To Start It Only Takes a Spark

To start, it sometimes takes as little as receiving call from abroad with your friend’s voice on the other side and waterfall of words you hope you understand right. “I found great place, it is in nature, has enough space, they do festivals there and we can grow up to 2000 people. It is on the Austrian-Czech border. Let’s start the Central European Burn.” And your answer? Why of course “OK, let’s do it”.

This happened last Autumn and I can’t swear he said it like this word for word, but it is pretty close. It took 8 months and around 150 people from 12 countries gathered in Austrian countryside surrounded by fields and forest with a cold stream running in the middle.

Pirate ship at Spark
Pirate ship at Spark

Three days event with two days of preparations on site (and the eight months before over emails, Skype and calls, hours and hours of work) brought a bunch of creative people who share their love of Burning Man Principles and culture, and on a smaller scale recreated the thing we called Home. Because the reason we put ourselves through months of work and planning and sleepless nights is: we want to have Home closer to our homes.

When I arrived there was already Gate running and after some greetings, hugging and spanking, I jumped through the gate yelling Spaaark as loud as I could. And the world of magic opened in front of me. There was huge pirate ship with a swing and silk hanging down for acrobats. There was a treehouse on little island in the middle of the river and mud bath right behind our tents.

Workshop schedule at Spark
Workshop schedule at Spark

There was full timetable of workshops and performances from Japanese dance, shibari, human car-ass wash, screen writing to pimp your own cup. There was a cow with crazy projections. There was an installation of a camera which took pictures and shuffled them on three screens. The camera was supposed to take the picture every 30 seconds or so and after 20 minutes in front of we just didn’t figure out what the camera is really doing. I think the art project was actually to watch the people waiting for the pictures appearing on the screens. Funny.

Interactive art installation by Dawn, which tricked me to stand in front of it for ages:)
Interactive art installation which tricked me to stand in front of it for ages.

And there was this white dome with mini(do)me inside and I had to wait until the darkness to come to really see this interactive masterpiece of lights. I was actually rushing to bathroom when I saw it in all its blinkiness and said to myself, let’s stop for a minute. Yeah, I know, what was I thinking. I spent over 30 minutes (until my bladder was screaming out loud already) playing as a kid with the mini-dome, because by touching it you could change not only the light pattern and speed, but also the colors. It was like DJing the lights on the cutest mini(do)me ever and when you looked up, the big dome was shadowing the mini(do)me.

Mini dome by Mephy Kling and mini-participant.
Mini dome by Mephy Kling and mini-participant.

We talked about Burning Man a lot and how to bring it home and how to repeat and improve this event for next year and involve more people and have more art and our brains were working all the time. It took a spark on the phone and Spark happened with everything that one could expect from such an event.

And then, at the end, during packing, pirates attacked the ship, but they didn’t see this coming (none of us did). A troop of mud people surfaced out of nowhere and fought them off and it was epic.

The Baltics On the Rise

This one time at Burning Man, I saw a ridiculously beautiful cloudy sky, tasted delicious honey beer and met elves. Wait … well no, it didn’t happen on playa, but still, it did happen at Burning Man.

Misty morning. Photo by Sasha Baridhara.
Misty morning. Photo by Sasha Baridhara.

In late June, I visited Latvia for the second annual Burn Degošie Jani (DeJa), a Regional Event hosted by the Latvian Burner community and attended by people from neighboring countries. This gathering brought together around 170 people from Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland,  USA, Ireland, Poland, Australia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Thailand and UK, all to participate, contribute and volunteer for magic to happen. I also made a quick stop in Estonia for Bling, an event organized by a group of like-minded people trying to create a participatory experience.

This picture was almost too much. Sky, clouds and sea.

When I arrived in Riga, the capital of Latvia, it felt right. For some unknown reason I felt at home and even the strange language kind of made sense to me. The airport was tiny. The public transportation bus stop was just few steps outside the main entrance. As I waited, I noticed that everyone looked stylish and I quickly learned that internet lied to me because Latvians no longer use their own currency LAT, but switched to EUROs (damn internet liar). After my fight with the bus ticket machine, I looked up to the sky and felt in love. For the rest of my stay in Latvia, I actually had to try hard not to look at the sky ALL THE TIME. Seriously, I do have a stupid amount of photos of their cloudy skies. Tourists!

In the city, I met my dear local friend Aya, had traditional Latvian meatballs, tasted honey beer (and I wouldn’t believe, coming from the land of the beer, that I would appreciate this one so much) and after a while Steffen from Germany joined, then Sascha from Switzerland landed, and soon enough we were group of Burners, each from a different country, all excited to share the same adventure in Latvian countryside.

Who would not look up all the time at this beauty.
Who would not look up all the time at this beauty.

