Posts in Metropol

May 18th, 2010  |  Filed under Metropol, Spirituality

The Temple: Sacred Heart of Black Rock City

[Lee Gilmore teaches Religion & Anthropology at California State University Northridge and is author of Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

As travelers, historians, and archaeologists can tell you, great cities contain spiritual and ritual centers–physical manifestations of the human quest for the transcendent and magisterial.  Grand cathedrals, imposing temples, and mosques with soaring minarets–each an attempt to intersect both divine and earthly powers.  For Black Rock City, that heart is perhaps best identified with the annual Temples–each an ephemeral locus of memory and mourning.

 

Rod Garrett tells us that the origins of BRC’s famous layout of concentric circles lay in pragmatic and organic decisions.  Nevertheless, when viewed through a symbolic lens, its template readily suggests a labyrinth or mandala.  The placement of the Man at the BRC’s center readily evokes what historian of religion Mircea Eliade called the axis mundi–a symbolic manifestation of the sacred center of the cosmos and the location of hierophany–the eruption of the sacred into the profane world. As both the spatial center and temporal apex towards which each annual event is definitively aimed, The Man forms axis of space and time in Black Rock City.

Yet over the course of the past decade, the sacred heart of Burning Man has shifted a few hundred yards outward.  Where the Burning of the Man can bring joy, catharsis, and transformation sharpened into a singular, ecstatic moment, Temples’ rites can engender a deeper and perhaps more difficult self-examination in asking us to consider our own mortality.

The Temples grew out of tragedy and immediacy when Petaluma artist David Best first transformed his 2000 playa installation called the Temple of the Mind into an impromptu memorial for a friend who had died in the weeks just before the event that year.

Temple of Tears, 2001

In 2001, a similar but significantly expanded structure would be called the Temple of Tears where all Black Rock Citizens were invited to inscribe memorials upon ornate wooden walls and to leave behind photos and other objects of personal significance. As my friend and colleague Sarah Pike has noted, through the physical inscription of memories on the Temple’s walls, and in turn through reading the inscriptions of others, participants were able to share, ritualize, and transform private grief into public expression in ways that are generally unavailable to many contemporary Americans.  Finally, on the festival’s final night, the Temple and its tokens were ultimately offered up in flame, dust, and ashes as thousands looked on in reverential silence.

Read more »

April 26th, 2010  |  Filed under Metropol

The Black Rock Rangers – Part 1 (Origins)

[This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

The Black Rock Rangers are Burning Man’s non-confrontational mediating agency, made up of trained volunteers who help to resolve disputes within our community, and bridge the gap between the ethos and the culture of our citizens and the needs and responsibilities of law enforcement. It didn’t start how you might think …

Burning Man, 1990

Burning Man, 1990

1990 was the first year of Burning Man on the Black Rock Desert. It was a small and intimate affair. Driving instructions for the event were simply: “Find your way to Gerlach, Nevada, drive another 12 miles, get off the asphalt and drive for 16 miles, then turn right and drive another 4.8 miles.” Before the advent of the GPS, it was easy to get lost in the 400 square miles of Black Rock Desert, even with a compass. The camp was small and always over the horizon. An error of 3 degrees for a new arrival or a group returning from a hot springs, could send a vehicle to the other end of the playa 20 or 30 miles away. Read more »

April 20th, 2010  |  Filed under Metropol

Designing Black Rock City

[Editor's Note: Rod Garrett's essay Designing Black Rock City, originally written for the Burning Man website, provides a comprehensive history of the thinking and factors that have impacted the evolution of the Black Rock City Plan, and as such is an excellent starting framework for the consideration of Black Rock City as an urban planning Petri dish. We've reproduced it here in its entirety, as a foundational document for the Metropol Blog Series.]

Origins

The historic origins of what was to become Black Rock City began with the relocation of the Man’s burning from Baker Beach in San Francisco to the Black Rock Desert, Nevada in 1991.

