Monday, 3 November 2008
Still Burning (Brighter than ever!)
So back to Burning Man I went. 3rd time in a row… is its brightness diminished? It seems not…
This is not going to be an exhaustive account – rather just a group of observations and anecdotes…
I have attached some snaps (thanks to Terri too) but all of my shots are available here:
I’ll start with some negatives about this year’s Burn… dusty… very very dusty… more dusty just on the first day than in the whole of last year!
TOOO much to do – its really an overload and I went into the week adamant that I would do the Monkey Chant (see Baraka tribal silly business) and a yoga class… but I failed in both endeavours. I don’t feel bad about this – I had remarkable experiences instead but they remain as things I would like to experience out there… so next year, it shall be!
Walking is the new cycling – normally it is very fun and easy to whizz all over the place on my specially decorated snow-leopard bike but this year the desert floor was very sandy and thus cycling in the wide expanse was nowhere near as easy… AND someone else hadn’t heard that walking was the best option and stole my bike on the last day… it was locked up but the lock was a bit flimsy and could easily be broken. It also puts paid to the idea that people are less likely to steal a bike that has been extremely decorated! Darn it.
I spent considerable this year time checking out the ART. There was a lot and but I feel that the art this year was not nearly as impressive as in the first 2 years I went. There was good art this year but in 2006 and 2007 there were some really standout items that blew me away! These were partly due to their size and extravagance (Beaver Dam/ Waffle/ Big Rig Jig/ Oil Derrick) but also to their interactive ingenuity (Ping Pong Balls aka Cubitron/ Monkeys/ Serpent Mother). This year seemed to lack that… though there was a pretty cool 11-story structure that provided a great view… see pic of bendy-bus at night with giant flag. And hey wait a minute there was a giant 50’ high tetris game that was pretty funny too… but my favourite piece of art was a painting tucked away in a side section in the excellently atmospheric Entheon Village by Mark Hammond… I do not have a shot of it but I loved it sooooooo much. A quick google has revealed that Mark Hammond is a common name… whoever did THIS piece of work that I saw is almost certainly not the artist of the same name operating out of the UK doing some pretty simple abstract 8 brush-stroke pieces that I have found so far ('my' guy must've used around 30 million brushstrokes on his piece, mostly orange and blue – 2 reclining figures smooching but everything turning into a fractal pattern which was made up of minute but detailed pairs of every type of animal, bird, fish, lobster etc interacting and ‘being’ – intense, remarkable, astounding, sumptuous, thought-provoking and capable of spreading a warm sense of well-being through me). But I shall spend more time looking for this…tried good old google again – still no luck… more musicians than artists this time. Overall it might sound a bit like I was complaining about the art but I know art is subjective and I am hugely appreciative for all the artists that did take the time to put their work out there on the playa for our enjoyment. Just making the point that I did not see any super large-scale stuff that made me go WOW – that’s cool! Anyway here’s a shot of the giant Hummer art which fitted into this year’s Theme of the American Dream. The ‘theme’ is always given a good kicking by the participants as being lame or inappropriate. I normally do just ignore it – the event is so much more than the ‘theme’ and I appreciate that the organisers cannot please all 50000 city inhabitants with one theme. Whatever the theme I am still going to go. But I would say that this year it did seem a little bit extra lame to me... Next year’s theme is Evolution and I certainly feel more affinity with that! And subject to what happens to me in the year ahead I plan to bring a piece of my own art to the playa. “Hoarse” as exhibited in the Climate of Change exhibition on the South Bank in London last year. Its time I shut up and contributed something significant out there other than my own brand of wandering participatory interactionism.
So the good stuff… Well, one thing was absolutely clear to me – the best thing about this year for me was people. I was incredibly drawn to strangers and to interacting with them. This did mean that I spent less time with the (all incredible) people in my own camp. I think this was due to the lure of the unknown. In that instant of initial encounter I was able to be exactly who I wanted to be and indeed am free of any prior knowledge or conceptions. Of course one can do this at any time but out on the playa it is that much easier and attractive to do so.
Here are a few snaps of a few of the people whose paths I did cross and acquaint with. These were all incredible people who inspired me to interact openly with them exactly as I would like to – the shots can barely reveal their multi-faceted characters. These people were not remarkable for their outfits or anything overtly apparent but rather for the ease and depth of the energetic exchange they and I shared. There were MANY others but this year I took very few shots so the selection is quite inadequate. And I am fine about that too. I am certain that it was better to focus on the experiences and not on photographing things. Burning Man is so much about PARTICIPATION that photography often feels like SPECTATING. There is a lot of ‘pressure’ at Burning Man to PARTICIPATE but one should remember that participation could at times be providing an audience to a performance. For example firespinners – in cases like that you participate by providing that appreciative audience… but get involved in something else to be sure and partake of all that people have made the effort to bring to the desert be that roller disco, crazy golf, a pyramid made of baseball bats or free French fries late at night!
