On a personal note- what Burning Man is to me
The posts on the revolution in art as I see it will continue, but on a personal note…
I understand that from the outside many people think Burning Man is a sort of hippie-fest drug orgy in the middle of nowhere. Maybe for some people it is (though probably not just that to many who have been there). It certainly isn’t that for me.
Drugs really aren’t my thing. For perspective- people who have not gone may not be aware that there is a whole section of the city devoted to families and children (though there are also many outside “Kidsville”. There is also “Hushville”- a quiet area for those who wish to sleep without the noise of parties, loud music and generators, and Burning Man has plenty of tea-totalers. It has infants, mothers, grandparents, kids playing and grey-beards painting portraits… but it also sports giant bug people, leaping satyrs, leather-clad fighters, and 9-foot ladies holding flame-throwers. Sometimes they are the same people. That may round out the image for you.
Some people will tell you “It will change your life! You’ll never see the world the same again!” For most people, that’s probably true. It often provokes intense life-revelations. For me… no, my world was not changed, I just got to see a beautiful facet of it expand to the horizon. I was raised in an incredibly open-minded way. I grew up with very few fears or inhibitions and have found good company for that- somehow managing to be basically sober, healthy, happy and uninjured even through my teenage and college years. I’ve traveled a lot, seen a lot, lived freely and without much fear, and found little niches of people- faire people, circus people, artists, burlesque performers, drag queens… where these things are more common. It also includes engineers who just love to create things, travelers, adventurers, and people who aren’t afraid to play like children. It no accident that I was only able to settle once I reached San Francisco- this most unsettled, free and uninhibited of cities.
No- Burning Man did not break my world, but still blew my mind, and it raised the bar for many things to the sky. The sheer collaboration. The scope of the projects, the scale, the variety, the engineering, the dedication… Yes, everything I said in that post about the art and more. Mostly what impressed me was what people actually DID just because they could. Just to share it, to do it, to see it, for the experience of it… It was amazing to help create things and see them happen.
Also amazing was the absolute opportunity. It is the place to try that thing you never tried and always wondered about. Yes, we know what vein that can take, but no, it’s really not all sex, drugs and rock and roll, though yes, there is that too. For me, it was stilts. I just decided one day that I’d learn them before sunset the next day. So, fully supported and lent a pair of stilts I started walking at 3PM and by nightfall I was spinning fire on them. You can just do that sort of thing. And where else could one find bars, restaurants, couches and even toilets at stilt-height? Do you want to learn throat-singing? Trapeze? How to build a robot? Have your first Thai Masssage? To climb a ladder to the sky? To sit in a lawnchair and be a king for a day? Paint your toenails pink? There will be people there to help you with that. An amazing thing.
I was fortunate enough to fall in with the very best of people- brilliant and creative and generous. People creating some of the most wonderful projects. I suppose it didn’t hurt my opinion of the thing.
What else? The playa itself- vast clean space studded with whimsical little worlds. Watching the city appear out of the desert. To ride a moving Victorian house (Neverwas Haul). To petal out to the horizon and find a Japanese tea-shop, or perhaps stop at a sculpture and have a rickshaw with a bar offer you a margarita. To ride a ship across the desert until dawn. Or flag down a spaceship out into the nothing and then hitch a ride home on a western salon complete with piano. It’s just magical.
There is also something about a place where you don’t see people talking and texting on cell phones. Where news spreads by word of mouth, and bicycle, and letters. Where when word of Hurricane Katrina hit, runners went out to spread the word, and in a few days (if it was even that long) the seeds of Burners Without Borders began. People who knew just what they were capable of headed straight from the playa to the areas of devastation laden with supplies and donations from everyone to help people rebuild. It’s just that sort of place. That sort of state of mind.
Take the parties and the noise and the drugs… I could care less. It’s all those people testing their limits, seeing what they can do, and share, and learn, and be that I love. It’s seeing that take form in the incredible dreamscape that is Black Rock City.