A fire-branded spirit
“I could be quiet just looking at everything like a little girl again with eyes as large as teacups, and I was still part of this huge crazy…something good.”
Burning Man 2011 participant
Somewhere out on a plane, in what once was a prehistoric lake, thousands of people get together to celebrate radical self-expression, art and community life, by burning a giant effigy of man.
There is really nothing unspecial about Burning Man, the place is unique, the spirit of the event is unique, and what happens there is quite unparalleled in the world. There are many festivals worldwide where things are built to be burnt, like the famous fallas in Valencia, Spain, for example, but there´s nothing comparable to Burning Man; an event that created a city where there was nothing before and has even spread to other dates and locations, including some outside the US.
What is Burning Man
It all started on a beach in San Francisco in 1986. where a man named Larry Harvey and a few friends got together to burn a wooden sculpture of man. After many developments, Burning Man has now become an event that attracts over 50,000 people; in fact, demand for tickets doubles that number, but that’s as many as Black Rock City can accommodate.
The effigy of a giant man is still the leitmotiv of the celebration, but Burning Man has evolved in so many ways, that it has also become a tremendously influential arts and culture event.
Ticket prices for the event are in the range of 200-400 dollars. Although admission was originally free, Burning Man is now run by a non-profit, which uses proceeds from tickets basically to keep the Festival running, take care of the environment and support the arts.
Burning Man Art
One of the guiding principles of Burning Man is radical expression. Participation in the community is encouraged in many different ways. Each year, the event has a central theme around which the artwork and performances presented on the grounds are expected to be conceived. There are Art grants available for artists wishing to fund their projects through the organization, but every participant is encouraged to express themselves through the medium of their choice.
The Burning Man sculpture and the Temple, which is also built to be burnt, are staples of the event, but only the imagination is the limit for everything else you may encounter around the playa. Every year, art projects have become more numerous, more ambitious and more complex. Fire, the desert, water and light are always among the elements of choice when designing concepts; these ideas, which are inherent to the location and the event’s tradition, alongside Larry Harvey’s curatorial hand, have given Burning Man Art a particular feel that has rendered it quite unique and original. The combination of the setting with some of these lager-than-life artistic wonders, has made Burning Man photos equally unique.
The most subtle and the strongest pull is the feel of an accepting community with no inhibitions and a complete acceptance of whatever you are. Of whatever part of yourself you display, figuratively and literally, inside and out. People share everything…every person you meet is friendly and interested.
Burning Man 2011 participant
Gifting is another one of the Burning Man´s ten guiding principles. There is no exchange of cash between participants, and even the barter system (which did function for a while) is discouraged, as people are expected to give without asking for anything in return. Clothing is optional and participants are encouraged to wear costumes and express themselves without fear of being judged, as long as they are not bothering anyone else.
Over the years, theme camps have developed. These are groups of people who present themselves, their way of life or their artistic expressions under a single identity and vision. Villages have also been formed, which group different theme camps.
Life out in the desert is harsh, there are sand storms, and respecting environmental policies meant to protect the area can be hard work, so people try to get together to help each other for both pleasure and survival.
Black Rock City is a strictly pedestrian & biking area, except for something called “mutant vehicles.” A mutant vehicle can be a car that has been changed in a way that it has become a moving work of art, and they have to have undergone sufficient transformation in order to be approved, as mere external decorations will not do the trick.
Leave no trace
The silt alkaline Salt Pan that the event takes place on is a geological wonder and, as such, it has to be protected. As burning can be very damaging to the surface of the playa, all burning is done on special platforms. Water is also a concern, and it cannot be disposed of on the ground, but evaporated, for example, after showering. Grey water and dirt from 50.000 people would cause an ecological disaster, especially because the lake does come alive with fall and winter rains.
Environmental policies are very strict, and it takes the Black Rock City Dept. of Public Works four weeks to clean restore the area to form after the event.
Where is Burning Man
Black Rock City is a remote camp city that basically exists only during Burning Man. By car, it is about 2 hours from Reno, in Nevada. You should first drive towards GERLACH, then take the exit towards Black Rock Desert and drive about 11 miles till Black Rock City access.
By air, you can fly to either RENO or SAN FRANCISCO and then rent a car, or you can also do something more environmentally sound and hook up on a ride, using Burning Man’s Ride share boards.
A temporary airstrip is set up for the duration of the event, and shuttles are also available directly to Black Rock City from both Reno and the Bay area. It is not easy to land there, so, anyone with their own jet or helicopter should make sure the pilot is prepared for the manoeuvre.
There are also bus services running to the city from Reno for the length of the event.
When is Burning Man
Burning Man takes place during the week prior to Labor Day weekend. Labor Day in America is a holiday held on the first Monday of September. The average temperature for the end of the summer in the Nevada desert is around 80 degrees: something that those inclined to a little nudity will really appreciate; though not when the sand storms come in…