This Place Called Black Rock City… Burning Man

Imagine, if you will, having enough port-a-potties to accommodate 70,000 people. It’s one of many issues Burning Man has to deal with in planning Black Rock City.

 

I always like to include a post on Black Rock City when I am blogging about Burning Man to give readers a view of how everything fits together. Obviously, you can’t throw up a city for 70,000 people in the desert without some serious planning. Think of it this way: For the one week of its existence, Black Rock City is the third largest city in Nevada— only Las Vegas and Reno are larger.

It all starts with locating where the Man will be placed out in the Black Rock Desert a few miles east of the small, northern Nevada town of Gerlach. A ceremonial spike is driven into the ground to mark the placement.  Everything else including the Temple, Center Camp, the surrounding fence and Black Rock City evolve from there. Official Burning Man structures and major camps are built before the event. Sort of. It is not unusual to arrive on Sunday with work still being done on the Man, the Temple, Center Camp, etc.

Black Rock City is laid out in a semi-circle as shown on the 2016 map below. The circular roads are given names based on the annual theme and are in alphabetical order. For example, the 2016 theme was Da Vinci’s Workshop. The road names were Arno, Botticelli, Cosimo, Donatello, Effigiare (Italian: to portray), Florin, Guild, High Renaissance, Italic, Justice, Knowledge, and Lorenzo. The main road that separates Black Rock City from the Playa is always the Esplanade. Roads that cut across the circular roads are numbered clockwise and lead out to the Man.

The large circle on the bottom is Center Camp, the middle circle the Man, and the upper circle the Temple. Both the Man and the Temple are located on the Playa, which continues out to the fence. Shaded areas are for assigned, organized camps; non-shaded areas for everyone else. Space in the non-shaded areas is on a first come, first serve basis and you can have as much as you need for your camp, assuming you come in early— there seems like a lot of space in the beginning. By the end of the week, everything is packed! The total area encompassed within the fence including Black Rock City and the Playa is approximately seven square miles.

The official Burning Man map of Black Rock City for 2016.

The following photos provide a glimpse into what it is like to live in Black Rock City.

If you come in early on Sunday, you feel like you have a lot of space. We always mark out our site with rope and reflectors.

Things fill up rapidly as the week progresses. Quivera, our van, marks one end of our camp. Our goal is to be somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 on H or I.

By Friday, there is no room left. If you haven’t clearly marked your area, you will have guests!

If things feel too crowded, you can always bike out onto the Playa where the Man, the Temple and many of the major art pieces are located.

If things are still too crowded, you can head out farther…

And farther…

And farther. By now you are out in what is known as the Deep Playa.

This is where you come to the fence that limits further exploration of the desert. Actually, during a dust storm when visibility is close to zero, it is good to have the fence available to keep you from wandering off. There is a vast amount of space to get lost in.

Burning Man is serious about Burners staying inside the fence. Part of this is for safety and part of it is to keep people from sneaking in for free. When I crossed the fence for a photo-op, a BM truck came speeding over to where I was.

A substantial infrastructure is required to operate the event. These lifts are located in the Public Works Department lot.

Safety is always a concern. Burning Man has its own safety officers know as the Black Rock Rangers. Of course there are also numerous local, state, and federal law officers present. There is also an extensive emergency medical operation.

Lamps are lit at night to help Burners find their way. The lamp lighters are volunteers who have their own camp.

Providing ice for Burners to keep their food (and beer) cold is also a major operation run by volunteers. A recruitment poster urges Burners to sign up. Ice is one of the very few things you can purchase in Black Rock City.

The tongue in cheek sign at the top of the post refers to the numerous banks of port-a-potties found throughout Black Rock City and out on the Playa. An army of trucks is constantly servicing the outhouses. (Photo by Don Green.)

I found this in one of the toilets.  I imagine that this sign had some city folks checking. (grin)

Sand spiders are more dangerous.

Heat, wind, and dust storms are a part of life at Burning Man. It can also rain.

This photo was taken a few minutes after the above photo. The storm has arrived!

While it is important to be prepared for the heat and dust storms, there is also great beauty and good weather at Burning Man.

Looking out from our camp at the sunset.

And a rainbow.

If things get too rough out in the desert, you can always stop and have a beer.

Next Blog:  Some really cute seals and the beautiful Pt. Lobos nature reserve near Carmel.

Theme Camps and the Tribes of Burning Man… The Burning Man Series

The 2015 Art Theme at Burning Man was “Carnival of Mirrors.” The Kostume Kult Tribe out of New York responded by building this camp on the Esplanade, Black Rock City’s main street. Here’s how the tribe describes itself: “The  Kostume Kult  arts collective is a volunteer-led, non-profit community organization supporting interactive arts, costuming, street theater and absurdist fun while bringing wonderful people together.”

 

Tribes and theme camps are an essential part of part of Burning Man. Tribes are basically a group of people who decide to hang out and camp together. They can come together through friendship, a common interest, or geographical location. Some number in the hundreds and have a sophisticated structure with year around planning. Others consist of a few people who more or less show up and camp together with minimal arrangements. My tribe, the Horse-Bone Tribe, resembles the latter. The increasing difficulty of obtaining tickets and the spiraling cost of attending has played havoc with smaller tribes, including ours. I may be the tribe this year. It’s a good thing I have multiple personalities. Bone will keep me company.

The larger the tribe, the more elaborate the camp. And some can be quite impressive, as today’s photos show. They help create Burning Man’s unique atmosphere. Many larger tribes also support mutant vehicles and all participate in Burning Man’s gifting society by offering some type of free service including entertainment, classes, alcohol, food, costumes, bike repair, etc. The list goes on.

