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Burning Man: An Explosion of Creative Rebellion in the Desert


Each year thousands of artists and onlookers come together and participate in an unparalleled creative community.

In Black Rock City, a fictional, improvised city –– which is every year dismantled by fire –– located in the Nevada desert during seven days a year, people have been meeting for over 13 years now to experience what the event’s organisers call an “experimental community of self-expression and self-sufficiency”. This is importance: they define themselves as a community. So, what does this community actually consist of?

The foundations of this idea can be traced back to San Francisco in 1986, where an idea, similar to the one we now know, emerged. Larry Harvey, founder of Burning Man, conceptualised it as a Dadaist festival where artists could meet to show their work in a determined period of time and space, without the usual practices of pre-established social reality — without financial exchange, for example. It is an artistic fair, itinerant in time (each year) and in space (because, who can be sure they set foot in the same desert twice?).


The idea of “leave no trace” is central to the festival’s ideological context, since the city’s eccentric buildings are ephemeral; by burning these constructions at the end, everything remains as if nothing had happened in the first place. People draw and erase a world that exists only while it is inhabited, as a world of dreams. There is an idea of cleanliness, in the ritualistic sense, in relation to the respect held for the place that presents them this opportunity. For seven days a community is set up where the surroundings appear to be taken from a Dali painting, or from a shared lucid dream. A utopia where we can influence reality from the logic of a dream is effectively achieved in Burning Man.

Art cars, bionic dance, earth harps, sonorous buildings, allegorical cars, and many, many people. Last year, 53 thousand people assisted the ritual. The levels of the artistic displays are extraordinary and many of them attend as scholarship recipients on behalf of the organisers; other artists, of course, attend for the brilliant opportunity to show their work. It is also a manner of questioning the use of space, testing other communication practices, generating other types of interaction in a conscious relation to the medium. Evidently, nobody litters the place, and whatever people take is shared spontaneously, since the nearest gas station is 40 kilometres away.


Lastly, the event is a phenomenological reduction of reality: during seven days, the quotidian is suspended and a utopia of well-organised artists is entered. A strange thing. Some call it magic.

The atmosphere experienced there is that of a carnival, a ritual, a community. People take the necessary provisions for the experience; the attendees are able to enter another interactive model. On Saturday, the last day of the festival and Labour Day, they burn an enormous sculpture of a Man, where all the written or drawn records made by the assisting crowds are kept. Tears are shed. They enjoy their own practices and rituals. They leave. The desert remains unharmed. Molly Stevenson, a participant and chronicler in the last edition of Burning Man, says: “Your mind is your own drug. Bring enough food, water and shelter, because the new planet is tough, and you will not find anything to buy. You are here to celebrate: on Saturday we will burn the Man”.


Image credits:

1. Oliver Fluck

2. Bill Hornstein

3. Unknown

4. Jim Urquhart

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