What I’ve learned about Burning Man from reading “Culture and the Death of God.”

Burning Books 2(This post is inspired by reading the final chapter of Terry Eagleton’s “Culture and the Death of God.” Read all the book club entries)

So here’s the thing about cults:

Every time one’s in the news or does something big – no matter where in the world – everybody in the media rushes to assure themselves that only losers belong to this organization: it’s for sexless poor people who just can’t hack it in modernity.

And every time – from Aum Shinrikyo in Japan to ISIS in the Middle East – they’re wrong.   Every time we’re stunned to learn that many of the cultists/fundamentalists/terrorists were actually economically successful. That they had relationships, and families, and ties to the community.

Our delusion that successful IT managers or people with friends wouldn’t join a cult or strap on a suicide vest is the conjoined twin of a larger cultural delusion: that modernity offers everything we need to live satisfying lives.

The evidence is clear that for a huge swath of people, it doesn’t. If you add up:

 

  • The people who seek solace and meaning through religion;
  • To the people who (unprecedented in human history) need to take medication just to be functionally free of depression and anxiety
  • To the people who are clinging to pseudo-scientific and New Age platitudes about “quantum weirdness” to find a sense of meaning
  • To the people who are fanatically devoted to radical politics because the world as it is needs to change
  • To the people who hold some abstract notion of “ART” as something that can never be understood except as a pure bringer of purpose where nothing else will do;
  • To the people who hold some abstract notion of “SCIENCE!” as something that can bring all purpose and meaning to life if we were to just try harder to turn ourselves into beings of pure thought;
  • To the people who aren’t any of these things but are unhappy and unsatisfied and running on a treadmill that feels like it isn’t getting anywhere …

 

Then you get most of the world’s population.

Let’s stop deluding ourselves: modernity has many good points. It offers unprecedented freedoms and opportunities and social advancements. But it leaves a giant void in most people that it cannot fill because it’s always trying to commercialize and monetize it. Turning lonely people into consumers does not make them less lonely – it only makes them consume more.

The result is seen in its starkest terms when people who have everything to live for in a modern society run off and join what amounts to a death cult: they need to make a drastic break because other is no other kind. There is no soft opt out. (more…)

Artist Update: New Orleans Airlift (Music Box)

New Orleans Airlift (Music Box) was a 2010 Black Rock Arts Foundation Grantee — check out what they’re up to now!

The New Orleans Airlift announces their newest and most ambitious musical architecture project, The Roving Village Residencies. The opening concert for the first residency is happening this weekend!

(There will also be an Artist Roundtable on April 5th at 6 p.m.!)

In 2010, the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF, now Burning Man Arts) saw an opportunity to support Airlift’s vision of creating a house that was not only liveable, but also made up of playable instruments. We’re pleased to see how far the Airlift’s projects have come, while including renowned artists and local communities along the way!

With generous support from The Helis Foundation, Airlift’s new interactive kinetic musical structures will take up residence for weeks at a time in “unexpected sites” around New Orleans. There will be performances, artist talks, educational workshops, and free interactive opening hours where members of the public can bring the musical houses to life!

The first residency will be located at an abandoned golf course in City Park, New Orleans. It includes Swoon’s first musical house built in collaboration with local master blacksmith Darryl Reeves.

The Music Box Roving Village by New Orleans Airlift, 2015 (Photo courtesy of the artist)
The Music Box Roving Village by New Orleans Airlift, 2015 (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Come to the opening concert for The Music Box Roving Village: City Park Presented by the Helis Foundation:

Roving Village Orchestra
April 3 & 4, 2015 (2 sets each night)
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Located at these coordinates in City Park: 29.999130, -90.089878
(Or simply turn on to Harrison Ave off of Wisner Blvd and look for the concert on your left!)

The concert will be conducted by New York City’s William Parker, an incredible improviser, composer and hero of the free jazz community.

Featured musicians include:

  • Swamp-pop legend Quintron,
  • Celebrated Haitian-American singer songwriter Leyla McCalla,
  • Music Box veteran Rob Cambre,
  • Marion Tortorich of up and coming local band Sweet Crude,
  • Glenn Barbaro of Egg Yolk Jubilee,
  • The powerful vocalist Tank of Tank and the Bangas
  • Cooper Moore, another jazz master from New York.

To get your tickets for the concert, click here.

The musical houses will be open to the public during the following times (at the same location as the concert):

April 3 – May 10, 2015
12 p.m. – 6 p.m. (Friday – Sunday, excluding performance days)

More concerts will be announced throughout the run of the residency, so keep your eyes and ears open for super secret performances by legendary Jazz Fest musicians, pop up performances, and a closing concert on May 8th and 9th!