Each year, Burning Man has an art theme. This year’s is Radical Ritual. According to Burning Man: “In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions.” That’s a lot of room for creativity, and mischief. My camera will be busy. Both artists and tribes use the theme for inspiration, although it is not required. The photo of the Kostume Kult Tribes camp at the top of this post is an example.

Following are a few examples taken from different years of major camps built in Black Rock City by tribes to reflect the year’s theme or the tribe’s particular vision.

Searching for massage, raw food, ambient trance, native wisdom or numerous other paths to spiritual enlightenment, the Sacred Spaces Village offers it all— plus a really gorgeous structure.

Looking up from inside the Sacred Spaces Village.

The folks from Silicon Valley have been creating a village at Burning Man for many years. Don’t be surprised to find the billionaire founders of such companies as Google hanging out here. The camp is large enough that it needs its own map. Smaller groups within the overall village sponsor the different areas and provide different opportunities for Burners. For example, if you want to sample various types of sauerkraut, you could check in at Pickle Me Elmo.

A number of the larger camps at Burning Man are music venues. One of these is Ooligan Alley with its 747 cockpit serving as the DJ booth. The sound equipment for this camp alone is worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Celtic Chaos is another major music venue. I was amused to read that its motto is “Bringing a little more mayhem to the universe.”

The French Quarter at Burning Man brought to Black Rock City by Burners from New Orleans has always been one of my favorite camps. Great coffee and pastries can be found here, along with New Orleans Jazz.

Burners from Kentucky sponsored the KFC camp which featured fried baloney on white bread and a shot of bourbon. I stopped by for breakfast and the Colonel waved at me.

The Alternative Energy Village is the place to go if you want to learn more about alternative energy or even live off the grid. No generators are allowed in the camp.

This ‘Firehouse’ was created by the Do More Now tribe out of Seattle. Its objective is “empowering participants to challenge themselves by coming together to create innovative and playful spaces that enable and encourage the creation of art, performance and community activities. In other words – we create possibility!” It is a goal that could be applied to many of the camps at Burning Man.

I’ll conclude with this rather dreamy creation, which I have always found appealing because of its focus on white and its use of balloons. Also, check out the white mutant vehicle on the right. Unfortunately, I don’t know which tribe sponsored this camp.

NEXT BLOGS:

I’ll be taking a blog break to wander the Central Coast of California for the next couple of weeks. See you back here afterwards!

The Beautiful Temples of Black Rock City… A Burning Man Experience

This is the Temple of Promise from Burning Man 2015, a simple and beautiful structure designed to capture the early morning sun.

 

Census figures from Burning Man show that 71% of the participants claim to have no formal religious affiliation. Given this, it might seem strange that a temple is one of the major structures built in Black Rock City each year. But there is another factor at work here; over 50% of Burners claim that they are spiritual. While they may not adhere to any particular religious doctrine, they believe that they are part of a whole that is beyond any individual’s existence. Or, at least, that’s how I interpret being spiritual. It’s how I feel.

Whatever Burners believe, there is no doubt that visiting the temple can be a spiritual experience. In addition to being a place of beauty, as I hope the photos in this post show, the Temple is a place where 10,000’s of messages are left honoring loved ones who have passed on, asking forgiveness and expressing thanks. At the end of the week, the Temple is burned and the messages drift off into the air or, the Heavens if you prefer, giving a sense of peace to those who have left them.

Part of a larger structure, this temple was built in 2007 and was known as the Temple of Forgiveness.

This was the 2008 Temple. (Photo by Ken Lake.)

The curving wood on top of the Fire of Fires Temple reflected flames shooting into the sky. Note the intricate detail on the side panels.

A close up.

The Fire of Fires Temple at night. (Photo by Don Green.)

The Temple of Flux represented the constant change we experience in life. It can be seen as waves or as sand dunes. This photo was taken from the Man. The Center Camp Cafe, the Man, and the Temple are always in a direct line. The buildings on the other side represented a city.

Tom likes to get up early in the morning for his photography. He captured this photo of the Temple of Juno at sunrise. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Here’s another. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

A later photo by me showing detail of the Temple of Juno.

The Temple of Whollyness resembled a Pyramid.

This large stone structure was inside the Temple of Whollyness.

The Temple of Grace was built for the 2014 Burning Man.

I liked this shot I caught of its spire under butter milk skies.

The Temple of Grace at night. (Photo by Don Green.)

Another photo of the Temple of Promise. I had taken Tom’s advice and rolled out early to capture these photos.

As the sun came up, Burners grabbed each other’s hands and formed a large circle around the Temple. The act was totally spontaneous.

A black and white I created.

Inside the Temple.

As I mentioned, thousands of messages are placed on the walls. By Saturday, there is little room to write on left within reach.

I found this message left behind honoring Uno Hogan quite touching. I think you will as well. It is quite typical of messages found in the temple.

And this message humorous but sincerely meant!

The Temples are always burned on Sunday night, the last night at Burning Man, in a solemn and moving ceremony with the thousands of messages sent skyward. This is the Temple of Juno.

A note on the photographers: All photos that I include in the Burning Man blogs are taken by Peggy, me, or members of the Horse Bone Tribe— all close friends who have traveled and adventured with us down through the years.

NEXT BLOGS:

Monday: Back to Bandon on the coast of Oregon.

Wednesday: I begin my story of how Bone was found.

Friday: I continue my exploration of the unique and beautiful structures at Burning Man.

 

Burning Man Walkabout 2015… Part 2

The options of what to do at Burning Man seem overwhelming. For, example, do you need a hug?

The options of what to do at Burning Man seem overwhelming. For, example, do you need a hug?

