Friday, September 27, 2013

Burning Man

A shark-themed art car. :-)
The first time I heard of Burning Man and wanted to go must have been in Germany, sometime after college, a dozen or so years ago. This year, I finally made it. For those of you who have never heard of it, Burning Man is somewhat hard to describe. Maybe sort of a community-driven, creative, alternative, fire and art festival? For about a week, folks of all age and background descend into a self-erected city made out of temporary tent and shade-structures in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Burning Man's core principles include self-reliance, inclusion, and anti-materialism, and participants come here in order to live out their hippie, counterculture, or whatever other ideals.

A participant-driven zoetrope with a monkey and a serpent, in a not-too-heavy dust storm on the playa.
Deciding to go this year was a no-brainer: I had the time, and several good friends of mine were already planning on going. Surviving a week in the desert, being part of a theme camp and its activities, and having fun with costumes and the like take a decent amount of preparation in the months and weeks before the event. The remaining two weeks after our Europe trip I was busy getting bits and pieces together; building a swamp cooler out of a bucket, pond pump and computer fan; making costume pieces; etc. Since -- for once -- I had the time, I decided to drive the truck to Nevada and spend some weeks afterward on a road trip.

Helium-filled balloons on a string in the wind over the playa. Also very impressive at night, since they each were paired with an LED light. Another art installation in the background.
And what a good time it was! Roaming the desert on bike or foot; with friends or alone, making new friends; looking at art and crazy costumes… A lot of art installations on the playa are climbable; a lot of them involve fire or other things glowing at night; and a lot of them are made of wood so that they can be burnt in the end. Not to speak of all the art cars, also known as mutant vehicles -- the amount of effort and skills that must be going into building all these things seems endless. My schedule, as almost everybody else's, shifted more and more toward a nocturnal one as the week progressed.

The Temple of Times is burning.
I also watched a talk about the geology of the Black Rock Desert, went to a champagne brunch, and explored many camps' activities and events. Seeing the Man, Temple, and other art burn on the playa was fascinating. I stayed with a smallish theme camp organized by friends of mine. Our camp's contribution to the general craziness included a bat-themed merry-go-round and chill space, and a margarita party. The options to do stuff out on the playa were without limits.

I'm glad I went, and I plan on going back.