It’s okay to be miserable at Burning Man

I wish someone had told me that before my first year at Burning Man.  Or my second.  I figured it out myself on my third.

We’re under 100 days ’till Burning Man. People are excited – and they want it to be contagious.

So do I. This year’s going to be awesome.   But in that well meaning spirit I’ve recently been asked: “why don’t you use the blog to be more positive? You should only write stories to get people fired up about Burning Man! Why don’t you stick to that instead of talking about negative stuff?”

Well I’ve already said that there’s too much goddamn positive energy at Burning Man.  I stand by that.  It’s also true that Burning Man affects me profoundly in ways that are challenging and difficult.   I’m guaranteed at least two existential crises every Burn, and they were much worse before I realized that they weren’t a result of my doing something wrong at Burning Man – they were just part of the experience.  I’ve heard similar confessions from a lot of people.

But I’d really like to answer that question with a true story.

Two years ago. I was walking through the desert, across the open playa in the early afternoon. It was hot, and I was very, very unhappy.

I don’t remember why, anymore, but I remember what that mood felt like. It would have been depression if I hadn’t been so angry, so resentful. I wanted to bite someone. I wanted to yell at someone. I wanted to punch you in the face. You, personally.

I think I was heading over to one of the Irish bars. I wanted to start a bar fight. Right now.

Out in the middle of the dust I saw four desks separated from a small line of people by a velvet rope. Three men were at the desks, and a fourth was behind a small podium managing the line.

The bouncer spotted me. “Hello sir!” he shouted. “Is there anything you need?” (more…)

Bee Here Now!

Rendering by Andrew Johnstone

Every year since 2001, the Man has stood atop an elaborate base designed to reflect the spirit of that year’s art theme — and each one has included some kind of interactive element.  This year, the art theme is Fertility 2.0, contemplating the tendency of any being or living system to create abundant life.

As such, the Man will be perched atop a dramatic pavilion reminiscent of the Pantheon of ancient Rome, under which will stand an intricate 38′-tall sculpture representing a flower’s pistil. In case your memory of high school biology has eroded as much as ours, pistil (from the Latin pistillum meaning pestle) describes each discrete unit of the gynoecium, a collective term for the reproductive organs of a flower. (Phew … thanks Wikipedia!) (more…)

The Combinatorial Whimsy of Interactive Art

Whether you can twiddle it, tweak it or twirl it, Burning Man art oftentimes requires the viewer to somehow complete the piece through their engagement with it.  With interactive art, the viewer becomes an active part of the experience, rather than a passive observer. They become a participant.

Fish car, entrapped

And an awesome corollary to this is the unexpected combinatorial whimsy that spontaneously happens in what is essentially a community of 50,000+ performance artists spending a week in a giant dusty idea factory.  Here’s a place where you’ve got fish, and you’ve got fishermen.  You’ve got maids, and you’ve got dirty people.  You’ve got folks running around in animal costumes, and you’ve got Animal Control officers.  You’ve got platforms, and you’ve got performers.  And you’ve got an appreciative audience that might just get involved, given the opportunity.

This, of course, makes for a fabulous melting pot to brew up those magic playa moments … those serendipitous vignettes you stumble across and find yourself uttering “Oh my God … only at Burning Man” before chuckling, shaking your head, and smiling as you head off to the next adventure. Yes, if Burning Man offers us one thing, it’s the permission to rediscover our inner child … to be spontaneous, and PLAY.

So here you go … here’s a quick collection of some great ones that were caught on film.  If you know of others, pop a link to them in the comments, and tell us the story! (more…)

City of Gods

The act of declaring yourself an artist is a bold one.

You are saying, “I consciously alter my environment. I shape the world. I create.”

This is in direct opposition to our socialization.
We are expected to walk a well-worn path of consuming.   Our role is to passively consume media, products, & ideas.

So many of our societal systems are designed for us to be passive. No ruler or corporation wants to deal with active decision makers.

Unfortunately, artists do not fit well in a society that prefers passivity.
(side note: I would argue that “artists” are not a type of person, but simply the state that EVERY person gets to when they are actively living.)

So is there anywhere where the artist (or state of being an artist) is welcome and at home?
(more…)

Video Call Out

WANTED: Participant Videos on Playa Preparation and Participation!
DEADLINE: JULY 15, 2011

Calling all filmmakers and benevolent Burners! We want YOUR video submissions to share as part of the 2nd Annual Burning Man Video Acculturation Series, designed to help new Burners prepare for their first playa experience!

