Friday, August 24, 2012

burning summer's end


When I came across this picture of a multi-storey Victorian traveling house I was reminded of an event I'm kind of sad to have missed. The 'Burning Man' festival begins this weekend and, believe it or not, it's the 26th anniversary of an interactive art event that happens in the Nevada desert at the end of summer. It began in 1986 when Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James constructed an eight foot tall wooden figure, carried it to a beach park in San Francisco, and set it alight as darkness fell on the Summer Solstice. The two friends were immediately surrounded by a crowd, one woman even held the figure's hand as it began to burn. The event continued to be held as a solstice ceremony on that beach, with the effigy growing larger with the passing years, until 1990 when the park police banned fire. That year the burning  ceremony was relocated to Black Rock Desert where it became a five day celebration that's been held on the playa just before every Labor Day weekend since.


I didn't hear about it until the early 90's when the number of people going there was still in the low thousands and well before the web, fb, twitter and what have you. It sounded like a lot of fun but I understood immediately it wasn't something you could just drop in on as a tourist. People make the journey to a desert in Nevada to be part of an experimental community where they'll express themselves and rely on one another to a degree that is not usually found in day-to-day life. Attending means a major commitment on several levels. The following is from a 2000 lecture given by Larry Harvey about the overall philosophy of the lifestyle and the festival itself:

Imagine you are put upon a desert plain, a space which is so vast and blank that only your initiative can make of it a place. Imagine it is swept by fearsome winds and scorching temperatures, and only by your effort can you make of it a home. Imagine you're surrounded by thousands of other people, that together you form a city, and that within this teeming city there is nothing that's for sale.

This city that arises annually and disappears without a trace occurs in an extraordinary setting. The Black Rock desert is an empty void. Not a bird or bush or bump disturb its surface. It is a place that is no place at all apart from what we choose to make of it. Think of it as a vast blank slate, or better yet, think of it as a sort of movie screen upon which every citizen of Black Rock City is encouraged to project some aspect of their inner selves. This novel use of nothingness elicits a superabundant production of spectacle. But it is spectacle with a difference. We have, in fact, reversed the process of spectation by inviting every citizen to create a vision and contribute it to a public environment. We call this process radical self-expression. What makes this self-expression truly radical is its reintegration of the private and personal back into a shared public domain.




What he had to say about our society then is just as relevant now. The event has only grown in complexity and magnificence over the years and I hope you'll get tempted to look at some of the links and pictures available on-line. I like the idea that people who participate in Burning Man are changed by the experience of art and sharing and begin to understand there's room enough in the world for a larger community where culture is created. Then again, maybe I just wish I could ride in that steampunk house.

Would you go there if you could?

19 comments:

  1. I'm still not sure that I would, Susan. And it is the exposure that keeps me from saying absolutely, yes, I would. I have friends who will be there. One is a brilliant photographer and has taken the official Burning Man photo several years past. I am anxious to read posts and see photos.
    This article was on the front page of the Statesman Journal this week...surely of interest to you. Loved your post.

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    1. We both remember a time when similar gatherings were more spontaneous and happened in accessible areas. Love-ins and happenings just occurred without much planning at all. I remember attending the 2 day Toronto Pop Festival in June of 1969 where most of the bands who later performed at Woodstock appeared. It was fun but it also didn't involve camping out in an extreme environment either.

      The article you linked to was great. That is one very neat traveling machine.

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    2. Have been meaning to get this link to you after finding it on Naked Pastor's blog. You'll love THIS!

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    3. Oh Lydia, that really was wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing it with me :-)

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  2. I would go. In a heartbeat. Burning Man has been on my radar since it first moved to the desert.

    And I'd love to have a Victorian traveling house. I have owned two VW campers in my younger days, and would love a vardo. I bought plans for a tiny house on wheels.

    Perhaps there is turtle blood in these veins, as well as crow blood.

    Enjoyed this post very much, Susan.

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    1. Me too but unlikely I will.

      Horse drawn vardos have got to be the most beautiful homes ever put on wheels and they were good for traveling over open terrain as well. Did you know it was traditional for the vardo to be burned when the owner died? No wonder they're hard to find even in picture form.

      I'm glad you liked the post. My friend Crow is certain to do a fly by of the event on his way home so I'll be sure to hear more.

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  3. Burning Man looks like a lot of fun. I love that steampunk vehile!

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    1. I'm happy you liked the look of it, Jams.

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  4. The image of the Victorian traveling house immediately made me think of your fascinating drawings of structures rather like it.

    The Burning Man festival is new to me, quite something with its pagan aspects. The crowds and the hot desert are not for me, I'm the loner type who would rather hide in the forests.

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    1. I must admit some fondness for steampunk - Crow's influence, perhaps?

      I'm glad I introduced you to the Burning Man community. It certainly looks as though a lot of the people who attend are into a lot more excitement than I could handle personally but I do appreciate their enthusiasm and creativity.

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  5. Wow, I was looking at the pictures and it seems as that if you had a freak show you were wanting to perform going there and doing it would be just the ticket. I would probably get overwhelmed by the stimulating environment so I wouldn't go. I'd like a smaller happening I think where most of the people would know each other and each expression of creativity would have more impact and meaning for me personally because I knew the people involved.

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    1. I'd probably be overwhelmed by the high weirdness too but if I were a lot younger and had friends who were into putting on such a freak show (never mind having survival gear) it would be fun.

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    2. I'm sure your show, whatever it be, would intrigue m:) I like your artwork as you probably already know!

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  6. I've wanted to go to Burning Man for years now. I understand it is quite expensive just to get in, not to mention the getting there.

    I'm usually overwhelmed by too much social stimulation but my threshold to take in creative energy and excitement knows no bounds. I think I would like it a lot. :-)

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    1. The fees don't sound too bad if you get tickets from BM itself ($240 and $420) but I hear they're being scalped for a lot more. The real expense would be travel and having the gear to make being on the desert reasonably comfortable. No cars at the site - except for the mutant ones - everything packed in (including 2 gal of water per day).

      Going there alone doesn't sound right for any number of reasons but it sure would be an amazing experience :-)

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  7. There was certainly a time when I would have loved to go to Burning Man. Health issues wouldn't allow such an endeavor these days, and I don't think I'd like the festival because of the high cost and competitiveness in people trying to out do their fellow man and calling it self expression. Creative, yes, but I don't think it serves the spirit of what Burning Man is supposed to be. Like life in the world itself, not everyone that attends is guilty, just as the common man is not guilty in a war zone. Just my take on the event as it had evolved. Wish I would have gone a long time ago.


    Peace

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    1. I can't disagree with you at all, Joe. There's certainly excitement and novelty on display at Burning Man but I'm not at all sure everyone is experiencing some deep spiritual connection. It's impossible to judge.

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  8. I think I'd really just like that steampunk traveling house. Maybe parked at the edge of the festival. Maybe not.

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    1. We're really seeing Humanity 2.0 here, aren't we? Even at age 20 that alone would have kept my inside the traveling house with a book - and maybe the odd peek out the window.

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