DeJa takes place on a hemp farm about 2 hours from Riga and the whole ride is lined by green fields and trees. There was a Newbie in our car and because one of the Principles of DeJa is “each one teach one”, we decided to put her to the test. She blew our minds by not only knowing the Principles, but also by the way in which she explained them to us. I can’t tell you what she said, but the way she did it left us with our mouths open. We were ready for DeJa!

The ride was swift and we kept ourselves entertained by sharing stories. One time, we were storytelling  so intensely that we missed the exit from the roundabout. It was an enormous roundabout, so our concentration on the exit faded away with another story and we missed it again. The third time was our time and we finally made it out of the circle with a lot of laughter and, after few minutes, we got to the last part of our journey to Deja. We had to follow exact instructions to get on the right dirt road, follow the right fence and end up in the right middle of nowhere in a giant green field.

Making huge wreaths.
Making huge wreaths.

DeJa is inspired by both the Latvian and Lithuanian Midsummer tradition and Burning Man. It is fascinating fusion and evolution of these two elements, incorporating the ethos of the Burner culture with the holiday that is integral to culture of Latvia to create a regional event. Old songs and stories, wreaths in the hair from flowers for women and from young branches for men, fires everywhere and of course jumping over the fire and dancing around it. It was beautiful to observe how natural all the traditions still are for people, not something “old” we do just because it is expected, but something we want to do because it defines us.

For entertainment, there was a mixture of old Latvian traditions, LED lights, drum circles, “new noise music” (i.e. everything from 60’s until today, even classical music as I remember), art, a Russian camp with a bamboo tower, Lithuanians with burn barrels, projections, and fog slowly sneaking in on us, the sky of such a bright colours with clouds so close you wanted to touch them. And, of course fire.

New sauna.
New sauna.

To attend Deja, you had to apply for a Visa. Once you were approved, you were gifted access to the event and were welcome to pitch your tent under 200 year-old apple trees, or next to the pond, or on the field further away from music. There was an outdoor common kitchen, a barn for electronic music, and even a barn for more relaxed music and gatherings. During the event, people built a sauna which, along with some art, actually stayed on the property after Deja.

“Leave a better place.”

The core of Baltic Altar installation.
The core of Baltic Altar installation.

The evenings were full of storytelling around the fire. We heard interesting stories about survival, about funny drunkeness, and even about scary experiences with voodoo. The days were full of conversation about the future and about plans for a bigger Baltic Burn, which would include Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian Burners. These groups are already preparing projects together. This year in Black Rock City, the group is presenting a Midway project together as a part of the Man Pavilion. Baltic Altar was interactive installation which allows you to compose music along with other participants.

As I’m sure many of you can relate, once you’re at a Burn, it can be really hard to leave … even after it’s over. A few of us at Deja were intrigued by hearing about Bling in Estonia happening in Vango Wonderland with around 200 participants and we promised the organizers that we’d stop by. So we did! We all  just jumped into the car in the morning and hit the road again. It was the funniest ride ever. I do not sing, usually for safety reasons. This time we all sung and danced on our seats and every now and then made “aww” sounds looking at the beautiful nature of the countryside and cloudy sky.

Elves and fairies in Estonia ride unicorns.
Elves and fairies in Estonia ride unicorns.

Once we made it to Estonia, we met elves. Estonians are elves and fairies. That’s it. I have no other explanation. Like elves and fairies, they are loving, joyful, laughing and open. This was also true of the Bling event itself.

Though Bling is not an official Burning Man event, it’s very much created in a similar spirit. In fact, it was one of the most beautiful events I have ever been to. My usual snark and sarcasm vanished away once we arrived and I enjoyed the fairytale site of wooden houses and soft grass while surrounded by beautiful human beings and lot of good tunes, workshops and talks. The sun never really set because of the Summer Solstice and how North we were and time just seemed to exist on a different level.

Fairytale in woods.
Fairytale in woods.

People were touched that we made the effort to come only for one day and they were blown away by the crew of the second car from DeJa, which came just for the evening to support their friends and be together.

Deep Dark Night - sort of
Deep Dark Night – sort of… Photo by Sasha Baridhara.

The very bright night sky and great music kept us awake, dancing, talking, laughing. In the morning, when we were all gathered together and kids were climbing on the dome (and let me tell you, there are few cuter things than a five year-old girl in a dress learning how to climb), I heard someone make a speech to the crowd. Then, about seven guys stood up and went away. In few minutes, they were back with a huge pot of oatmeal and marmalades, fruits, nuts, coffee and tea and the whole meadow turned into the breakfast picnic. (The only thing which kept me from wondering if this all was really happening were the excessive amount of mosquitoes, serving as an ever-present reality check.) Then, the day rolled on into more workshops, talks, music, and even a sauna!

Traditional cake served during the burn.
Traditional cake served during the burn. Photo by Sasha Baridhara.