Stay tuned by signing up for the newsletter here (click “Subscribe” at the bottom of the page), and follow the New Orleans Airlift on Facebook!

Temple Connections

by Loren Geller

Photo by Sergey
Photo by Sergey

In 2010, I met a girl named Coco at Burning Man. Coco had flown from Paris to Reno, made her way to Black Rock City, and then sauntered into our camp. I was sitting on a mattress in my U-Haul trailer (a “poor man’s RV”) when she arrived.

“Hi, I’m Coco,” she said. Noticing the mattress, she continued, “Is this a real mattress?”

People talk about a lot of odd things at Burning Man (i.e., art, camping, music, and sex) but as far back as I can remember no girl ever started a conversation with me by asking about my mattress. Yet, it was definitely happening now.

Loren: “Yes, it’s a real mattress.”

Coco: “It’s your bed? Are you with anyone? I mean is anyone else sleeping here? Can I sleep here?” I took a look at Coco. She was wearing running shoes, shorts, and a top that seemed to reveal more than conceal.

Loren: “We can talk about it. Come on in.” (more…)

There’s a Black Dot in the Middle of Everything I See

Ranger Halston
Ranger Halston

Kelli Hoversten was a tireless and fearless adventurer. She’d ice climb during the Colorado winters, rock climb in the warmer months, and travel the country in search of her next challenge. She was also an avid reader, devouring four or five books at a time when she wasn’t working on her family’s Missouri cattle ranch.

But not anymore.

At Burning Man 2014, Kelli — you may know her as Ranger Halston — was working with her fellow Black Rock Rangers as a “Sandman”, the caretakers of the inner circle during the Man Burn. While the citizens of Black Rock City watch the Man and the Fire Conclave performances in the Great Circle, Sandman Rangers keep their eyes on the crowd, ensuring nobody makes an ill-advised sprint toward the flames.

Ranger Halston, after the injury
Ranger Halston, after the injury

That was when Kelli’s life was instantaneously and irreversibly changed, when somebody in the crowd pointed a handheld laser at her face, permanently blinding her left eye. And then one mounted on a Mutant Vehicle partially blinded her right eye.

Some Burners think it’s “fun” to aim a laser at the Man, or at the people around them — it’s the functional (and intellectual) equivalent of tagging, I suppose. It used to be no big deal, really. Back in the day, the only lasers that could actually harm somebody were big, unwieldy and expensive, but with recent technological advancements, the $20 laser you picked up and stuck in your pocket can reach 3-10 miles, and it could blind anybody who catches it in the eye. And facing the crowd as they do during big burns, Black Rock Rangers are especially vulnerable.

Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger
Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger

Since the accident, Kelli has been forced to relearn everything she’d come to know in her life, and to reconsider everything she’s taken for granted. “I had no idea how important depth perception is. I don’t think anybody does, until they lose it,” she tells me. She no longer rock climbs or ice climbs. “It’s too dangerous with one eye, and the risk of another injury on top of this? If I lose my other eye, well …” She leaves the sentence hanging in the air. She’s lost her job as an arborist because they can’t insure her now. She’s got enough vision left in her right eye to still be allowed to drive, but just barely, and she’s rightfully worried about losing that privilege. “There’s a black dot in the middle of everything I see.”

Don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either.

It’s too difficult and painful to read as much as she used to, but low-vision therapists are helping with lighting systems that will help a bit. “Reaching out to pick up a water glass now requires thought. Even cutting my food is a challenge. And God, shaving my legs is like a bloodbath,” she laughs. “I sure didn’t see that one coming.”

Halston at Rangers HQ
Halston at Rangers HQ

I hear sadness cutting through the laughter, and I’m struck by her strength. She’s angry, and she has every right to be. Her future was stolen through somebody’s ignorance. But she’s not bitter. More than anything, as she comes to terms with the fact that she’ll never have her former life back, she’s most concerned about making sure others are aware of the dangers of modern handheld lasers. Makes sense, really. She’s a Black Rock Ranger.

Kelli is raising funds to cover the lost wages and medical bills she’s accumulated since the injury, carrying her over until (and hopefully beyond) her Workers’ Comp claim gets processed by Burning Man’s insurance company. Please join with us as we help her, if you can.

But more importantly, don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either. And don’t bring them to Burning Man ever again — it’s just not worth the risk to the livelihood of another human being. Share this story around. That’s what Kelli really wants. That’s what Burning Man wants.

Major Laser Bummer

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Laser Show, 2003 from Erick Leskinen

 

You can do almost anything you want at Burning Man. But there are some important don’ts.

Like, “Don’t shine lasers at people’s eyes.”

Seriously.


Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.06.02 PM

Ranger Halston was permanently blinded in her left eye at last year’s burn.

11082770_10153163472751575_503569414_nThat is WAY too much to give up.

