Experience, Exploration, Ingenuity
I’ve recently returned from my first foray to what has got to be the greatest creative explosion on the planet, Burning Man. If creativity, intensity and innovation inspire and energize you, Burning Man is a “must” event for next year’s calendar. Countless times I repeated to myself, ‘I can’t believe it has taken me this long to arrive’. I went, was intimidated, awed, opened and moved.
There are so many aspects of the event that are awe inspiring, be it logistical – establishing a city and associated infrastructure in the middle of one of the US’s harshest summer environments, the Nevada desert, for 47,000 people grounded with a ‘leave no trace’ philosophy;
Social – no money is exchanged (except for ice and coffee), while 1000s of events/seminars/workshops and happenings occur throughout the day at various camps; Artistic – the amount of ingenuity on display (music, installation art, performance, fashion: Kucoon) forces the creative mind to inspect, attempt to deconstruct, smile and cheer. I could go on…
Burning Man has evolved immensely from its beginning in 1986 when 20 people burned the effigy of a man on a beach in San Francisco. Despite its population swell and current location at Black Rock City in the Nevada desert, Burning Man still maintains its core principles around community, self-reliance and radical self-expression. To that end, the event is filled with spontaneous acts of kindness via gifting (the exchange of goods ex. beads, drinks, Cds and services showers, massages, workshops). From a self-reliance perspective, everyone must come to the event able to survive on their own in the desert without any help from others. In fact as one enters the event, their vehicles are inspected to make sure that attendees do have the necessary gear. A crucial element and gift of Burning Man is creating an environment where one is encouraged to explore and push one’s physical and emotional boundaries.
The event certainly has its naysayers who in part claim that the event has strayed from its initial vision. As someone educated and experienced in urban planning, community development and creative culture my only reaction is Thank god! One of the most beautiful things about urban culture is its dynamism and knowing that as a living organism composed of a vast number of people it will morph and change through the vibrancy, needs and desires of its community.
It would be sacrilege not to mention fire in an article about Burning Man. Fire and the Playa is like Kyoto and temples, you come across it about once every 10 feet at night while cruising the esplanade.
Each year, Burning Man has an art theme. This year it was environmental and hence aptly titled, Green Man. To that end, there were many installations powered by solar energy (like the Cubatron – my favorite, pictured avobe) swamp cooling systems and wind power installations amongst other things. Burning Man LLC, the entity that organizes the event, set up a wood recycling station at the end of the festival, estimated a carbon offset calculation of over 600 tons and donated a Solar Panel array to the nearby town, Gerlach Nevada’s school. The panels will produce 120kw of energy per hour, saving the school $46,000 in energy bills a year. Next year’s art theme is American Dream. Organizers are asking event goers to consider love of country and culture and what post-modern American society can offer the world.
As I finish this article, I must…must implore that despite my humble efforts here in words and pictures, Burning Man is an event that must be experienced. As a SHIFT reader, this event is for you. Treat yourself and go next year. I guarantee you’ll thank me for it.
BURNING MAN 2007
Date: August 27th – September 3rd, 2007
Place: Black Rock City, in the Nevada desert, USA