Burning Man Festival
Black Rock City, Nevada
Burning Man is a week long arts and entertainment, sustainable and self-reliance festival that occurs every year embracing Labor Day. From 1986 until 1989 there was a Summer Solstice bonfire ritual held on Baker Beach in San Francisco by Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and their friends. Here they claimed, not inspired by the “Wicker Man” movie (they state they hadn’t seen it before their party), they would burn a 8-9 foot tall wooden man with his smaller wooden dog, and they did this not for Pagan offerings, but rather as an experiment in art, community, radical self expression and reliance. Apparently Larry’s girlfriend Janet Lohr’s friend, Sculptor Mary Grauberger had been throwing Baker Beach bonfire parties prior to Larry picking it up after she stopped organizing them. By 1987 the “Man” was 15 feet tall and by 1988 at a whopping 40 feet height making it much more of a concern on the beach to the authorities. They eventually called their event “Burning Man”. Because they didn’t have a permit for such a fire on the beach, they had to relocate, and in 1990 a separate event was put on by Kevin Evans and John Law of the Cacaphony Society in the Black Rock Desert on its large dry lake. They billed it as a dadaist event with temporary sculptures and situationist performance art called “Zone Trip #4: A Bad Day at Black Rock”. The Baker Beach Burn “Burning Man” event, after having been kicked off the beach, dissassembled their “Man” and brought it to “Zone Trip #4” just in time for the event. One of the Cacophonists in attendance, Michael Mikel, concerned that the attendees would not be familiar with the harshness of the desert environment, took on the name “Danger Ranger” and formed the “Black Rock Rangers” to make sure everyone was safe. It was here in 1990 that Black Rock City and “Burning Man” was founded. Word spread about the event and people from all over the world started to flock to this desert event. It was assembled of participants only with no paid or scheduled performers/artists, no separation from art space and living space, and no other rules except not to interfere with another’s experience and no guns were allowed in central camp. In 1991 they filed for a legal permit with the Bureau of Land Management evolving to a formal partnership in 1996 for them to own the name “Burning Man”. 1997 Saw the biggest changes in structure to the event when the remaining organizers formed the Black Rock City, LLC after John Law, Kevin Evans, and others left. As the BLM refused a permit for the event, it was moved to “Fly Ranch” that adjoined the Hualapai Flat mini dry lake bed. Since the event moved to Washoe County permitting, more heightened rules and laws were enacted, banning driving of non-mutant or service vehicles and guns, imposing a low speed limit of 5 mph for art cars, a imposed curved grid street structure, no campfires or tiki torches, all burnt art must be on approved burn platforms, bans on fireworks, firearms, and dogs. It was also then that a 7 mile long temporary plastic fence to be erected to surround the event as a 4 foot high “trash fence” to catch wind blown debris. After 2002, no attendees of the event could go beyond this fence. In 2006 was the first time that Burning Man was covered extensively by television, which continued as “TV Free Burning Man” from 2006-2008, and the coverage nominated for a news Emmy Award in 2007.
The man remained 40 feet tall until 1995. By 1997 it reached 50 feet, and by 2001 at 70 feet, from 2002-2004 at 80 feet tall, Then was reduced in size from 2005 until 2008 when it was pumped back up to 84 feet, and at an amazing 104 feet by 2010. In 2007 a well known prankster named Paul Addis set the Man on fire four days ahead of the schedule and was arrested for the incident. The Burning Man crew was able to still erect a replacement effigy in time for the scheduled burn. By 2010 it reached an attendance population of over 51,454 recorded paid participants. Burning Man attendees nickname themselves “Burners”. The festival is based on community, artwork, absurdity, decommodification, revelry, participation, self-awareness, self-reliance, and self-sustainability. In those regards, it has nothing to do with the modern Hippie movement even though the un-knowledgable compare the two as being the same. Burning Man is governed by 10 principles – (1) radical inclusion, (2) gifting, (3) decommodification, (4) radical self-reliance, (5) radical self-expression, (6) communal effort, (7) civic responsibility, (8) leaving no trace, (9) participation, and (10) immediacy. Burning man is a “gifting economy” in like to the tribal potlach ceremony, and relies on the unconditional “gifting” of resources. No cash transactions are permitted between attendees of the event (though the event will charge for entrance tickets (pays for event), daily ice (benefits the local Gerlach-Empire school system), tea and coffee (benefits the event) for those wanting it). The event is clothing-optional and nudity is very common. Once in the event you are highly discouraged from leaving. A re-entry wristband costs a high price if one needs to exit and re-enter. Portable toilets are throughout the event, a temporary airstrip/airport is setup along the event boundary, hospitals and law enforcement stations are setup throughout the city, as is ice stations. All attendees are responsible for bringing their own food and water as none can be guaranteed to be obtained elsewhere in the city. The Event is “Leave No Trace” and all attendees are expected to collet M.O.O.P. (Matter out of place) when observed. All attendees are expected to participate as much as possible, no water is permitted to be drained on the playa and much be either evaporated in a drain field or ported out when attendees leave, no fires without approved burning platforms, and observance of US and Navada federal, state, and local laws. Every year a different theme transforms the event. Art and entertainment, is centered around these themes each year. Numerous registered and un-registered theme camps are all around the city, including over 100 bars, and numerous art or mutant vehicles parade around the playa during the days and nights. Otherwise many participants have their own transportation with bicycles that they bring to the event. Some art is funded by ticket sales through art grants. In addition to the “Man”, a giant “Temple” is constructed and burnt on the last night of the event culminating ritual and interfaith spiritual offerings, prayers, sacrifice, and observance in its participation.
Leaf’s personal photos from Burning Man 2008; Burning Man 2010 (coming soon).
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