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. (more…)
Rebecca Gasca recently spent an evening with some kids who have not been to Burning Man, discovering how the Ten Principles might impact their lives:
Are you still looking for the fountain of youth? After an evening talking with The Squaw Valley Kids’ Institute about Burning Man and the Ten Principles, I am pretty sure that, at least for me, this proverbial oasis is actually a fire hydrant of intuition surging somewhere between all the pages of the “What Where When” guide and my own cesspool of fears.
Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from these undoubtedly bright kids. With a discussion topic as complex as “Creativity and Statistics vs. the Depths of Expression and Experience at Burning Man: THERE IS NOTHING AS POWERFUL AS AN IDEA!” where could I even begin? So I did what my mom did when I was a child—I brought out my box of costumes so that we could begin on an even playing field. While dressed in a business suit that hid my Burning Man regalia underneath, I watched them lasso the unknown, adorning themselves in whatever they fancied from my selection of playa treasures.
Once creatively situated in leather chaps, faux fur vests, wigs, goggles, sarongs, bandanas, and sufficiently playafied boots, they sat back to discuss their own creative experiences and relate them to the Ten Principles at Burning Man. Though none of them had actually attended a single Burn, it was enlightening how easily all of them, ranging from age 8 to 14, discussed each of these core values as ordinances that Black Rock City has grown up with. Some imagined that a world without logos would be colorful and perhaps quite confusing, admitting not knowing how to assign tangible or relatable value to an object, interaction, or experience. (Yes, that is Decommodification at its finest!)
Collectively, they grasped how important self-reliance would be in the Black Rock Desert. These kids understood immediately that surviving on the playa and in life means that we must work together; each individual would have to show initiative. They also reminded themselves that self-reliance can also mean asking questions. Perhaps most importantly, they pointed out that you are less likely to thrive if you don’t participate. Together we conceptualized a Burning Man lesson plan so that kids could receive school credit for attending the event, but these students struggled with making dramatic and surreal personal experiences “count” by fitting them into boxes of educational requirements. Why was it so difficult? It struck me that our educational system is hammering down on creativity and spontaneity with its one-ply exams and two-toned templates of pass or fail.
Indeed, “We don’t grow into education, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it,” Sir Ken Robinson, who was to speak at the Squaw Valley Institute shortly after that evening, has profoundly noted. With a bit more conversation and context, these creativity enthusiasts churned out ideas for a Kidsville curriculum: writing assignments that might muse over what participant’s lives are actually like in the default world; inventing a prayer or mantra to share at the temple or as a gift; and science experiments involving fire, weather, or water usage at Black Rock City. One participant opined that kids should bring their schoolwork to burn it with the Man.
While I went that night prepared, in a state of default, to “teach” these kids about Burning Man, I learned instead that not only did they already have the spirit of Burning Man pulsing through them, but in some ways, they understood how to apply the principles better than I did. It makes too much sense that this type of primal wisdom comes naturally to us in our youth, but too little sense that it must be re-learned with intention and purpose as we age.
By the end of the evening, I was received with smiles by my costumed comrades as I shed my business attire and revealed to them the crazy legging, funky dress-wearing Burner that I really am. As I left, I couldn’t help but think that it is in Nevada’s biggest little desert where we can become reacquainted with the fountain of youthful wisdom in all of us. I also realized that if I ever have the hope of raising a child who can intuitively rock hop between the “choose your own adventure” pages of life, regardless of their fears, I’ve got to make damn sure that they don’t have to be re-wired with the Ten Principles as an adult. What a gift that night was.
Rebecca Gasca went native on the playa when, as the lobbyist for the ACLU of Nevada, she taught Burners how to lovingly interact with law enforcement at Burning Man while refusing consent to searches. She has since founded her own community and government relations firm, Pistil and Stigma, where she practices her favorite of life’s twenty seven thousand principles, Civic Engagement, on a daily basis. She also sits on the Board of Directors of Friends of Black Rock High Rock although they, nor Burning Man, nor anyone else for that matter, endorse these or any other Hansel and Gretel-related thoughts about children that she may have.
With the Bay Lights as a glittering backdrop, the Flaming Lotus Girls have installed their beautiful and interactive 2009 sculpture, “Soma”, at Pier 14.