The Colonel from Kentucky was giving away fried baloney (his spelling) sandwiches on a slice of white bread and shots of Kentucky Bourbon. The elephant with his missing tusk was back. You could pick up “a long uncomfortable hug,” at the Hug Deli. Lamplighters marched by carrying 12 lamps each. A man in a mask was wearing a doctor’s smock and flowery underwear while playing a saxophone. And my friend Don was climbing everything in sight to take photos of the city.  (The truth here is that Don just likes to climb things.)

It was another typical day in Black Rock City. Every hundred yards or so offered another adventure. Each day, we checked out the Burning Man’s 160-page activity guide. Will we do something cerebral and go listen to TED talks or join the Billion Bunny March to Protest Humanity. The options seem limitless. Do I really need to learn how to spank Peggy? I don’t think so; neither does she. Here are some more photos for you to enjoy, including Don’s Black Rock City overviews.

Burning Man program guide 2015

The Burning Man activity guide listed close to 1600 ways to get into mischief or learn something new.

Tom decided he needed a hug from these people who were celebrating their daughters birthday. Judging from the look of the wife, I think it fell under the title of long uncomfortable hug.

Tom decided he needed a hug from these people who were celebrating their daughter’s birthday. Judging from the look of the family, I think it fell under the title of “long uncomfortable hug.” But Tom was having fun. They did tell us, however, where to go to get a baloney sandwich and a shot of Kentucky bourbon for breakfast.

The Kentucky Camp was offering the Kentucky bourbon and baloney, naturally. The Colonel gave me a wave of greeting.

The Kentucky Camp was offering the Kentucky bourbon and baloney. The Colonel gave me a wave of greeting.

This guy was quite pleased that baloney was on the menu.

This guy was quite pleased that baloney was on the menu.

Camps at Burning Man have mastered the false fronts of the Old West. Free drinks were offered here at night, as they are by numerous camps.

Camps at Burning Man have mastered the false fronts of the Old West. Free drinks were offered here at night, as they are by numerous camps.

Buildings can be quite elaborate, such as this one put up by the Burners from New Orleans.

Buildings can be quite elaborate, such as this one put up by the Burners from New Orleans…

And the Firehouse, a production of the North West Burners Camp, Do More Now.

And the Firehouse, a production of the North West Burner’s Camp, Do More Now.

One of my favorite buildings is this 'mobile home' pulled by a tractor. You never know where it will show up. This side features a 50s style kitchen that cooks and gives away cookies. The other side is a free bar.

One of my favorite buildings is this ‘mobile home’ pulled by a tractor. You never know where it will show up. This side features a 50s style kitchen that cooks and gives away cookies. The other side is a free bar.

I always stop and pay homage to Ganesha, the Hindu God/elephant that has lost his tusk.

I always stop and pay homage to Ganesha, the Hindu God/elephant that has lost his tusk. (Photo by Don Green.)

There are lots of opportunities to volunteer at Burning Man. Being a lamplighter is one. Each evening you can find this folks making their rounds.

There are lots of opportunities to volunteer at Burning Man. Being a lamplighter is one. Each evening you can find these folks making their rounds in a solemn procession.

This fellow seemed to be serenading the lamplighters as they went by. I found his costume amusing.

This fellow in his flowery underwear was serenading the Lamplighters as they went by. I found his costume amusing. (Sorry my photo was a little fuzzy.)

Don Green, who provided a number of photos for this blog series, works on his bike, Trigger. A bit of trivia: When Roy Rodger's horse, Trigger died, he had him stuffed. Trigger now resides in Bransom, Missouri.

Don Green works on his bike Trigger. A bit of trivia: When Roy Rodger’s horse Trigger died, Roy had him stuffed and mounted, which provided a new definition for mounting a horse.

We arrived early at Burning Man. You are allowed to camp anywhere that hasn't been marked off and to take up as much space as you need. My van is on the right and Tom's trailer is on the left.

We arrived early at Burning Man before the crowds. My van, Quivera, is in the center.  Tom’s trailer, Walter, is just to the left of it. (Photo by Don Green.)

Spaces quickly begin to fill up. (Photo by Don Green.)

Spaces quickly begin to fill up. (Photo by Don Green.)

And become crowded. (Photo by Don Green.)

And became crowded. (Photo by Don Green.)

A shot of Don's looking out across the Playa provides a view of the afternoon dust storms.

A shot of Don’s looking out across the Playa toward Black Rock City provides a view of the afternoon dust storms, which were rather mild at the time.

A shot of the Man before he burns on Saturday night. Surrounding buildings have all been taken down. NEXT BLOG: (and final Burning Man post for this series) The Man burns.

A final shot of the Man before he burns on Saturday night. Surrounding buildings have all been taken down. NEXT BLOG (and my last Burning Man post for this series): The Man burns. (Photo by Don Green.)

 

 

 

A Walkabout Tour of Black Rock City… Burning Man

The fun of going on a walkabout at Burning Man is you never know what will come up next, such as King Kong wearing a tutu.

The fun of going on a walkabout at Burning Man is that you never know what will come up next, such as King Kong wearing a tutu…

I am about to wrap up my series on Burning Man 2015 so I thought I’d take you on a walkabout tour of Black Rock City. It gives me a chance to slip in the photos I liked but couldn’t fit into the stories I was telling. This post and my next will primarily be photo essays. My final blog will be on the celebration surrounding the Burning of the Man.

Or maybe a jet airplane hosting a DJ.

This jet was hosting a DJ.

Dancing and music are an integral part of Burning Man. The event attacks some of the top DJs in the world who spin their tunes for free at Burning Man.

Dancing and music are an integral part of Burning Man. The event attracts some of the top DJs in the world. They spin their tunes for free at Burning Man. The size of the speakers equates with the loudness of the music. The major dance venues are relegated to the outer limits of Black Rock City, which is a good thing.

Large camps along the Esplanade are common along the Esplanade, Burning Man's main street.