Before we left the event, it took us ages to say goodbye to all of this beauty. The burn of the effigy at DeJa was waiting and was absolutely worthy of coming back for. Girls had made elaborate wreaths from flowers, guys from branches with green leaves. We all made big circle around the effigy, some people started singing, some dancing and we all were present to the Midsummer night. The sky got surprisingly dark and the fire was consuming the wood and hemp while thousands of sparks flew through the air.

The magic of Baltics truly happened.


AfrikaBurn is a Sign of Things to Come

“The Clan” – AfrikaBurn’s Main Effigy

This part is familiar. I‘d done it before. Many times. 12 gallons of water. 16 oz. of instant coffee. 32 pairs of socks. Four packages of baby wipes. Chapstick. Lotion. Earplugs. A headlamp. A backup headlamp. A backup headlamp for the backup headlamp. Three times as many batteries as I’ll actually use.

I’m no stranger to Black Rock City, but for AfrikaBurn — the largest of more than 60 official Burning Man Regional Events worldwide — I was a newbie.

I’d spent the last 24 hours getting repeatedly lost driving on what had, until this point in my life, been the wrong side of the road. Armed with a cartoonish tourist map exclusively highlighting a particular brand of petrol station, I explored Cape Town in a rental van covered in what any upstanding member of South African society would consider an offensive paint job. In the 24 hours since landing, I’d put a decade of Burning Man experience to the test — acquiring all the gear and just-add-water sundries I couldn’t cram into my two carry on bags, quickly realizing the jet lag wasn’t helping me get a grasp on the currency exchange rate. And here I had thought packing all of my gear into six large tote bins over the course of a month was challenging.


Now it’s go time.

Time for the dawn alarm clock. For last minute packing. For the best laid plans turned fuck-it-just-shove-it-in-there. For the list of things I know I’d forgotten and need to get along the way but never actually get around to writing down. And then the drive. The long drive. The long. hot. dusty. drive. into. the desert. HWY 447 in Nevada is a walk in the park compared to the R355. Your muscles ache from gripping the steering wheel after the second hour of washboard dirt road.


Then I arrived.


“Moving Europe” brings Burning Man art to Amsterdam

moving2Belgian filmmaker, photographer, and art-activist Jan Beddegenoodts brought his Moving Europe project to Amsterdam last week with a spectacular mobile gallery and interactive parade. Participants took to the streets of the old city carrying oversized prints of Burning Man art photos taken by Jan and fellow photographers Thomas Dorn, Sidney Erthal, Scott London, and Gaby Thijsse, accompanied by a brass band, dancers, fire spinners, and no small number of delighted Amsterdammers caught up in the spontaneous celebration.

moving6The event was an apt kickoff for the second annual Burning Man European Leadership Summit, a two-day event bringing together community leaders from twenty-five countries for an intensive weekend of knowledge-sharing, alliance-building, and cultural collaboration.

In the months ahead, Jan and his team will bring the Moving Europe experience to more cities including Riga, Athens, Lisbon, Berlin, and Reikjavic, 2015-02-06_Moving-Europe_136_∏photo-company.nl_-1024x582working with local artists and burners in each country to imbue the event with local flavor and make each parade a unique street party. The Moving Europe team is also compiling video footage for a documentary project, interviewing people of all ages but particularly children and the elderly about their impressions of the show and their dreams for the future.

MOOP MAP 2014: Leaving No Trace Around the World



~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

I’ll be straight with you, Black Rock City: The map I have to show you today is not from Burning Man 2014. It’s not from Burning Man at all. It’s not even from this continent.

Today, I’m proud to show you the 2014 Moop Map from Tankwa Town, South Africa.

Click the map to read AfrikaBurn's 2014 moop report.
Click the map to read AfrikaBurn’s 2014 moop report.


Charlie Dolman Keynote Speaker at the Project Management Institute Conference

Charlie speaking at the conferenceCharlie 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! overview

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.

moop mapHe 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!”

Burning Land

Photo by Kate Shay

Alberta is a vast cold pine forest in central Canada. The largest city, Calgary, is so perfectly snow-covered that it once hosted the Winter Olympics, and the regional Burn there is held on an elk farm in the summer. The elk wander around, gazing at the otherworldly lights from the darkness of the forest and probably wondering what’s going on. The regional is called Freezerburn, and it is so far north that the sun comes up at 4 a.m.

I met a sound engineer from Alberta at the Global Leadership Conference this year. He belongs to a camp called Space Gnomes, and is asked by fellow campers to “fix the sound,” meaning to redirect sound waves.

Most of the time, flat speakers broadcast, sending sound waves in all 180 degrees; he focused the waves on certain areas, on a dancefloor, in one direction. That works for high frequencies, but “bass is more omnidirectional,” he said.

“So bass waves spill more,” I said.
“Basically,” he said. (more…)