The Burning Man event is located once a year at the extreme and temporal Black Rock City, Nevada. During one single week 70,000 people from around the planet, found a thriving, living, breathing city on a deserted dried lake-bed, at high altitude, under extreme weather conditions, with "leave no trace" ethics and literally thousands of tons of artworks.
The Temple under construction
This year the artists with early passes were working on their installs in raging dust storms and winds up to 60 miles an hour. The conditions were relentless and extremely difficult, their projects and installs were all running behind schedule and the event kicked off with many projects still semi built on the playa, some were still in their packing crates. Not only are the artists installing and constructing giant structures they must also be able to withstand up to 100 mile an hour winds and not collapse on people. It is a huge undertaking and one done mostly for the love of art and creation.
The event this year was one of extreme physical endurance due to almost continual 4 hour long dust storms, where all sense of orientation is lost and goggles and dust masks must be worn continuously. My main concern was to maintain cameras and computer in order to work on my panoramic portrait project. Although the art works were phenomenal and outstanding as usual, the dust storms made it difficult to see, let alone find much of the art on the massive open playa. This however is what Burning Man is all about … One of their 10 principles includes “radical self reliance” as a concept of primary importance. The area is not easy, at about 6000 feet above sea-level, scorching desert during the day and freezing during the night, you must bring in all your own water, food, camping gear and lots of rebar for lashing down shade structures etc. Every thing you bring in must be taken out as well…there are no rubbish bins, no shops, no souvenirs, and the only thing you can buy is ice, at Arctica and coffee and lemonade at Center Camp.
Frances from RogueNV at Burning Man. Photo by Jack Deming
Incredible structures are conceived, designed and built in warehouses and studios and garages across America and even internationally.
"Temple of Mazu"
One of the key pieces this year was The Temple of Mazu, a project designed by “Kiwi” Chris Hankins, project managed by Nathan Parker and constructed in The Generator workspace in Reno. Hundreds of people volunteered to help the core group bring this project to fruition. The temple was constructed of wood with a giant lotus flower on the roof. Surrounding the lotus flower sat writhing metal dragons that breathed fire at night. Little wooden walkways with hanging lanterns ran from the main structure, in the manner of rickety Asian water bridges, and at night reflections of water in pink and blue were projected on the dust below giving the impression of cool calming rippling water below your feet. This whole structure was built with the knowledge that it would be burnt on the Thursday of the event. What always amazes me is that a real atmosphere of spirituality and calm can be generated so quickly at this event. A Japanese Buddhist monk asked if he could do some ceremonial blessings during one of the nights prior to the burn, circled by people watching he burnt incense and chanted.
"Papillon" by the Trinity Group
One of the installations that resonated with me was a smaller one called “Papillon” by the Trinity Group. It was a small old fashioned metal swing-set with a latticework of butterflies made from mirror pieces and mosaic glass with metal links. The pieces were suspended and light, fragile but strong enough to withstand the brutal elements at Black Rock City. Trinity Group are from the Bay area and create a piece every year. While being mainly see-through, the little pieces of mirror mean that you were looking at a mosaic of what is behind you as well as looking into the distance. Seeing backwards and forwards has always intrigued me as a photographer and storyteller.
Every year a main temple is built, where “Burners” remember their loved ones, place mementos of those who have died all over the walls, meditate, sing, play music or even just sleep. This year the structure was made in the form of a giant sound shell, winding around was a passage through the shell to arrive at a sculpture garden in the center. By the last day the temple is always alive with energy and prayers and wishes, it has become a focus for so many people’s personal spirituality while not belonging to any religion. On the Sunday the temple is full of photographs, poems, messages written on walls, dead people’s shoes and memories, and is burnt as the event draws to a close.
Burning Man is a huge notorious Art event with a fundamental ethic of acceptance for all the diversity of human nature, creativity and ways of being. “Radical Self Expression” is another of the 10 principles. This event gives the opportunity for all participants to do just that, to whatever level they want as long as it doesn’t hurt others.
Photograph by long time "Burner" George Post