And now she has mounting doctors fees and lost wages.

“It’s all fun and games until…”

I like to think that If I accidentally drop my scarf on the playa, a fellow burner will pick it up.

That if I am thirsty in deep playa, a fellow burner will give me water.

That if I hurt my leg on rebar, a fellow burner will help me back to camp.

And if I damage my sight while serving as a Ranger, fellow burners will help me out.

If you can, please gift to her fundraiser.

UPDATE:  Will Chase has posted a more in depth look at Ranger Halston’s situation.

 

lazer2
The Man Glows, 2002 from Lewis Jacobs

 

 

Primal Screaming over Burning Man (and the war of cultural appropriation)

The_ScreamOne gets the impression that many Burners thought that when Burning Man got big enough for the forces of liberal consumer capitalism to notice it, that those forces would just roll over and plead for Larry Harvey to rub their belly. Or that the New York Stock Exchange would hang the 10 Principles on the wall and replace the opening bell with dub-step.

That was never going to happen. Burning Man’s entry into the world as a genuinely large scale movement was always going to be a complicated, messy, clash of ideas.

And now that Burning Man has grown big enough and popular enough to be co-opted by market forces, those forces are trying their level best.

Burning Man has been imitated – on the surface – by people trying to make money for some time. This attempt at full-on appropriation is beginning in earnest now, as opposed to 10 years ago, because without a merchandizing arm (which Burning Man has always refused to do, its recent asinine experimentation with scarves as donation premiums aside), it is difficult for appropriators to make money without scarcity. Not impossible, but difficult enough that the massive machine of the marketing/lifestyle complex didn’t really turn its sights on Burning Man.

Now that we’re living in an era of ticket scarcity, however …

Yet as the conflict is joined, the many Burners who talk about Burning Man as though it had “sold out” – as though it had been defeated – are confusing the ending with the beginning.   They are declaring that the civil war has been lost because shots have just been fired against Fort Sumter, when in fact this is a prelude to the massive conflict to come.

Burning Man culture and the Burning Man organization haven’t lost a fight against liberal consumer capitalism – they’ve only just begun it.

This – what Burning Man is going through right now – is what that looks like at the beginning. The early stages.   When market forces decide not to care that we have 10 Principles or that some people put their life into a theme camp for others to enjoy and now can’t get tickets.

What’s happening now was not only inevitable, but predictable: from Walter Benjamin to Theador Adorno to every fucking post-structuralist some of us were forced to study because we took an English class in the 90s, there is a huge body of literature and research showing that yes – yes indeed – when a counter-culture gets big enough, the forces of liberal consumer capitalism try to appropriate it for their own ends. And, so far, they have been successful every time. That’s how Che Guavara ends up on T-shirts made in third world factories and sold to college students whose dorms are cleaned by immigrants making minimum wage.

The fact that it’s happening is why discussion about Burning Man has largely transformed from a dialogue into a primal scream. (more…)

Corpus Christi BWB Beach Clean-Up Nets 8,000 Pounds of MOOP

Sound Stage at sunset (Photo by Jessica Richman)
Sound Stage at sunset (Photo by Jessica Richman)

“My burn name is Parsec,” Patrick Brown of Corpus Christi, Texas told me. “I am previously of Arcattack, still fart around with them but doing chemistry full time at the moment. Been doing BWB events since right after Katrina. Brought 300 pounds of meat to feed the town of Pearlington at the one-year anniversary of the Katrina effort.”

This is exactly the (gender-neutral) cowboy way Burners talk about their adventures, and it was music to my ears. But Parsec isn’t talking about the town-sized bacon party in the Black Rock Desert. He’s talking about disaster relief efforts with Burners Without Borders, which is increasingly part of the Burner job description these days. (more…)

Artist Update: The Empire of Dirt

The Empire of Dirt — the artists of beloved mutant vehicles The Golden Mean (The Snail Art Car) and the Serpent Twins, and recipients Black Rock City Honoraria grants in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — share with us a few intriguing clues about their next project destined for Black Rock City.

This just in from the Empire of Dirt Headquarters:

Six months ago, we intercepted an odd radio signal that seemed to emanate from deep space. The signal was garbled, but after much audio enhancement we could discern the phrase “This is Empire. We’re coming home.” Could this be the rumored secret lost space mission from the 1960′s; code name EMPIRE? If so, and they are coming back to earth 50 years later, what will they be arriving in? Their Saturn V powered rocket ship… or some alien vehicle they have managed to drag out of the stars?

Empire of Dirt Headquarters
Empire of Dirt Headquarters

The crew is now assembling to undertake the extraordinary task of bringing this mysterious spaceship and its crew back to Earth.

What could it be? Stay tuned! For more information about their project, and to learn how to support the project, visit their website.