Weird, Wonderful, Civic Minded, Burning Man… Burning Man 2013

Burning Man Sculpture

I love things that are unique and humorous. This suave sphinx at Burning Man made me laugh.

I like unique– even more if it’s strange or amusing. Burning Man qualifies. First time visitors to Black Rock City, aka Virgin Burners, can be overwhelmed by the experience. At least I was. I walked around like a South Dakota farm boy in New York City. Or maybe it was more like a chocoholic in a chocolate factory. After ten years the newness has worn off, but I still find much that intrigues me.

Most of all, I love the art; but I also like the elaborate costumes, the magical nights, the mutant vehicles, the performance art, and the characters. Ah yes, the characters– the nature of the event almost requires you be one to participate. Imagine 50,000 together in a raging dust storm. Scary, isn’t it.

The art at Burning Man can be spectacular, such as this tall, nude woman.

The art at Burning Man can be spectacular, such as this tall, nude woman.

Thousands of hours can go into the creation of unique works of art found on the Playa. This ship from last year is a great example.

Thousands of hours can go into the creation of unique works of art found on the Playa. This ship from last year is a great example.

The art can be uplifting, like this 2006 sculpture...

The art can be uplifting, like this 2006 sculpture…

Ferocious like this dragon...

Or ferocious like this dragon…

Or humorous like this dog.

Or humorous like this dog.

The costumes and the characters also have great appeal.

The costumes and the characters also have great appeal.

As do the mutant vehicles like this mammoth.

As do the mutant vehicles like this mammoth.

And the thousands of performing artists.

And the thousands of performing artists.

Burning Man becomes almost magical at night.

Burning Man becomes almost magical at night.

And then there is the culture. I don’t mean the sculpture on the Playa, or the opera you might find at Center Camp; I am talking about the ten principles that Larry Harvey and his devoted band of organizers promote: inclusion, gifting, decommodification, self-reliance, self-expression, communal support, respect for the environment, civic responsibility, participation, and immediacy.

Most of these are self-explanatory but three can use further clarification.

Decommodification means that you can’t buy or sell things at Burning Man. Nor can you promote products or companies. There are no sponsorships; there is no advertising. In addition to being self-reliant (having what you need to survive for a week in the desert– water, food, etc.), gifting is the response to decommodification. Everything from free drinks, to food, to bike repairs, to entertainment, costumes and much, much more is given away in one huge potlatch. And everyone is expected to participate by also gifting.

My friend Beth Lovering, a master bike mechanic, provides free bike repairs as part of her gifting at Burning Man. I have always thought of the work I put into this blog featuring the people and art of Burning Man as my gift back to the event.

My friend Beth Lovering, a master bike mechanic, provides free bike repairs as part of her gifting at Burning Man. I have always thought the work that Peggy and I put into this blog featuring the people and art of Burning Man as our gift back to the event. People from 170 countries around the world have stopped by here to learn more about Burning Man.

Immediacy borders on spiritual. In the words of Burning Man: “We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.”

Nothing captures the spiritual side of Burning Man like the Temple where Burners leave thousands of messages to loved ones. (Photo by Tom Lovering)

Nothing captures the spiritual side of Burning Man like the Temple where Burners leave thousands of messages to loved ones. (Photo by Tom Lovering)

The burning of the temple on Sunday evening sends the messages skyward. Always noisy Burning Man, is silent for the burn.

The burning of the temple on Sunday evening sends the messages skyward. Always noisy, Burning Man is silent for the burn.

Maybe the most unique thing about Burning Man is that it tries to live up to these principles. For example, there is none of the trash floating around that you find at most large events, even the tiniest piece is chased down. The wilderness ethic of ‘leave no trace’ is serious business at Black Rock City.

So while Burning Man is indeed a huge party in the desert with its share of people who come and party for seven days straight, it is also more. I am quite comfortable with Harvey’s ten principles and believe that most are goals we can all strive for. But tell me truthfully– assuming you have never been to Burning Man, did you expect civic responsibility to be one of the ten?