The theme for 2011 is PREPARATION & PARTICIPATION! (more…)

DIY Your Burn: Shelter, Shade & Cool Cool Comfort

I recently met a Reno local who is preparing for her first burn. “Do I really need to get an RV?” she asked me. “My friend told me you can’t do Burning Man without an RV. I just want to bring a tent.”

This hurts me on the inside. I haven’t been around that long — my first burn was 2003 — but I’ve spent many burns in a tent, and a couple of two-month work seasons besides. One of the things I hate to see is the rapidly increasing number of rental RVs on playa. They have their place, sure. If you’ve got small kids or a physical need for top-notch shelter, you might want to spend thousands renting an RV, plus hundreds in gas to drive it to Black Rock City and keep the A/C running. But that is a LOT of money (and a fair amount of pollution), and it’s not necessary to spend that much. You can be smarter about it, and I’m about to tell you how.

It is completely possible, and pretty easy, to build your own shelter and cooling system. You can have an airtight, windproof, shaded and cool place to sleep away the day, and you can build it yourself for a fraction of the cost of an RV rental.

THE INCREDIBLE HEXAYURT – $300

Holy wow! In 2007, Treehugger and Current TV hosted a contest for the best “eco-ideas” for Burning Man. The winner was a DIY shelter that costs under $300 to build, packs up flat into your truck, and can be reused year after year. Vinay Gupta’s Hexayurt is now being tested as disaster relief and refugee shelter. Why? Because it WORKS. This is far and away the best shelter idea I’ve heard of. (more…)

Fuente, Regionals, and Getting The Gift.

Waterfall bliss at an event in Baja.

In 1998 I attended my first Burning Man.
For the next 5 years or so, I spent 11 months a year waiting, less-than-patiently, for the Burn.
Gradually I started to integrate Burning Man principles into my life and find pockets of Burning Man culture.

Now it feels like I am constantly preparing for (or cleaning up from) Burning Man-inspired brunches, festivals, or days at the beach.

In fact, last weekend I attended a festival deep in Baja Mexico called “Fuente Eterno.” (See video below) Now, it sells out in 5 minutes, so I am hesitant to hype it up. The odds are you will probably not be able to attend. But the point is there are LOTS of smaller events, regionals, and opportunities to gather with people who have been inspired by Radical Self Expression, Gifting, and the Burning Man Vibe.

Don’t know of one near you? Create it. Participants-only, baby.

I spoke with someone recently who said that after 3 years they, “had gotten all they could from Burning Man.” Sadly, they had failed to get the most important thing of all: It is about the GIVING not the GETTING. I return every year not to get my mind blown by the new Temple design (although that does happen each year), but because I want to enhance the experience for others. It is through Gifting to others’ lives, weeks, or moments that I receive more than I could ever “get” for myself.

Thanks to the growing number of large and small events worldwide, that process of gifting and receiving can go on year-round. There is a whole section of the Burning Man website for the Regional Network. Events large and small are growing (and being created) all over the world! Find one. Participate in one. Create one.

More and more people are seeing Burning Man – not as an event – but as a model for how to live: A model for how to interact with neighbors. A model for how to express yourself & encourage expression in others. And a model for how to Gift your talents to friends, your community, and the world.

Do you attend any large or small “Burner” gatherings? Please share your experiences in the comments!

Love,
Halcyon )'(


(Video reflection from last weekend’s Fuente Eterno in Baja Mexico.)

Babylon Cowboys

Photo: mkgraph

I’ll never forget the first time I was out by the Temple at midnight, scribbling something by the dull light of my headlamp, when the flashing red and blue lights of the default world streaked past, causing everyone around me to nearly jump out of their skin.

A gunmetal gray SUV skidded up to a scene maybe ten yards off into deep playa, where a bunch of EL-wired nightcrawlers stood stock-still. The doors opened and slammed, men in khaki uniforms stepped out brandishing bright flashlights, and they encircled those hapless hoodlums, while the red and blue lights swirled around us.

I didn’t know the reason for this disturbance; those midnight ravers may have fully deserved their run-in with the law. But I was unable to determine how I felt about the situation. Part of me felt intruded upon. Who did these Babylon cowboys think they were, zapping everybody with their lights like that?

But on the other hand, there was something profoundly hilarious about it. The action was beyond earshot, but I imagined this whole absurd scene playing out:

“Awright, son! Put yer hands on yer head! Toooo much fun! Burnin’ Man’s over fer you!” (more…)