Hot for Burning Man

It’s Getting Haute Out There. How Free is the Burning Man?


Photo by Catherine Bailey
A shot of the amazing art piece, “Crude Awakening.” This pyro-tech-laced masterpiece is a commentary on our dependence on oil. The figures below worship the 100' high oil derrick in various positions of prostration.
Photo by Catherine Bailey
spacer See the Burning Man festival through the eyes of Catherine Bailey in our photo essay.

It begins as a pilgrimage of light inching its way across the Nevada desert. Thousands of cars, vans, RVs, painted buses and mutant art vehicles carrying inside them the minions of “The Man.”

They are some 50,000 strong: neo-tribal fire-spinners decked in bones, feathers, and tattoos; half-nude ambassadors of the love revolution; pyrotechnicians, metal workers, survivalists, demolitionists, DJs, deconstructionalists, atheists, alchemists, and aesthetes. All of them, waiting for Sunday midnight to come so that they can pass into a renewed Black Rock City and begin building this year's Burning Man community.

This mind-bending cultural bacchanal is held every year for one week in late August on the gypsum powder of the Black Rock Desert near Pyramid Lake in northwest Nevada. From far-flung parts of the globe, Burners come to give expression to possibilities for the human race in unregulated space.

This year's theme, “The Green Man,” invoked the planetary environmental crises. Perhaps without intending to, this theme highlighted the prodigious waste and consumption at the core of this most unsustainable of festivals, despite its “leave no trace” maxim. Most Burners reacted to the theme with ambivalence, perhaps best exemplified when on Monday night, hidden in the darkness beneath a blood red lunar eclipse, the Green Man burned before his time, torched by a disillusioned dissident disgusted with the size and scope the festival had attained.

Truck sculpture on the playa at Burning Man. Photo by Catherine Bailey
Truck sculpture on the playa at Burning Man.
Photo by Catherine Bailey
The community pulled together to rebuild him, and the festival continued, driven by Mother Nature, who whipped up dust storms that rocked the city, crashed domes and towers, and uprooted whole camps.

On Friday the rains came, followed by a double rainbow that punctuated the intermission between Daniel Pinchbeck's talk on the coming cultural shift and Starhawk's passionate address about creating a permaculture from the ashes of our collapsing ecosystems.

Four a.m., Saturday: a meteor shower blitzed the skies as I made my way to the Sapphire Portal, an evolutionary interface that provides an environment for personal and planetary transformation. Inside, we huddled together against the cold through the remaining hours of the night, and awoke to the light of the rising sun pouring through the portal gates, surrounded by people praying, dancing, and practicing yoga.

Saturday night, after the anti-climactic burn, the Black Rock faithful watched as “Crude Awakening,” a massive art installation of nine 30-foot tall metal humanoid sculptures worshiping a 100-foot tall oil derrick, was destroyed in a massive pyrotechnic explosion. Although a powerful statement on our obscenely wasteful relationship to fossil fuels, it was, for the green-conscious, a case of torturous hedonism.

Next year's theme is “The American Dream.” Already we can hear the distant sirens blaring.

Charles Shaw (aka “Seven”) wrote this article as part of Liberate Your Space, the Winter 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Charles is a Chicago-based writer, executive editor of Evolver/Reality Sandwich () and former editor of Conscious Choice.

See Catherine Bailey's photo essay on Burning Man.

Photo of Charles Shaw
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