Anyway one evening while watching some incredible fire spinners doing their amazing things I befriended a couple of just off-duty Black Rock Rangers. I thanked them for their efforts at keeping us safe and all that and gifted them a few things (stickers wrapped around chapsticks, Licenses2Live and I Heart Life Buttons). We then chatted for some time – an excellent pair – I think they were just on the cusp of becoming a couple and I hope so because that was the assumption I had made on their behalf. Anyway the girl, on her 5th ‘burn’ volunteered that her 3rd ‘burn’ had been pivotal in that it was that year she clicked into doing just what she wanted to do. She knew by then that everyone there wants your participation in whatever it is they have set-up and for you to present your authentic self. And as per above, I couldn’t agree more.
This year, there were many moments in which I found myself caught lightly between duty/desire and insecurity/motivation. And on reflection, even the ‘duty’ was light pressure stuff that I worried more about than I should have. I chose to just do and go where I wanted to. The most poignant of these was whether to stick to my “Greeter’ shift on Wednesday night or to go on Art Appreciation with the 1st Republic of Slacking (Slacktoria and Slack Franciscans – I am a Slack African). I felt the duty of greeting and it had been a major highlight of my 2007 burn and I had officially volunteered but then again Art Appreciation, which I’d missed in 2007, had been THE highlight of 2006. Following the lead of camp-mate Wontastic, I examined my feelings regarding what it was that I really wanted to do. I found it was easy to say I wanted to be with Slacktoria for this experience and chose in favour of Art Appreciation. And I am thankful for doing so as it was once again an incredible time and probably my best or 2nd best night at Burning Man ever. Funny and inspiring. And all it took to allay my feelings of guilt was to go and apologise to the Greeters and warn them that afternoon that they were going to be 2 short that evening. They seemed surprised that we were even letting them know but thankful of course that we were!
OK I’ll own up… I was a bit chicken and got a friend to go tell the Greeters Camp that Doctor Lobster and Golden Arse (another friend who was ditching greeting that night for Art Appreciation) were unable to attend. I wait outside for my friend to make our excuses. While doing so, I, in my Yeti Overlord outfit (Doctor Lobster’s dark shamanic side - see pic of Golden Arse and I posing it up at The Deep End), am interviewed by a Swedish Television station. It was relatively amusing and I gave them some good silliness to record… The presenter was a Burning Man Virgin but admitted that they had not been given the traditional on-entry Virgin spanking by the greeters when they arrived! As we were at Greeters camp I insisted this wrong be righted! And there was no way I was going to let a TV crew get away without PARTICIPATING. So hopefully there is some footage being shown in Sweden of me spanking the presenter. And relax its just silly irreverent lightness. Anyway it was rather all fun and good spirits. With any luck my estranged sister will see it. No doubt she still won’t talk to me though. So it goes.
And a big thank you to Kris and Jo (and anyone else) from our camp who went and greeted that night in our place!
Backing up to Art Appreciation – what a crazy night. Forty people get together, take acid and try to stick together all night while wandering around the dark wide open desert appreciating the art and of course each other’s company. Sticking together is half the fun and quite tricky as there are so many distractions with tons of wink blink lights, crazy art cars, fun folk, dancing options. It is dark and we cover a lot of ground, but employing the age-old buddy and meta-buddy system with the incredibly resilient and adhesive qualities imbued by Trevor, Lianne (even with her undercover buddy) and my distinctive el-wired top hat the whole ‘Shit Show’ managed to stay together until about 4am by which time everyone’s water, juice, grub and strange crazy winky-blinky tricks have run out so we returned to camp to replenish. Extra points definitely do go to Trevor’s blue muppet as the best funny trick though I think my extreme glowing bright red delicious and nutritious Chernobyl worms must rank a good second. Some of you actually ATE them – haha – good on ya. Anyway the return to the camp separated the lightweights out and the dawn squad of 7 of us (see pic) continued the adventure. We saw the day in at HOME (see pics) a super great cozy loungey theme camp in a prime location. And for those of you who do not know – ALL of this stuff has nothing to do with the organisers but is built and provided by the general participants (i.e. you) at the event for your entertainment. And is open and free to everyone!
While watching the sun rising we observed a befuddled cyclist ride straight into this huge ball and fall over. This snap was taken just after he had righted himself. How do you not notice THAT!?
We took the Safety Third route home via a tightrope walk (see pic) and then, one of our number, Dustin, voices his desire to play Twister… Immediately this chap pictured offers us his spare twister set as a gift… This is good example of a relatively common type of occurrence of synchronicity that goes down at BM. Voice a desire for a thing or object and lo, it appears! The wonder of the Gifting economy…
And here a few shots from our camp Recharge Ranch – specifically a very special Dr Lobster sign (Always Fresh) made by good friend Gem. Another shot taken by our neighbours of Warwick just finishing setting up… This is a rephotographed print given to us by the folks across the street from us. A very surprising gift to receive in the middle of the desert!
