Burning Man – 2009
On a parched desert landscape in Central Nevada they come in droves from across the country, across the world. In a cloud of white dust and scorching daytime temperatures upwards of 50,000 revelers build a city reminiscent of some giant crop circle from the ground up. Their pilgrimage takes them home to The Playa, where, for one week each year freedom of expression is the tenet of this movement. Like many of its inhabitants though, the city is a transient beast and like the hundreds of art installations ceremoniously burnt to the ground over the course of the week is dissolved in the blink of an eye and a retreating cloud of powder-white.
My first Burning Man experience began in the thrift stores of Eugene, Oregon. My uncle Mark and his girlfriend, Ellen – both seasoned ‘Burners’ and my chaperones on this occasion insisted that dressing conservatively was definitely not in one’s best interest at Burning Man. With that in mind we proceeded to hand-pick the most colourful, zany and altogether ridiculous outfits available – sequined tights, an oversized, black and pink stripped, Willy Wonka-esque, double breasted suit jacket, a lime-green jumpsuit, a white feaux-fur coat, a Russian Ushanka hat and the list goes on.
The mini-van packed to the rafters and beyond with three bicycles, 100 litres of water, 10 slabs of beer, 4 hammocks, food to sustain us for up to ten days, 2 yacht sails and several 4m long copper-logs with which we’d construct our camp, tools, ladders, a gas stove, ice chests and again, the list goes on.
Arriving early under the auspices of a ‘themed’ camp I was given the traditional Burning Man greeting by a handful of minimally dressed but overly friendly volunteers who bellowed what would become a familiar a moniker over the ensuing week and a bit – ‘Welcome Home’.
Arriving early also comes with the benefit of having a lot more choice in where to set-up camp. Close but not too close to amenities, down wind from the prevailing dust storms and so on. We found our patch on the 270 degrees of crop-circle-like grid, 8 blocks back from the centre of the camp and set to work in the searing desert heat. By sunset on our first day in the Black Rock Desert our camp was complete, beer on ice and dinner on the boil.
The following 8 days on The Playa (as the 1 mile diameter of scorched, white, dusty earth that stages the masses of installations, art cars and of course the centre piece of the event – The Burning Man himself) simply blows my mind. The enormity of scale, the vastness of the landscape, the lawlessness, the danger, the love, stimuli pulsing from all directions, lights, fire, noise, dust, heat and cold. It’s all extreme but during burning season, somehow so normal.