Today’s festival spotlight has firmly been placed upon Burning Man Festival, a week-long annual event held in theBlackRockDesert (Nevada,United States.) There’s a chance I could be forgiven for not entirely doing it justice via this blog post – their official site itself believes describing the event when you/your audience have not been yourself is like ‘trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind.’ In this instance, I will try my best to paint a picture of the project.
Burning Man project has evolved from a small group of people gathering spontaneously on a San Franciscan beach to discuss life and art, in to a community of just under 50,000 people collecting in a desert to showcase artistic and cultural talent. Burning Man is like no other – they gather for a week to partake in being an experimental community which challenges individuals to express themselves and rely on them to a degree which may not be needed nor expected within daily living. The result of this experiment is referred to as ‘Black Rock City’, home to the Burning Man Festival.
The event makes a point in saying (beyond health and safety regulations, etc.) there are no rules about how one should behave or express themselves whilst at Burning Man – it is up to each participant to decide on their role and what they will give to the community. To tie things together, Larry Harvey (founder) introduces a theme in which participants and encouraged to find a way to make the theme come alive – be it though large-scale art installations, themed camping areas, gifts and trinkeys, costumes or any other medium. This year’s theme is Fertility 2.0, drawing on from the success of the theme in the past. They take inspiration from the Petri-dish like quality to the community – fertile clusters clinging to streets with artwork growing and forming, and being reproduced. This year’s art theme aims to contemplate the tendency of ‘any being or living system’s’ ability to create life.
They also offer:
- Black Rock City as a city – The event takes place on a playa which is transformed as the community build their own community. As such, it has a café, a place to buy ice, a recycling centre, a newspaper, a radio station and the help of the Black Rock Rangers and Department of Public Works, the latter of which includes workshops, cherry pickers and trailers etc. responsible for installing the roads and erecting the built environment. There are also a number of volunteers who help transform flat rock in to a built city.
- Themed Camps – These are referred to as the interactive core of Burning Man – one of the only requirements of the project. The camps should create an ambience and visual presence as well as a communal space for activity. Themed camping areas must be autonomous, inclusive of power/water and building equipment. Burning Man promote the idea of leaving no trace and so absolutely everything must be removed at the end. Themed camps can also be registered and advertised on the official website should you wish to find recruits to join you in your quest.
- Art Installations - The playa is referred to as a ‘tabula rasa’, that is, a blank canvas from which is it us up the participants of the project to create the artistic vision. They encourage art installations, and even allocate a percentage of ticket venue to funding select art projects that are collaborative, community-orienated and interactive. They do so in support of the Burning Man art community, and to facilitate the creation of incredible art for the Black Rock City. Others however, are not funded and therefore you are encouraged to embrace your creativity. Read the Art Installation and Fine Art guidelines for further information.
- The Burning Man - The Burning Man festival would not be complete without the effigy from which they owe its namesake. On the Saturday of each year the tall wooden installation is set on fire paying homage to the traditional ritual. Each year has seen the Man get a little taller – last year it stood at 104ft/32m inclusive of the structures and bases.
- The 10 Principles – The project works on ten principles that are meant to evoke a sense of cultural ethos. They were originally wrote in 2004 by the founder and include radical inclusion (anyone is welcome), gifting (the event is devoted to gift giving as a valuable experience), decommodification (sponsorship free with only a few things permitting cash transaction), radical self-reliance (discovering yourself and relying on inner resources), radical self-expression (expressing yourself as you wish, with no determination from anyone else), communal effort (promoting social networking and interaction), civic responsbility (valuing civil society and assuming responsbility for public welfare etc.), leaving no trace (respecting the space and leaving nothing behind upon leaving), participation (participatory ethic is key – everyone is invited to take place and therefore discover themselves), and immediacy (overcome barriers and recognise the inner self.
The above principles aid the other things that take place within Burning Man, providing guidelines for regional organisation and a general manifesto for the community within Black Rock City. Whilst it seems like a radical thing to do, it encourages the same sense of community that you would experience within normal living, but with the added sense of self that comes from forming your own community and relying upon yourself and others to transform a vision in to a reality. The festival usually forms as a ‘C’ shape, with the burning man and temple placed within the middle:
There seems to be something quite utopian about the Burning Man project, something which would appeal to the creative, and the daring who would be keen to experience something completely different to what is considered the ‘norm’. Whilst it seems leagues away from what we expect from a festival, the themed camps often include areas created by people who dedicate themselves to music and encouraging a party atmosphere.
To find out more:
When? 2012’s Burning Man will take place the week prior to (and including) Labor Day weekend. It will therefore take place from Monday 27th August to Monday 3rd September. The burning man effigy, from which they take their name sake, will burn on the Saturday night.
Where? Nevada, United States of America.
Other ‘unconventional’ festivals:
Calcio Sotirco (Florence, Italy) – Calcio Storico is a festival not for the faint hearted. Following on from a tradition that began in the 1500s, teams of around 27 combatants in period costume parade through the streets of Florence before being let loose on each other in a sporting battle unlike anything else in Europe. It’s been described as ‘part football, part thuggery, dripping in testosterone and tradition.’
Cheese Rolling (England) – I had no doubt that such a bizarre sport was formed in England. It follows an age-old pagan tradition of rolling a wheel of cheese down a steep hill and allowing a team of contenders to run for it – launching themselves through mud and brambles to capture it. The winner? The person who grabs it first.
Day of the Dead (Mexico) – Each November, Mexicans from across the country pack up a hamper of food and beverages and head towards the cemetery to celebrate ‘the day of the dead.’ As opposed to being utterly macabre, they celebrate the lives of family members who passed before them by eating, drinking, smoking cigars and embracing the passing of the dead as a natural prospect.