One of the nicest exchanges I had was with a couple Jess and Alyssa (see snap above). These 2 lovelies were so cool. I encountered them briefly on the playa and then saw them again on top of the 11-story tower. Turned out they were virgins and had arrived a mere 2 hours before our encounter and that this was pretty much the first thing they were doing. I asked what kind of initiation they’d got from the Greeters when they’d arrived. They said they had got to ring a bell. I asked if they had got their spanking too? “No!” they said. “Well”, I said, “It is your right! And I am a deputised Greeter so we can rectify this wrong right here right now!” And produced the ever-popular vibrawhip once again… We chatted and laughed and connected and it was all super great. When it got around to introduction time and I revealed my identity as Doctor Lobster – they burst out laughing. Turns out that they or perhaps just he had once been in a band called Doctor Lobster and the Dolphinettes! But that Doctor Lobster never ever made it to a gig and the Dolphinettes always had to play alone and come up with a new excuse as to why Dr L was unable to attend that night. Apparently they even had a shrine built to Dr L! And now that had finally met me! Naturally I apologised but pointed out that I was very seldom in this dimension and if they’d please not mention to anyone our meeting, as I felt awfully bad about never actually getting around to attending even a single gig. When we parted a while later, Jess said they felt like they had just been born into this world. To which I replied: “And what was the first thing that happened to you after your birth? The doctor spanked you!” Badabing.
I made sure I re-encountered these 2 at their camp, which turned out to be the one with the tightrope. This also turned out to be a group of chiropractors offering their realignment techniques free to those in need of them. I took great care to give these 2 my contact details but I managed to not get theirs, or else I’ve lost them and all memory of getting them and now I have no way of getting hold of them… just hoping that they one day get hold of me! Well - so it goes…
Another excessively fun themed and interactive art event a few of us enjoyed one night early on in the week (and not the ‘art appreciation’ evening) was the Department of Dreamland Security. See pic, This gang had erected this giant skull and crossbones enclave topped with barbed wire and aside from being pink and covered in a brain-like pattern it was kind of intimidating. You went through a tunnel guarded by some very stern people who gave you a very bureaucratic form to fill out along with the instructions to not talk to anyone else, not pass contraband and not to try to have fun while you were here. They would bark and shout at anyone who tried to say anything. Very stern indeed. The Dreamland Visa application form was exhaustive and authentic with all manner of questions about whom you were planning to dream about and whether or not you had been refused a dream visa before, or had ever engaged in subversive dream terrorism etc. When you THOUGHT you had filled out the whole thing you showed it to a set of guards who tutted and noted SOMETHING you had done wrong and would make you redo something. Finally that was acceptable, they issued you with a passport and you had to wait in a queue to enter another building.
For some reason I was awarded VIP status and rushed through the queue to the head and let in (probably just to annoy the others and increase the authentic wait they were having! Though I did offer the guards a few gifts, which might’ve acted as an implicit bribe haha). Inside another room filled with security cameras and screens, a guard checked my passport, asked me some awkward questions about why I wanted to enter the dream of my choice and then stamped a visa in the passport and cheerfully announced that I was free to enter my dream. I passed through a yellow and black chevron door to the sound of a loud klaxon. This door just led out the back of their construction onto the playa replete with all its amazing splendour. It was a very authentic bureaucratic visa experience with a remarkably good job done by the organisers. They really made it feel like school or governmental in a very fun way even though you were NOT allowed to have fun. And the result of it was absolutely perfect. Coming out their space was exactly like stepping into the most wonderful of creative dreams. And Burning Man certainly does do that for me – its helps me fully realise much of my potential and allows me to know that the only way to live your dreams is to make them a reality! Yay for that… Great effort from a great gang! 1000 thanks! And you know that this was ART so I take back a bit of what I wrote above… there was some great stuff!
And then there was another dust storm…
And then they burned the man… (pic pre-burn)
And then they burned the temple… (pic)
And then we had to leave which was super easy at 6am Monday morning – we just drove out without stopping in half an hour (unheard of!). I think many people had left on the preceding 2 days when the dust storms came in.
Only then our RV broke-down (pic). But at least it was right next to the Empire Store so we had access to tea and a telephone for the 10 hours wait to get towed to Reno. We also had to leave some of our stuff behind and drive through the night to get back to LA on Tuesday morning in a rental Jeep.
All that could still not dampen my spirits though! It was, once again, an excellent journey. I do feel like I am going “Home” when I am in Black Rock City and sharing myself with all the others there. This year was perhaps less outrageous than last year but that might also be down to the the kind of year I have had – traveling all over the place with minimal responsibilities. It allowed me to approach BM this year quite calmly. Treating it pretty much as ‘just’ another stop on my travels and doing the same type of things that I might’ve done in any city I went to – seek out some good people, climb the highest thing I can find and live my life my way.
Will I go again? Hell yeah! Hope to see you there…
I have not written much about what Burning Man is as I have done that before. Rather I am just leaving you with a few tiny titbits of an experience that has to be lived to understand. And if you want to read more about what the Burning Man event is, as written by myself – then go to these links on my blog.
2006 Burning Bloody Man
2007 Part 1 With Goose-like Tread Upon the Way I Steal
2007 Part 2 The High!!!
Or to the site itself