Large camps are common along the Esplanade, Burning Man’s main street. This devilish clown had great character.

As was this, um, beauty.

As did this, um, bounteous beauty.

I caught this guy staring at her.

I caught this guy ogling  her.

Several million photos will be taken at Burning Man each year and this is how we photographers like to view ourselves with fancy equipment, standing tall...

Several million photos are taken at Burning Man each year and this is how we photographers like to view ourselves with fancy equipment, standing tall. Note the professional handling of the camera.

This is more the reality... lying in the dirt.

This is more the reality… lying in the dirt, posed under a woman with a whip.

Or butt up in the air while eating Playa dust... all for the sake of art.

Or butt up in the air while eating Playa dust… all for the sake of art.

I prefer my models posed on the same level I am. Being a nature lover, I couldn't resist these bunnies.

I prefer my models posed on the same level I am. Being a nature lover, I couldn’t resist these collar wearing rabbits. Or are they supposed to be bunnies?

It always pays to look up. You never know what may be flying out of the sky.

It always pays to look up. You never know what may be up in the air, such as this flying motorcycle. (Photo by Don Green.)

This heavy equipment was up in the air as well. Now you know how all of the large sculptures and buildings are put up.

This heavy equipment was up in the air as well. Now you know how all of the large sculptures and buildings are put up.

This is another way the equipment was used. The large block is being raised into the air to toss a burning piano that is affixed to the other end of the tower.

This is another way the equipment was used. The large block is being raised into the air to toss a burning piano that is affixed to the other end of the tower. I’ve included a video by Don Green of the toss as my final entry of the day. NEXT BLOG: We will continue our walkabout tour of Black Rock City.

The Temple of Mazu, Prairie Wind Chapel, Life Cube, and Black Rock Bijou… Unique Buildings of Burning Man

The Temple pf Mazu, Goddess of the Empty Sea, was guarded by dragons at Burning Man.

The Temple of Mazu, Goddess of the Empty Sea, was guarded by dragons, a manticore, and thousand-eyed demons at Burning Man.

The folks at the Department of Public Art in New Xishi City, Taiwan decided it was time to have a presence at Burning Man— so they built the Temple of Mazu, Goddess of the Empty Sea, and brought it to Black Rock City. It is an ideal location for the Goddess. The Black Rock Desert was once part of a large Pleistocene lake of sea-size proportions. Now it is mainly dust and rock, a mere shadow of its ancient past.

The written description about the temple tells Burners, “You walk through the dust and heat of day, beyond the heart of the city, and from the haze before you emerges a shape that is both plant and place, flower and temple, both open and contained. No fence keeps you out, but one hundred and eight lanterns mark out the space, like a fairy ring in the forest, like the hundred and eight beads of the Buddhist rosary.” A giant lotus rises from the heart of the temple. Dragons, a manticore, and thousand-eyed demons guard it. I visited the temple during the day and at night.

Temple of Mazu at Burning Man 2015

A giant lotus rose from the top of the Temple Of Mazu.

A fire-bathing temple dragon.

A temple dragon.

Mazu Temple Manticore at Burning Man 2015

A mythological manticore with its scorpion tail…

And a thousand-eyed demon.

And a many-eyed demon.

A view of the Mazu Temple at night displaying its lantern and lotus.

A view of the Mazu Temple at night displaying its lantern, lotus and fiery protectors.

And a fire breathing dragon.

A fire-breathing dragon perched on the temple, blasts out its fiery breath.

A windmill reaching into the sky is usually the symbol of a lonely farm or ranch in the dry West of distant vistas. Often they can be seen from miles away. So when I saw a windmill way out on the Playa, I assumed I would find a structure reflecting a ranch or a farm. Instead I came on a chapel where a wedding was being held. The Prairie Wind Chapel is the creation of Robert Hoehn and the Wind Tribe out of Venice, California. According to Robert’s creative imagination, the chapel was “excavated from a dust bowl near the border of Oklahoma and Saskatchewan.” It “was once the heart of the roving town of Aeolia until a tornado wiped it all from the map.” A Victorian reed organ served as the centerpiece of the chapel. Burners were invited to stop and rest, or play the organ, if they were so inclined.

Looking up at the windmill attached to the Prairie Wind Chapel. Photographs from the 1930's Dust Bowl had been placed on the side.

Looking up at the windmill attached to the Prairie Wind Chapel. Photographs from the 1930’s Dust Bowl had been placed on the side.

A side view of the Chapel.

A side view of the Chapel.

Front view of Prairie Wind Chapel at Burning Man 2015

And a front view. The wind was invited into the chapel whenever it blew by.

A close up of the organ.

A close up of the organ plus candle lanterns and jaw bones. Playa dust, left behind by the visiting wind, outlines everything.

This impressively carved bull skull with its adorning feathers was hung above the organ.

This impressively carved bull skull with its adorning feathers was hung above the organ.

Skeeter Cohen’s Life Cube Project from Dobbs Ferry, New York was based on the concept “that if you write down what you want to accomplish in life, the chances of attaining it are much, much higher.” Cards were provided for jotting down Burners aspirations, or you were welcome to write them out on the large, cube-like building. Large murals had been painted on the front and sides of the structure. What impressed me most were the 440 individual art creations on the back.

The Life Cube building at Burning Man was designed to incorporate the life aspirations of individual Burners.

Burners were invited to express life-time goals at The Life Cube building. Covered with murals and graffiti,it was designed to be burned.

My friend, Don Green, captured this mural on the side of the building.

My friend, Don Green, captured this mural on the side of the building.

440 individual drawings and paintings covered the back of the building.

440 individual drawings and paintings covered the back of the building.

Here's a close up of the art. Check it out.

Here’s a close up of the art. It’s fun. Check it out.

