Raising the Man

[Dan Miller was housemates with Larry Harvey in San Francisco from 1982 to 2000. He managed the construction and raising of the Man from 1990 to 2000 and contributed several design modifications to the Man including rigging, mechanical arm raising and the infamous straw bale pyramid bases 1996 – 2000. He took a break from raising the Man to raise his own son, born in 2001. He still brings various art pieces to the playa with his family, such as the “Yot Tub”, and lives in rural Northern CA. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

Dan Miller on the Man, 1990
Dan Miller on the Man, 1990

1990 Black Rock Desert
“We need your help, could you help pull this big fat rope to raise the Man?” …(it takes a village they say)…

The title, “Raising the Man,” can be taken literally, or metaphorically… The first raising in this sense, that was the seed of our current metropolis, could be construed to be the first burn when Larry Harvey and our friend Jerry James took the sticks of the commonplace, would-be summer solstice beach bonfire, and janked them up into a stick man. This was a simple, passionate act of radical self-expression. Something we can all relate to apparently, or is it more simply, the unadulterated, unmediated, redemptive power of play. Whatever it is that draws us out to such a god-forsaken, remote, desolate locale for a total ass kicking from mama Nature must surely be somehow to raise ourselves.

Since back in the early years, or the Man’s childhood so to speak, for the practicality of lugging him by hand down the long, steep sand embankment to Baker Beach, he has been constructed in six separate parts (head, torso, two arms, two legs). The Man was then assembled lying in place and then raised to a standing position by those gathered. One group lifting to an incline, then a second pulling him by rope the rest of the way up to standing.

Raising The Man on Baker Beach
Raising The Man on Baker Beach

In 1989, on Baker Beach with the Golden Gate Bridge looming to the east, we had a defining moment — due to the lack of engineering prowess and the shear underestimation of the dynamics of the growth of the Man vs. physics, when raising him, his legs, head and pulling rope snapped. I remember shuddering in horror at the mess amidst the penetrating, salty gales; first, that someone might have been skewered underneath (luckily not) and that there was no hope of repairing our broken Man in this desperate moment. Then it dawned on us that we could burn him right justly in his humiliating pile and slink back to the drawing board for our next year’s invocation.

(more…)

The Man Base: Where Function Meets Artistry

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

As Burning Man is, if nothing else, a crucible for radical and avante garde self-expression, it’s no wonder that the city’s functional and infrastructural elements are so often imbued with creative artistry as well. And when base necessity meets with artistic inspiration, banal functionality is elevated beyond its original purpose, taking on altogether new forms.

La Contessa Mutant Vehicle, 2005
La Contessa Mutant Vehicle, 2005

Public transportation takes the form of the magnificent roving sculptures that are Mutant Vehicles. Personal transportation (bicycles) are transformed into rolling exhibitions of personal inventiveness. Illuminating the city at night with kerosene lanterns becomes a deeply-ritualized activity. The city itself is a work of functional art, designed such that one can see the Man from every street corner. Even the street signs are meticulously hand-crafted to mirror the given year’s art theme.

In the following essay, originally published on the Burning Man website, Rod Garrett explains how the Man Base (the pedestal upon which the Man stands) evolved from basic functional need to an elevated work of interactive art.

The Man and the Plinth

Standing at the geometric apex of Black Rock City is the collective icon of The Man. This figure represents nothing expressed or explicable, yet is a physical and ethical guidepost for fifty thousand people during at least one week of the year.

The Man, 1993
The Man, 1993

In the beginning, the Man stood and was burned directly on the playa. Nearing the millennium, we began to see increasingly greater assemblies at the “Burn” – marking the end of the event. Concerned that the ever-larger assembly was blocking full view of the “Man” for many, we employed a stopgap measure of mounting the figure on stacked hay bales. However, as the pyre was consumed in flame, bits of charred straw were lifted, showering the open playa. This made our “Leave No Trace” policy quite problematic, so that practice ended.

(more…)

Clock Town

[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.]

Our twin boys turned two this spring. How much do they see already…? I’m carrying one boy down the hallway of bedtime and he points to a newly hung Black Rock City plan on the wall from years past. “CLOCK!,” he says. Wow, I’ve lived in that clock for so many years that it took a two-year old to remind me that it was a clock. It was always a clock, wasn’t it…?

Skydiver Over Black Rock City, 1996
Skydiver Over Black Rock City, 1996

When I showed up in ’96, that “communal geometry” was just starting to congeal. On the advice of my buddy/guide that was schooling me on how to “play” this thing – this Burning Man place – we showed up early to help set the “thing” up. (Early meaning about three days early…) No fence, no gate, no DPW, no commissary, no wrist bands, no lammies, no cops…. no clock. But it had form. It had a definite form. Looking back, it was like looking at an embryo. One could just start to detect the spine and budding limbs of hazy districts. They showed all the promise to one day be streets and neighborhoods. And toward the mid part of the camps, maybe the beginnings of grey matter – and maybe a brain stem.