Black Rock City 1992

Black Rock City 1992

Due to the several hundred mile trip, it was necessary to establish an overnight camp near the Man for the 250 participants who attended. The original form of the camp was a circle. This was not particularly planned, but formed instinctively from the traditional campfire circle and the urge to “circle the wagons” against the nearly boundless space. The following year, an informal plan was required by the B.L.M. for permission to camp. It rapidly developed from a weekend to a week-long event.

Not only was it difficult to find our modest settlement in the expanse, but people exiting our village frequently got lost or mired on the margins of the playa. For practical reasons, four avenues were added, indicating the cardinal directions. Compass headings added to the circle served our need to orient ourselves in that stark emptiness. Read more »

April 20th, 2010  |  Filed under Metropol

The City of Burning Man


Black Rock City 2003, From 10,000 feet

Black Rock City 2003, From 10,000 feet

[This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

We might view Black Rock City as a great machine, efficiently providing the many hundreds of functions needed to help sustain us in a wilderness almost devoid of life. However, it seems more appropriate to consider it an organism, much more than simply a sum of its parts.

Our city is dynamic, adaptive and reactive. The streets stream with people like arteries seen under a microscope. It’s organic structure milling with the movement of information and materials, with organizing and building, nourishing and removing wastes, finally breaking down and disappearing. Additionally, it references the mythological Phoenix in symbolically burning and being reborn from itself each year. Read more »

April 20th, 2010  |  Filed under Metropol

Road Tripped

Skydiving Over Burning Man, 1996

Skydiving Over Burning Man, 1996

[Tony "Coyote" Perez first set foot in Black Rock City in 1996, where he immediately went to work, ultimately becoming the Department of Public Works' Site Manager. He is renowned amongst the staff as Burning Man's Poet Laureate, as well as being an accomplished saxophonist with his band "Second Hand Smoke." This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

Did you know that the basic layout of the city of Boston was planned by the cows? No, it’s true. It’s not just something I heard on “Cheers” from Cliff Clavin. Boston was one of the earliest-settled cities of the new world and the settlers of the times, being from various parts of Europe and such, threw down camps apart from one another to start their own separate farms and villages. The open range pastures of these early farmers allowed the cattle to roam from farm to farm and from village to village as they were raised and traded. Paths formed.

I remember my first Burning Man. No, it’s true. The ’96 burn didn’t have a fence yet and the dust plumes of caravans came from all points like slow motion meteors. People started throwing down camps apart from one another to start their own separate camps and villages. A road formed.

Put a group of people together and, given time, communal geometry happens. Old as the hills. Given time, the single celled life of pre-history took a billion-year old leap and started arranging themselves into organisms where cells started taking on tasks – started working together. In a sense, multi-celled organisms were single-celled communities. A blood stream formed. Funny how the conduits are amongst the first things that a community builds. Funny how one can get the word “communicate” out of the word “community”. Seems the words have something in… common… Read more »

April 20th, 2010  |  Filed under Metropol

Welcome to Metropol – The Story of a City


Black Rock City, 2007

Black Rock City, 2007

[This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

According to my dictionary, a bohemian is “a creative person, as an artist or writer, who lives a free, unconventional life.” When bohemians gather, they tend to form ‘scenes’ — loosely knit societies that often coalesce around a meeting place; a salon, a club, a neighborhood or bar. Burning Man emerged from just this sort of boho scene in San Francisco. Such scenes have given rise to avant-garde and counter-cultural movements that have profoundly influenced the evolution of modern society. However, just as frequently, the interactive and communal aspect of these scenes has proven fragile and short-lived. Seen against this background, Burning Man may claim one novelty: it is the first bohemian scene to turn itself into a city.

This city that seldom sleeps, a place in which the pulse of life is so distinctly urban, isn’t powered by a traffic in commodities. Although the theme camps lining Black Rock City’s streets resemble retail outlets, they function to distribute gifts created by our city’s citizens. Likewise, many of our city’s services, such as the ritual lighting of street lamps, or the informal transit system provided by art cars, are contributed by Burning Man participants as acts of self-expression. This preoccupation with aesthetics, personal initiative, communal effort and the sharing of gifts is exactly what might be expected of an urbanized Bohemia. Read more »