“The Black Rock Bijou is that movie theater located in the Deep Playa, outside of Black Rock City that may or may not exist. Our mission is to shock and delight you with a movie theater that transports you to another time and place during your Deep Playa exploration.” –Release Neuman and Sam Gipson

The Deep Playa is the “Outback” of Burning Man, to steal a term from our Aussie friends. All that separates it from the desert is a fence that BMO puts up to protect and contain Burners. DO NOT CROSS  is the rule. Given that my Burning Man name is “Outlaw,” of course I had to climb over. A BMO truck was bearing down on me in seconds, kicking up a dust storm in its wake. Apparently the organization keeps Rangers out there with binoculars. As fast as they were, I was back over and on my way by the time they arrived. Let’s hear it for spry 72 year olds!

A relatively small percentage of Burners make it to the Deep Playa; it’s a long bike ride and a much further walk. But some artists enjoy placing their art out there. You have to work to appreciate it. That’s apparently how Release Neuman and Sam Gipson feel about their beautifully detailed Black Rock Bijou. It’s a theater out of the past that actually shows movies at midnight, 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. (beyond my bedtime).

The Bijou’s design is based on that of the Royal Theater in Archer, Texas, which was used in The Last Picture Show (based on Larry McMurtry’s book). I’ve been to Archer, not so much to see the Royal Theater as to check out the huge bookstore McMurtry has turned his hometown into. Peggy and I will be returning there this spring as part of our 10,000-mile road trip through the US and Canada.

Black Rock Bijou at Burning Man 2015

“Strangers on a Train” was playing at the Black Rock Bijou. If the first showing hadn’t started at midnight, I would have gone.

I provide a side view of the theater for my last photo today. Different murals are put up each year. This one reflected Burning Man's 2015 theme: A Carnival of Mirrors.

I’ll provide a side view of the theater for my last photo today. Different murals are put up each year. This one reflected Burning Man’s 2015 theme: A Carnival of Mirrors.

NEXT BLOG: Who goes to Burning Man… a look at Black Rock City’s annual census.

 

Burning Man Themes… Reflecting the Mind of Larry Harvey

One of four gateways to the 2015 Burning Man carnival. William Blake's poem "TIGER, tiger, burning bright. In the forests of the night,. What immortal hand or eye. Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" was printed around the edge.

One of four gateways to the 2015 Burning Man Carnival. William Blake’s poem “Tiger, tiger, burning bright, In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” was printed around the edge.

Larry Harvey created the first theme for Burning Man in 1995, ten years after he had co-founded the event. Ever since, he and his crew have been churning out a new topic every year. I picture him sitting somewhere in San Francisco, puffing away on his ever-present cigarette, and waiting for inspiration to strike. Finally, the proverbial light bulb flashes. Why don’t we make this year The Nebulous Entity, or Caravansary, or Beyond Belief? It would be interesting to track Harvey’s thought process.

The first theme was Good and Evil. Undoubtedly, there were costumed angels and devils wandering all over the Playa and Black Rock City. There still are. I recall one year when every other woman seemed to have sprouted wings. Maybe there was a sale on. I ran into a bit of good and evil myself at 2015’s Burning Man. I spun a wheel of fortune and was told, “you will soon discover if you are the good twin or the evil one.” Did I really want to know? Later I found a graphic sideshow poster of how it might look.

A wheel of fortune at Burning Man suggested I would soon find out whether I was a good or evil twin.

A wheel of fortune at Burning Man suggested I would soon find out whether I was a good or evil twin.

Carnival or sideshow art has been used for over a century to pull people into sideshows where all sorts of unusual sights were promised.

I must say, being evil looks a bit more interesting. Carnival or sideshow art has been used for over a century to pull people into sideshows where all sorts of unusual sights are promised.Vintage original art is now worth thousands of dollars to collectors.

Burning Man invites individuals, groups and artists to participate in and interpret its annual theme through their costumes, camps and creative works. Here’s a complete list of themes since 1995:

2016 — Da Vinci’s Workshop

2015 — Carnival of Mirrors

2014 — Caravansary

2013 — Cargo Cult

2012 — Fertility 2.0

2011 — Rites of Passage

2010 — Metropolis – The Life Of Cities

2009 — Evolution – A Tangled Bank

2008 — American Dream

2007 — The Green Man

2006 — Hope & Fear

2005 — Psyche

2004 — Vault of Heaven

2003 — Beyond Belief

2002 — The Floating World

2001 — The Seven Ages

2000 — The Body

1999 — The Wheel of Time

1998 — The Nebulous Entity

1997 — Mysteria

1996 — The Inferno

1995 — Good and Evil

The 2015 theme was built around the concept of carnivals and mirrors. A city of tents grew up around the Man featuring carnival posters, mirrors and games of chance. Four large gateways invited Burners in to where hucksters pushed their games of chance, or just strangeness. I checked my image in each of the mirrors but skipped the ring toss where the posts took on a definite phallic look. I stopped to watch a show where a talented acrobat displayed her skills, and I helped pull ropes that made a giant skeleton dance.

A devilish gateway into Burning Man 2015.

A devilish gateway into then Burning Man Carnival. Note: I arrived early at Burning Man this year before the crowds gathered. Many of the Carnival attractions and other installations throughout Black Rock City were still being set up.

I found this humorous guy hanging out inside.

I found this humorous guy hanging out inside.Nice tongue.

Taking a page from Dante's Inferno, this gateway switched the words from

Taking a page from Dante’s Inferno, this circus elephant gateway switched the words from “Abandon all Hope” to “Abandon all Despair.”

The fourth gate into the carnival was this nerdy looking young woman.

The fourth gate into the carnival was this nerdy looking young woman.

A stage in the carnival featured ongoing shows such as this flexible acrobat.

