix on the phone, he wanted to know if Sidney could “Please come with me to Haiti?” Claude-Alix explained that he was about to be awarded the honor of being an Ambassabor of Goodwill for Haiti, and could Sidney please come, and take photos of the event. The Haitian Polo Team had just won their first Championship Trophy.

So Sidney traveled home to San Francisco, packed a few things and off he went on the red-eye to New York City and then a jump to Haiti, and at that point, Sidney had not even been off Playa 48 hours. As Sidney said,

That moment when you thought you were going to have a very slow decompression and life surprises you big time… A life changing experience after a life changing burn. Embracing the mission.

He was in Haiti for just less than a week, and what an adventure it was.

Claude-Alix Bertrand granted his "Ambassador for Goodwill for Haiti" title from Haitian President, Michel Martelly
Claude-Alix Bertrand was granted his “Ambassador for Goodwill for Haiti” title                        by Haitian President, Michel Martelly

But without a doubt, the highlight of the trip for Sidney, was meeting the President of Haiti, Michel Martelly, when he presented the Ambassadorship to Claude-Alix. Sidney had the opportunity to give President Martelly a copy of his book, and chat a little about Burning Man, which Martelly had heard of and was excited to know more about, and the President’s vision of Haiti’s future, to perhaps be a destination point for polo, to create more jobs in Haiti and improve the country’s economy. Sidney and President Martelly also had a moment to talk about the work that Burners Without Borders has been doing in Haiti to support Haiti’s recovery from the 2010 earthquake and help artists with their job skills; to read more that program, click HERE.

After meeting with the President, Sidney and Claude-Alix were taken on a tour of Haiti by Haitian Minister of Tourism, Stephanie Villedrouin.  They saw a broad cross section of Haiti in their travels. They also attended a lot of meetings, or as Sidney said,

Meetings, meetings and meetings. I always knew my degree in Tourism would be very useful at some point! YEAY!!!