San Francisco has been showcasing art at Pier 14 for a while now and Soma is the third art piece to have debuted in Black Rock City that will now grace this breathtaking corner of the City. The piece was installed over the last two weeks and has already become the toast of San Francisco.
The sculpture is 60 ft long, dendrite to dendrite “depicting two communicating neurons connected by an axon bridge. A soma is the cell body of a neuron, with branching dendrites projecting away at different angles, and an axon which conducts the nerve signal electrochemically to its neighboring cell.”
Soma is the combined work of over 100 Flaming Lotus Girls volunteers and the fire that glowed on the playa has been replaced with 97 LED lights that mix wonderfully with Leo Villareal’s Bay Lights behind them.
… represents the communication between two neurons: She transforms the neuronal flow of electricity that forms the foundation of consciousness from a molecular to a monumental scale.
Built of stainless steel and LEDs, SOMA leads us to ask fundamental questions about human thought and neurological transmission. What is consciousness? What is communication? How does our physical and cultural environment shape us? What makes us human? Soma invites us to explore individual, collective and cosmic consciousness, the ego, and the hidden potential within us all for a more connected future.
There is a new art kid on the block! The Generator is a non-profit, inclusive, community art and builder’s space in greater Reno, Nevada (actually in Sparks). It’s open to anyone who wants to make art and be part of a creative community, and they run on their version of Burning Man’s Ten Principles.
I went for a tour a few weeks ago, and I was amazed. There is every sort of tool, and many different kinds of artists: painters, sculptors, woodworkers, Burning Man Honorarium artists, brand new artists of every sort, and children learning art. And the best part is there is no cost to anyone who wants to participate in making any kind of art.
The desert valley of the Tankwa, Karoo is a six-hour drive north from Cape Town, South Africa, and is home to Afrika Burn – the world’s largest official Burning Man Regional Event. A well-paved highway dotted with the occasional police checkpoint gives way to a “tyre-munching” washboard dirt road. Over the final three hours, the drive goes from amusing to bone jarring.
Eventually, the dusty road – South Africa’s equivalent to Highway 447 – opens onto rolling hills, scrub brush and Stonehenge Farm — home to Afrika Burn. 2014 marks the event’s eighth anniversary, launched in 2007 by South Afrikan Burners most of whom first attended Burning Man in 2006. Decompressing in Yosemite Valley, they laid their plans to bring Burning Man home and make it their own. In early May, 2014, over 9,000 people braved heat, washboard roads and overdoses of electronica to trek to the event.
Afrika Burn is organized by a lean production team with oversight from a sizable group of Members, which in the U.S. would be known as the Board of Directors, helping to steer the direction of the non-profit community-building event organization. Afrika Burn shows some of the hallmarks of the processes, departments, and organizational systems that developed in Black Rock City during the late 1990s: the city layout is reminiscent, there is a Greeters Station with a bell, they have a newly formed Rangers department, emergency medical services, a central effigy that burns on Saturday night, a temple that burns on Sunday night, they provide grants for art projects, there is a version of Center Camp, and The Ten Principles describe the city’s culture. But all of these elements have been adopted by the organizers and modified with a South African sensibility and sense of humor. Center Camp became “Off Center Camp” and there is no cafe beverage service.
The Greeters Station bears the event emblem of “the clan” or “San Clan”, an image found in ancient cave paintings in the area, and that embodies the interconnectedness of people and community.
An eleventh principle was added. The city layout has its own design tailored to the land, the street names are in Afrikaans, and the avenue names run from “2:00 ish” to “10:00 ish”.
The central effigy sculpture changes entirely each year, with the presence of the clan emblem providing a sense of continuity from year to year. The 2014 event theme was The Trickster, manifested in The Interpreter, a 19 meter- (nearly 60 feet) tall robot sculpture with one arm raised and wearing a rabbit mask. Long-time central effigy builder and self-described troublemaker Brendan Smithers was the project lead behind The Interpreter. He describes the meaning of the sculpture as a representation of the duality of human nature, of technology and nature, of masculine and feminine. He shared that behind the mask is a slightly cynical commentary through the robot that speaks to participants adopting a sort of “Burner fundamentalism”, one where people allow themselves to be sucked into “group think” without discovering the opportunity for authentic expression, and eventually they develop a sort of inflexible attitude in what is supposed to be a very flexible environment. In the spirit of The Trickster, Brendan initially designed the robot with both arms raised, a nod and an irreverent poke at “The Burning Man”, but after Nelson Mandela passed away earlier this year, the sculpture design changed to one “fist” raised, an iconic gesture made popular during the African National Congress’s rise to power through the 1980s and early 1990s, led by Mandela’s commitment to equality in South Africa.