A stage in the carnival featured ongoing shows such as this flexible acrobat.

A large skeleton puppet had ropes that Burners could use to make the skeleton dance.

A large skeleton puppet had ropes that Burners could use to make the skeleton dance. Carnival poster art surrounded the Man and what Burning Man called its Fun House.

Following are three sideshow posters that I found particularly amusing including this tattooed cat.

Following are three sideshow posters that I found particularly amusing including this two-headed tattooed cat.

Ancient Aliens...

Ancient Aliens…

A Playa Chicken.

And a Playa Chicken.

My friend Don Green took this photo of the Fun House entrance. I will be featuring many of Don's photos throughout this series.

My friend Don Green took this photo of the Fun House entrance. I will be featuring many of Don’s photos throughout this series.

Don seems a little worried about the doctor that was prepared to operate on him in one of the carnivals side tents.

Don seems a little worried about the doctor that was prepared to operate on him in one of the carnivals side tents.

I was taken with the detail in this painting that welcomed Burners into the Fun House.

I was taken with the detail in this painting that welcomed Burners into the Fun House. (See Don’s photo of the entrance above.)

A closeup of the face.

A closeup of the face.

And even more detail featuring a gypsy woman.

And even closer shot featuring a gypsy woman with her incredible detail.

Various mirrors welcomed Burners inside the Fun House. I took this photo of Squirrels on my T-shirt. The caption was "Birdseed, what birdseed?"

Various mirrors welcomed Burners inside the Fun House. I took this fractured mirror selfie of my see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil squirrels  T-shirt. The backward caption is “Birdseed, what birdseed?”

A final shot for today, this one looking up at the Man from inside the Fun House.

A final shot for today, this one looking up at the Man from inside the Fun House.

The 2016 Theme, “Da Vinci’s Workshop,” is designed to draw a parallel between Medieval Florence and Burning Man in terms of art, technical innovation, and patronage. (No one has ever accused Larry Harvey of being shy, modest, or lacking in ambition when it comes to promoting Burning Man, but seeing Black Rock City as the equivalent to Florence, and as “the epicenter of a new renaissance,” is something of a leap.)

Still, the art being inspired by Burning Man is very impressive. And the 2016 Man being “surrounded by a public square, a piazza lined with workshops, each representing a guild…” with the guilds being “self-invented and devoted to the interactive manufacture of whatever participating artists and inventors can imagine, ” sounds like fun.

NEXT BLOG: We will travel into Black Rock City and out into the Playa to explore other ways the 2015 theme of Carnival and Mirrors was represented.

Reno’s Generator… What Happens at Burning Man, Doesn’t Necessarily Stay There

A beautifully carved and shaped piece of wood at the Generator in Reno, Nevada.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at, but I liked it. And I had the feeling it was looking back. To me it represented the artistic creativity that flourishes in the huge warehouse in Sparks/Reno, Nevada known as the Generator.

The Burning Man series I just completed focused on creativity. For one week in late August/early September, tens of thousands of people gather in a remote area of the northern Nevada desert to celebrate art in its numerous forms including sculpture, architecture, photography, mutant vehicles, painting, costumes and performance art.

While Burning Man’s vibrant creativity is what brings me back to Black Rock City year after year, the event is about more than art. A huge party, alternative life-styles, desert survival, focus on participation, community building, social responsibility, environmental awareness, personal growth, and a very long list of etceteras are all part of the equation that makes the event succeed.

Over the past two years, I have found my interest growing in what goes on before and after Burning Man— both in terms of preparation for the event and, more interestingly, the back story on the people and groups who participate. What brings them to Burning Man, how do they influence the event, what do they bring home, and how, in turn, does this impact their lives and the communities where they live?

Today, I am going to feature a 34,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Reno/Sparks, Nevada that is known as the Generator and has been responsible for some of the most striking monumental art to grace Black Rock City in the last few years including Pier 2 (a large pirate ship sunk partially in the desert), and Embrace. A few weeks ago I dropped by unannounced at the Generator and asked permission to wander around and take photos. “Sure,” one of the artists who was working on a project, told me. It wasn’t quite official, but it was enough. Off I went. I am going to share what I found.

Embrace sculpture built by the Pier Group at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada and featured at Burning Man in 2015.

Even from a distance, the size of this 72 foot sculpture built by the Pier Group at the Generator is obvious.

Pirate ship at Burning Man built by the Pier Group at the Generator in Reno, Nevada.

This pirate ship partially sunk in the sand was another major project the Pier Group took on.

Logo of the Generator warehouse in Reno Nevada.

Logo.

First, however, I want to mention an event that took place in Londonderry, Northern Ireland in March. I’ve blogged several times about Burning Man’s Temples. Several of these were designed and built by David Best with a large crew of dedicated volunteers. This spring, David was invited to build a similar structure in Londonderry that would be burned, as each Burning Man Temple is. Not everyone in Londonderry thought it was a good idea. The Northern Ireland feud between the Protestants and Catholics has been tearing the city apart for what seems like forever, or at least since 1688 and things that burned were often related to fire bombs. As was noted in a New York Times article, “Burning a 75-foot-tall pagan temple in a Republican Catholic enclave on the loyalist Protestant side of town to ‘bring people together’ seemed, well, mad.” This could have proven to be, well, a gigantic understatement. But it wasn’t.

What happened was that the event turned out to be a powerful force of reconciliation, including bringing people together who had been dedicated enemies all of their lives. 60,000 people (half of the city’s population) came to the temple and left messages for loved ones who had passed on and 15,000 Protestants and Catholics joined in watching the Temple burn. The event is a powerful example of what I am talking about in terms of Burning Man’s impact outside of its home in the Black Rock Desert. I highly recommend reading the NY Times article.