And at the center, the translucent squirming of its beating heart – an icon doomed to be burned.

The Man Through the Camera Obscura, 1996
The Man As Seen Through the Camera Obscura, 1996

I had been artificially awake for three days and had just made a scattered and hectic launch from the city’s gravity. I would have been finding the inner meaning of bus tires at this point…

And to then be out there for the first time.

I was a snowflake in hell.

“Let’s stake down here with Will and Crimson at Check Point Station. Then we’ll be in on the tip! Hurry and set up your tent – they need our help putting up these spire lamps that are going to line this road that’s going to lead out to the Man. Pretty cool!”

“Yea – sure – whatever you say – our gallon of water is getting low. I’m not hungry but I guess we should eat.” I was feeling overdosed, badly frayed, and washed out. My brain was a thrown-off hub cap in a b-grade chase scene. “I think I see sharks in the distance.” Hunter S. Thompson was coming to mind.

Tom Kennedy's Shark Car, 1998
Tom Kennedy's Shark Car, 1998

We now have full fleets of trucks, semis, fork lifts, cranes, heavy equipment, ranch and crew, and the fortitude of powerful armies, but back then… I remember Will putting around on a mini bike, carrying form stakes from quadrant to quadrant as Crimson picked them up and paced them out on what would be the three radial roads. And intersecting these roads was to be an inner ring road. Even then it was already a clock. Just no numbers on the dial yet. I woke the next day to the amazement of cruise traffic! The roads were working. It was the slow low parade of a raw and raunchy BRC in the rough, sharks and all! It was a blood stream of madness brought right to your camp. It was the ticking second hand of Clock Town.

Hunter S. Thompson would have liked it, I’ll bet…!

Lamplighting: Function Becomes Ritual

[Steve Mobia was amongst the original Cacophony Society members who went on the “zone trip” to immolate the Burning Man on the Black Rock Desert in 1990.  In Burning Man’s early years, he helped create desert fashion shows, large format photographs, and the first pirate radio station – hosting a program of experimental music called “Mobia’s Trip”. He was the first Lamplighter, organizing and running the Lamplighters from 1994-1999. His flaming helmet is now part of Burning Man’s historical archives. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

For those who have just started attending Burning Man, you may not even notice the many hanging lanterns that dot the major streets in Black Rock City.  At one time these lanterns (along with the lit neon on the Man) were the main navigation on dark nights in the desert.  Though the increasing presence of generated electric light has made the hung lamps less necessary along the city streets, the ritual of Lamplighting continues and is one of our oldest traditions at the event.  The lanterns are most visible along the promenades leading to the Man and beyond to the Temple.

Lamplighter Procession, 2006
Lamplighter Procession, 2006

The Lamplighting ritual at Burning Man is a quiet yet essential part of the communal desert experience.  It creates a sense of a real city with street lamps and invokes an old tradition of lamplighting that contrasts nicely with the technical innovations of today.

I was the original Lamplighter and ran Lamplighter Camp until the year 2000 when Brien Burroughs and later others applied their energy and ideas to the task.  I’m hoping that the denizens and luminaries of today’s Lamplighter Village expound on the monumental operation they’ve been running since the turn of the century.

(more…)

Theme Camps – Why and How!

[Affinity, a Burner since 2000, was legally married on the Playa in 2001, and was wedding coordinator and then training coordinator at Burning Man, before becoming the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) Social Media Coordinator and an Advisory Board Member. She interned with the Human Awareness Institute for 10 years, and is a craft dilettante. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

Destiny Lounge Theme Camp
Destiny Lounge Theme Camp, 2009

Theme Camps are arguably the cultural lifeblood of Burning Man.  Participants gather their friends to camp together, establishing a common theme on which to base the interaction they hope to engender with the citizens of Black Rock City.  As freeform and wide-ranging as they can be, from the sublime to the ridiculous, Theme Camps create an ambience, a visual presence, and in some way provide a communal space or provide interactivity.  As such, they are very much the cultural engine of Black Rock City.

As part of the Metropol Blog Series, we thought you might like to know more about how Black Rock City’s Theme Camps are formed and how they operate.  So we went to the source and did some interviews with a (wildly broad) representative sampling of camp organizers, including Bad Idea Theater (an entertainment camp), Kidsville (for families and children), Mal-Mart Mega Store (a parody camp), Root Society (a dance camp), and Suspended Animation (an BDSM bondage camp).  We asked them a whole bunch of questions, and we’ll present more in future posts.  Here are the responses we received for the first set of questions:

Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro, 2006
Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro, 2006

What is the purpose of your camp?