NEXT BLOGS: I’ll be out this coming week at Burning Man so I am pre-posting three more blogs on my trip up the Alaska Highway that Peggy and I returned from this week. First up I want to look at Road Houses. Once essential on the long road to Alaska, they are becoming an endangered species. Second, we will visit the sign forest at Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory with its 70,000 plus street signs. Finally, on our way back through Washington State last week, we stopped off at Mt. St. Helens, one of the modern world’s most famous volcanoes. I actually flew over the volcano a few weeks after it blew its top in 1980.

And finally, to those who visit this blog (thank you), and to the blogs I follow, I will be off the Internet next week. I will catch up with your comments and blogs afterwards.

Starting on September 2, I will begin my series reporting on Burning Man 2013.

I'll close with a couple of my 'strange and wonderful' favorites. These cool cats...

I’ll close with a couple of my ‘strange and wonderful’ favorites. These cool cats…

Burning Man Rabbit

And this crazy rabbit worthy of Alice in Wonderland.

11 comments on “Weird, Wonderful, Civic Minded, Burning Man… Burning Man 2013

  1. Thanks for an interesting explanation for Burning Man. I’ve never been, and had only heard snatches of info. Based on my impression, I thought it was pretty much an excuse for a week-long party. This post helps me understand that it’s much more. ~James

    • It truly is James. I am not a true-believer… I don’t go out and preach the world according to Burning Man, and I sometimes think the folks take themselves a little too seriously, but they are sincere and now have contingents around the world. The message is hard to argue with. The art is truely impressive and is now showing up in public venues around the country. –Curt

    • Thanks Lynne… and indeed you must. 🙂 You can join the NOLA group… or us. Peg and I head out in the morning. Then we will be without Internet for the week. That’s like quitting cold turkey… –Curt

  2. My impression of burning man was always a weird week long party, after reading this post I am intrigued, and may have to check it out one year. Have a great time and I look forward to reading about your Burning Man 2013 experience 🙂

  3. The principles are interesting. There’s a good bit to admire and nothing really to criticize – who doesn’t love people who pick up their own trash? I did find myself pondering a few issues. For example, decommodification sounds wonderful. No advertising? No corporate sponsorships? No shills? Everyone pays their own way? Terrific.

    Except – it seems like you’d have to be pretty well-off to even think of taking part in the event. Ticket prices are reasonable, and it’s good that they offer scholarships and reduced price tickets. Still, setting up camp in the middle of the desert requires (1) getting there and (2) staying there. Most vacations cost, of course, but most resorts don’t set themselves up with such high-minded principles. There’s just a little, tiny bit of irony that such an exclusive destination has inclusivity as one of its principles. But enough of that….

    I do love the gifting, and that more and more art is being preserved and relocated. The blue dog reminds me of the art of George Rodrigue, whose studio is in Louisiana. The ship is my favorite – although if it were up to me I’d have a camel rigged as a figurehead – ship of the desert, and all that.

    Last but not at all least, I have a British friend who shows up on the first day of every month with a white rabbit illustration and the traditional first-of-month greeting: “White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits”. This month, I’m going to have a white rabbit to show her that will beat every British bunny she’s ever come up with!

    • Good for you on the rabbit. 🙂 There is also the thousand person bunny parade where a lot of people dress up like rabbits and wander through camp.

      Inclusive is hard… an ideal. Not many poor people at Burning Man, although lots of poor students. The event definitely has a middle class/alternative appeal. Lots of ride share options… and lots of cheap tents provide some relief.

      As for a week in the desert, it isn’t easy. But it is a lot easier than the week-long hundred mile back pack trips and 500 mile bike trips I led for many years.

      We go in tomorrow morning. No Internet. Ouch… it is tough. (grin) –Curt

      –Curt

      • I just read your comment and laughed to realize something else may be coloring my view of all this. After months of working every day in the heat, it may just be the word “desert” that I can’t get past! Have fun!

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