Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most beautiful kitty of all? Or is that most ferocious? Cat dreams. This carnival poster at Burning Man 2015 made me smile. I thought it was perfect for the theme.
“From the looking glass to the selfie, people seek answers to the riddle of identity in their own reflections. Yet even the most perfect mirror shows only the persona, not the person.” Larry Harvey, cofounder of Burning Man
Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and make faces? Come on, confess, I know you have. We are drawn to our image like a moth to flames. Sometimes we like what we see, other times— maybe not so much. I remember checking a mirror once when I had started my solo bicycle journey around North America. It scared the heck out of me. It was my second day out and I’d ridden 65 miles. My sole preparation for the trip had been to increase my daily consumption of beer from one to two cans a night. Somehow, I had missed the message that you are supposed to ride your bike before starting off on a 10,000-mile journey.
I could barely get off the bike that night. My right leg refused to reach high enough to get over the crossbar. It had gone on strike. Laughing so hard I almost fell down, I stumbled into the office of a cheap motel and got a room for the night. My first priority was a shower, even before I hit the restaurant across the road and ordered beer, lots of it. After taking my clothes off, I made the mistake of glancing in the mirror. A great white whale was staring back at me. It was both my persona and person. “You damn fool,” I said to the whale, “what in the world do you think you are doing?” It didn’t have an answer. I declared the third day of my six-month trip a layover.
There were lots of mirrors at Burning Man, playing off the Carnival of Mirrors’ theme and doing what they do best— encouraging people to stare at themselves. It was pretty humorous, especially when Burners started posing. I looked at as many mirrors as anyone, but I avoided ballerina and butt shots, wisely so.
Of all the mirrors at Burning Man 2015, this sculpture by Kirsten Berg seemed to attract the most attention for both posing and photo ops. The irreverent thought of this woman displaying her best assets flitted through my mind.
“Hmmm, I wonder what I look like upside down,” this woman seemed to be saying. Or maybe she was praying “I hope I don’t fall down and break my head.”
On the other hand…
I made it into all of the photos, a sort of photo bomb waiting to happen. I am on the left, leaning over on the handle bars of my bike and amusing myself taking photos of people posing. The vastness of the Black Rock Desert spreads out behind me. The guy on the right is dutifully taking photos of the woman pretzel.
I also found more carnival posters where my friend Tom stood in as a model. Close by was a Museum of Cultural Appropriation and Dead Things. The latter would have fit right in to a circus sideshow.
This carnival poster is a takeoff on P.T. Barnum’s first major hoax in the sideshow business, the Feejee Mermaid, who supposedly had the tail of a fish and the head of the monkey. You may recall it was Barnum who said “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
While I am dealing with mermaids, this cigar chomping cutie represents the fact that tattoo covered people became a part of the sideshow business in the 1950s. Check out my blog on the Triangle Tattoo Museum in Fort Bragg, California if you haven’t already seen it.
As you might imagine, there are lots of tattoos on display at Burning Man. I was particularly impressed with this guy’s art.
My friend Tom Lovering (known as Adios on the Playa), good-naturedly posed with some of the sideshow art. He was hoping for a little faith and charity.
Here, Tom checks out Eve’s apple (right?) afraid that she might offer him a bite.
I found Hammerhead at the Museum of Cultural Appropriation and Dead Things, where I also found Butthead, featured below.
Okay, I admit this is a little outrageous, and has no place in a tame blog like mine (LOL), but it is exactly the kind of thing you would have found in the old carnival sideshows.
As you might expect at a circus or carnival, there were also entertainers galore, jesters, and clowns. I’ve always thought of Burning Man as a three-ring circus and Burning Man 2015 was hardly more so than any other year. The Center Camp Cafe and Black Rock City are constantly filled with people performing circus acts, Barnum and Bailey would have loved to feature mutant vehicles in their circus parades, and the entrance to the media tent at Burning Man 2015 would have made a great entry to a fun house (or political campaign?).
There is a great deal of talent at Burning Man and the Center Camp Cafe is always filled with people performing, as much for themselves as others.
I will have a whole blog, or maybe two or three, on mutant vehicles at Burning Man, but I thought this jester fit in here.
The perfect clown. Check out his eyes. (Photo by Don Green.)
My last photo for this essay. I loved the media tent, appropriately labeled the media circus. I almost expected to see the ‘The Donald’ or some other prominent politician hanging out there. The teeth drew back to provide a door.
NEXT BLOG: Where to go is the question? I think I will take you out to the Temple, one of the most beautiful ever at Burning Man.