While Afrika Burn may be the largest Burning Man-inspired event in the world, it still feels young in a very vibrant, exciting way. Many people say that it feels how Black Rock City felt in 1998. The event is scaling slowly so that the organizers and community can support the spread of the ethos that is the spirit of Tankwa Town. To this end, Afrika Burn added an eleventh principle to the Burning Man Ten Principles: “Each One Teach One”, which states “All of us are custodians of our culture – when the opportunity presents itself, we pass knowledge on.” With a proposed planned growth rate of no more than 25% per year, and a possible self-imposed population limit, this event is being stewarded with great care and thoughtfulness.
One of the remarkable aspects of Afrika Burn is the noticeable family environment that is woven into the fabric of the city. There are families everywhere, people of all ages, all socializing and bonding in a most wonderful and playful way. There is a very tribal sensibility to peoples’ camps at this event, evident in how different families watch over each others’ children and how integrated they are in the activities of the event. A common sentiment among many of the youth is that they love Afrika Burn. This is a potential win for our collective future because, as with other Regional Events, it instills universally useful values in the people who could be the great artists, leaders, and creators of tomorrow.
As several of the Directors of Afrika Burn described, these types of events are a training ground for people to learn to be engaged. These experiences are an antidote to the insidious passive consumption that feeds on a life devoid of creativity, permission, and empowerment. Event Directors Liz Linsell, Graeme Allan and Monique Schiess all echoed that Afrika Burn is training people in “the Do-ocracy”. As Monique said, “If you see something that needs to be done, just do it. You don’t need to wait for some sort of authority to do it. You just do it.”
Afrika Burn is held annually in early May. More info may be found at AfrikaBurn.com.
Additional Contributions: Special thanks to $teven Ra$pa, the Afrika Burn production team, and the Burning Man Communications team.
Charlie Dolman, Burning Man’s Event Operations Director, was recently invited by the Project Management Institute to be the Opening Keynote Speaker at their conference in San Diego. The Project Management Institute provides project management practitioners and organizations with standards that describe good practices and provides globally recognized credentials in their field.
Of course, the first question that comes to mind is what can attendees at a project management conference learn from Burning Man, and how could it make them better project managers? Well, Charlie asked the audience … what does it take to build a city in the desert? A lot of spreadsheets!
Organizing Burning Man requires monumental schedule, budget, legal, safety, and risk considerations. As Burning Man’s Event Operations Director, Charlie wanted to share his unique perspective and insights, from project management essentials to lessons learned in the dust.
The conference attendees wanted to hear about the Burning Man event itself and what it looks like from a project management point of view. So Charlie told them about the pre-event build process, including the Golden Spike ritual, surveying the city, and how building the 9.2-mile long trash fence is a cooperative effort, completed by a hardy crew in less than one day.
He described the elements that go into creating Black Rock City, including the street grid with signs and addresses, port-o-potties, an airport, big art, a Department of Mutant Vehicles. He discussed the nuances of working with a volunteer workforce, the challenges of our mandate to Leave No Trace of Black Rock City after the event has concluded, and the prolific growth of Burning Man culture through the Regional Network.
What did Charlie think about this chance to share his experience with project management professionals?
“It was great to have the opportunity to speak to professional project managers about Burning Man. Sharing the thing you love with other interested and professional folks is brilliant fun. There were some great questions and some surprise curve balls too! Overall the experience was great!”
On Wednesday, May 14, the city of San Mateo, CA hosted a panel of veteran Burners as part of its San Mateo Innovation Week. The topic was how to build and inspire the community you envision. Here’s the full hour-long video for your enjoyment and edification.
The panelists were Burning Man co-founder Michael Mikel; Karen Cusolito, Oakland artist and founder of American Steel Studios; Dr. Mike North, host of the Discovery Channel’s Prototype This! and founder of ReAllocate; and Ilana Lipsett, co-founder of Freespace. It was facilitated by Stuart Mangrum, Education Director of the Burning Man Project. More photos after the jump. (more…)