A Burning Man Temple built by David Best and volunteers.

A Burning Man Temple built by David Best and volunteers.

I view the Generator as another example. Matt Schultz and his band of merry followers, the Pier Group, are the visionary force behind the Generator. “We’re an inclusive art space for anyone who wants to make art and be part of a creative community,” the Generator’s Internet site declares. While numerous Burning Man Projects are conceived and built at the Generator, the facility has no direct affiliation with the event, and many non-Burning Man art projects are also produced at the warehouse. Non-Burners as well as Burners are invited to become members. The process is incredibly easy. Just show up with a specific art project or dream of an art project. Discuss it with Matt or one of his cohorts, obtain approval, and sign a waiver. Welcome aboard.

Flower sculpture outside of the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

We drove around Sparks looking for the Generator. When we found this flower sculpture, we knew we had arrived. It is very Burning Man like. The small structure on the right is a tiny house that Matt is building for himself but hopes will become a model for other small houses in Reno.

There are no membership fees and no charges for using the facility. Members have access to an incredible array of tools ranging from large industrial tools to smaller hand tools. There is even a laser printer. The Generator houses a wood shop, a metal shop and a tech shop. There is also a sewing room, a stage, a lounge, a library filled with how-to books— and a small green house! More importantly, there is a warehouse full of creative types who inspire creativity and are more than willing to offer a helping hand when asked.

Strange book shelf arrangement at the Generator art warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

As you might imagine, even the library of how-to books takes on a different look at the Generator.

A variety of tools are available for use at the Generator including this saw. Anyone who wants to use tools like this one are checked out first to make sure they know how to use them. Safety is heavily emphasized.

A variety of tools are available for use at the Generator. Anyone who wants to use industrial sized tools like this one are checked out first to make sure they know how to use them. Safety is heavily emphasized.

A wide range of hand tools are available.

A selection of the hand tools that are available.

A mini-garden located at the Generator in Reno, Nevada.

I confess I was surprised to find a mini-garden growing.

The readiness to contribute is an underlying principle of the Generator. “We are looking for people willing to share their time, skills and resources to help build a greater community together.” Such sharing might come in terms of offering a workshop in an area of expertise, loaning out a tool, or even doing heavy lifting when heavy lifting is called for. There are also more nitty-gritty expectations such as keeping personal workspaces clean and helping to maintain common areas such as the bathroom and kitchen. I was somewhat amused to find that the Generator has an official “No Asshole Policy.” Members are expected “to be kind, honest and direct with each other.” “Hey birdbrain, why don’t you clean up your pigsty,” might meet the directness criteria but it fails on kindness.

There was nothing subtle about the sign on the refrigerator.

There was nothing subtle about the sign on the refrigerator.

While perusing the Generator’s website, I came across one of my favorite all-time quotes:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

The website proclaims: “Our goal is to foster a community that spends more time pursuing creative endeavors of the mind and heart, inventing and building, and spending a bit more time enjoying the beautiful world we live in. By encouraging more thoughtful, creative interactions we believe everyone has the power to change the world! We are here to share knowledge, build our greatest dreams and laugh the entire time.”

I am a big fan of laughing.

Matt’s vision encompasses the surrounding community as well as the Generator. He is presently working with Reno’s City Council on finding a larger site nearer the center of town. His plans include building a community garden, creating small residential spaces for up to 25 artists, involving and revitalizing the surrounding community, and moving the Generator (expanding its size to 50,000 square feet). All of this, he states, will be done utilizing the latest in environmentally sound building techniques.

The most ambitious element of the plan is to utilize the pirate ship and Embrace, as the start of what would become a world-class sculpture garden on par with those of London, New York and Paris. All of this might seem a little naïve, perhaps a little pie in the sky… until you think about what Matt and the Pier Group have already accomplished.

As I wandered around in the Generator, I became a believer.

One of the fist things I noticed was this rock 'path' working its way along the back wall.

One of the fist things I noticed was this rock ‘path’ working its way along the back wall.

Rock art in Generator art warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

Checking closer, I found numerous little faces staring at me.

Painting at Generator ware house in Reno, Nevada.

The next thing that captured my attention was a work of modern art. Watch out Jackson Pollock.

Painter's art studio at the Generator in Reno, Nevada.

There was no doubt where the painting was created. Even the floor demanded attention.

I suspect this acrobatic woman spent time in the art studio. In fact, she may have been at least partially responsible for the decorated floor.

I suspect this acrobatic woman spent time in the art studio. In fact, she may have been at least partially responsible for the decorated floor and walls.

Je suis Charlie sign at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

Located among the paintings was a poignant reminder.

Paintings of horses at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

I was impressed with how the artist, Paula Rie Bonham, rendered the movement of these horses.

Miniature house being built at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

Someone was having fun creating this miniature house. It reflected the diversity of the projects being undertaken in the Generator. It also looked like something my wife Peggy would love to tackle.

Art car in production at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

My guess is that this is an art car or mutant vehicle in production that will eventually make its way to Black Rock City.

I wondered if this buggy eyed creature would be added to the art car.

I’ll conclude with this buggy eyed creature. I wondered if it was destined to be attached to the art car. NEXT BLOG: Spring has sprung in southern Oregon. I’ll introduce you to some of the wildlife that considers our five acres home. Love is in the air.

 

 

The Best of Burning Man: The Top Ten Series (#7)… The Man and the Temple

The Man at Burning Man dominates the Playa and serves as a landmark for lost Burners.

The Man at Burning Man dominates the Playa and serves as a landmark for lost Burners.

I’ve now been to Burning Man for ten years starting in 2004 and will be going again in 2015— assuming I get two tickets and a vehicle pass. (I missed 2011.) In preparation for this year, I have been doing a top ten series. Today I am going to feature two structures that epitomize Burning Man: The Man and the Temple.