Bad Idea Theater: Our stated purpose is “To Serve and Project”. We strive to create a safe and entertaining social space along the lines of a friendly neighborhood tavern. In order to be considered a true “Metropolis”, a city must have at least one gin-joint, and a third-rate moviehouse. We are honored to help fill these vital roles.

Kidsville: The purpose of Kidsville is to provide a unique and fun space specifically for children and their families within the larger Black Rock City community.

Mal-Mart Mega Store:  Our purpose is to satirize and comment on our modern society’s need to consume and spend… two years ago during the 2008 American Dream theme, the Original Mal-Mart was conceived as a way to parody the shopping mall culture by exposing reckless consumerism as an essential part of the American Dream… the dream of peace and prosperity for all has been replaced by greed and self-interest.  So this year, the Metropolis Theme demands that Mal-Mart once more takes a stand against the societal drift and reveals that it is the life of the Big City itself  that fuels humanity’s impending doom!  Through the use of irony, Mal-Mart Mega Store stands for the unity of humanity, the co-operation skills we all have, and the power to create our entire world around us… isn’t it time we started using that expansive power for the good of the many instead of the one?

(more…)

From BRC to Kenya: Geomapping Solutions

[Andrew Johnstone is an artist, muralist, 3D computer designer and enthusiastic geomapper. He was the creator of the first 3D fly-through simulation of Black Rock City (originally using Microsoft Flight Simulator software), and he crafts the 3D models of the Man and Man base found on the Burning Man website. He has been the Project Lead of the Burning Man Earth Project since its inception in 2005. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

In 2005, our city designer, Rod Garrett, saw Black Rock City as the perfect Petri dish for technological experiments in geographic data and digital inter-connection. He began to assemble an exceptional international team of creative innovators and programmers, and formed the Burning Man Earth Project.

Burning Man Earth
Burning Man Earth

This volunteer team designed mapping and communication tools to enable Burning Man attendees to better locate themselves and others within the city, to communicate within the area, and to access and contribute information about artworks and events. The project was aimed at providing a managed digital space to encompass all of the physical facets of the Burning Man experience, both in real-time functionality and as a permanent archive.

It was imagined that this work also had implications beyond the limits of Black Rock City. These tools of “where enabling” would have application for populations isolated by natural disasters, refugee camps, or other devastations. The remoteness of the Burning Man event provides an ideal opportunity to test and adapt our programming into proven solutions for disaster relief. And as it is completely open-sourced, others are able to use and build upon it.

(more…)

Fire in the Heart of Black Rock City

[MachineGun Lily (aka Lily Rasel) works on Burning Man’s Government Relations, Legal Affairs and External Relations Teams, and (because Burners are nothing if not versatile) lays out the Black Rock City plan in CAD. An accomplished fire performer, she publishes Kindle Magazine, and will attend UC Berkeley’s Boalt Law School in the Fall of 2010. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

With the ability to control and harness its energy, both physical and spiritual, humans see fire differently than the rest of the animal kingdom.  We do not run away from it, but often gravitate towards and congregate around it.  We use it as a tool, and some of us like to use it as a toy.  We see it as both dangerous and comforting, painful and powerful.  But what is it that draws us to flames like moths to a lantern?  What is it that makes us, as Burners, surround ourselves with it, play with it, and revere it as we do in Black Rock City?

The truth is, humans have had a close relationship with fire for many hundreds of thousands of years, over a million years by the count of some scientists.  Some even speculate that harnessing fire and using it to cook food may have been key to our evolution.  Not only were we able to eat a wider variety of foods made softer and safer after cooking and potentially gain more rich protein from cooked meat, we had more time to spend together as people, preparing meals and eating them around the warm fire.

As our earlier selves sat around the protective flames in the dark night, we began to share ideas, stories, and art.  We drew on caves and invented language to communicate the burning complex ideas trapped in our brains, all while enjoying the warmth of what we once feared and fled from like the rest of the animal kingdom.  We began to ritualize the use of fire, like the forests around us, in cycles of life, death, and rebirth.  Fire is a primal element of our nature as humans, and perhaps that is one of the reasons it is so celebrated in Black Rock City.

(more…)

Changing Environmental Consciousness Through Urban Planning

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

How do you get 50,000 people gathering in a remote desert to Leave No Trace of their having been there… without a garbage can in sight?  How do you encourage a bike, pedestrian and public transportation culture in a country addicted to the automobile?  How do you change the collective consciousness — and behavior — of a city’s population?

Jaime Lerner re-invented urban space in his native Curitiba, Brazil. He participated in the 2007 TED Conference in Monterey, CA, where he gave an inspired presentation about revolutionizing bus transit, awakening green consciousness in a populace accustomed to litter and blight, and changing the way city planners and bureaucrats worldwide conceive what’s possible within the metropolitan landscape. And he throws in a little song for good measure.

What are your thoughts about affecting social change through urban planning?