Series 7: The Man and the Temple

If the Man reflects the history and continuity of Burning Man, the Temple reflects its spirit. The vast majority of Burners visit each of these large structures at least once during their week at Black Rock City. The Man dominates the Playa and provides a familiar landmark for both new and returning participants. Its roots date back to 1986 when Larry Harvey and a few friends burned the first Man on Baker Beach in San Francisco.

The Temple, a more recent creation, dates back to 2000 and can change dramatically each year in its appearance. Thousands of Burners leave messages on its walls, primarily saying goodbye to loved ones who have passed on.

Both the Man and the Temple are destined to be burned at the end of the week, the Man on Saturday night and the Temple on Sunday night. I will cover both of these events in my next blog.

Peggy, Tom Lovering, Beth Lovering, Don Green, Ken Lake and I took the following photos. My selection is designed to present an overview.

The Man's normal skeletal look took on a new shape in 2015, like he had donned clothes.

The Man’s normal skeletal look took on a new shape in 2014, like he had donned clothes.

The Man's more skeletal look, which is how he has looked as long as I have been going to Burning Man.

The Man’s more skeletal look, which is how he has looked as long as I have been going to Burning Man. I assume that the nine foot version that Harvey burned in San Francisco resembled this guy.

What has changed about the Man each year has been his base.

What has changed about the Man each year has been his base.

One year, he was perched on a flying saucer.

One year, he was perched on a flying saucer. The bases are designed for exploration— both outward and inward. This year’s base included a slide exit. It was fast. I went flying at the end.

I am not sure how to describe this base. Thorny, perhaps.

I am not sure how to describe this base. Thorny, perhaps.

The Temples at Burning Man are unique and quite beautiful.

The temples at Burning Man are unique and quite beautiful.

This Temple has a decided Oriental look. A number of Burners were present early in the morning.

Dawn brought a number of Burners to this temple.

And this one resembled a sand dune.

This temple resembled a sand dune.

One of the first Temples I saw at Burning Man.

One of the first temples I saw at Burning Man.

This temple was pyramidal in shape.

And finally, a temple in the shape of a pyramid. NEXT BLOG: The Man, Temple, and other things burn.

The Best of Burning Man: The Top Ten Series (#6)… The Buildings of Black Rock City

A photo of the roof of the Sacred Spaces building in Burning Man.

A photo of the shade structure over the Sacred Spaces building at Burning Man.

I am going to be on the road for the next few weeks, so I decided to produce several blogs that might be of interest to my readers but would be easy for me to do: Voila—The Best Of Burning Man series! I’ve now been to Burning Man for ten years starting in 2004 (and will be going again in 2015, assuming I get two tickets and a vehicle pass). Each blog will feature a top ten category such as top ten sculptures, mutant vehicles, etc.

Important. 1) These are from my perspective. Other people will have different points of view. 2) I never see everything that is available to see at Burning Man. There is simply too much. So it’s quite possible that I have missed some really great things. My apologies. 3) I missed 2011. 4) These photos are not in order of choice. That is beyond me. (Grin)

Basically, this series will include a brief introduction and then my top ten choices. There may be captions on my photos, or not. Finally, while Peggy and I have taken the majority of these photos, I have also included photos from Tom Lovering, Beth Lovering, Don Green, and Ken Lake… all members of our ‘tribe,’ and friends.

Series 6: The Buildings of Black Rock City

You could easily spend the seven days of Burning Man walking up and down the streets of Black Rock City and looking at what Burners and tribes have chosen to build. There are the major structures like Center Camp Café and what you might find along the Esplanade, Burning Man’s major thoroughfare, but these are only the beginning.

A number of structures built as art and/or theme pieces are also found out on the Playa.

In this particular post, I don’t intend to do a top ten. Instead I will provide you with a sample of what you might expect to see. Remember: these are structures that are only meant to last the seven days of Burning Man. Afterwards, they come down. Some, out on the Playa, are turned into spectacular fires.

A number of impressive buildings including the Sacred Spaces building are found along the Esplanade at Burning Man.

A number of impressive buildings including the Sacred Spaces building are found along the Esplanade at Burning Man.

Another of my favorite building along the Esplanade at Burning Man.

Another of my favorite buildings along the Esplanade. Note the matching mutant vehicle on the right.

This tribe or camp chose to build a castle on the Esplanade as a dancing venue.

This tribe or camp chose to build a castle on the Esplanade as a dancing venue.

Small cities destined to be burned, such as this Mega Mart are occasionally built out on the Playa at Burning Man.

This small ‘city,’ the Mega Mart, was built out on the Playa. Like all urban areas, it had a graffiti problem. It was destined to be burned.

This cathedral was also built out on the Playa.

A cathedral was also built out on the Playa.

The cathedral lit up at night.

The cathedral at night.

On a more humorous note, the Bird Trap Church.

On a more humorous note, the Bird Trap Church.

This mega-church was built by a Burner who wanted to get married in Black Rock City.

This mega-church was built by a Burner who wanted to get married in Black Rock City.

We attended the wedding.

We attended the wedding.

The NOLA camp always brings a bit of New Orleans to Black Rock City.

The NOLA camp always brings a bit of New Orleans to Black Rock City.

Another impressive Black Rock City structure built to last a week.

Another realistic and impressive Black Rock City structure built to last a week.

Another one of my favorites, a bar on wheels. You never knew where it might show up on the Playa but it was always good for a free drink.

Another one of my favorites, a bar on wheels. You never knew where it might show up on the Playa, but it was always good for a free drink. NEXT BLOG: A break from Burning Man: My book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam is now out and available as an eBook and in printed form. I’ll share the details on where to get a copy.