Art of all kinds is the whole point of the Burning Man festival and it is found in all media, all scale and all durations. The open Playa is covered with art installations; the moving performance art of the participants (there are no spectators!) adds to the kaleidoscopic whirl. And then - as suddenly as it all arose - it is gone. See "More Art" below
Art Bikes and Bicycles
Enough Human Powered Vehicles and Art Bikes roam the playa to have their own parade where people discover the joy of showing off unusual ways to recycle bicycles.
Some Playa Bicycle Hints
Don't bring brand-new or untested bicycles. The more creative you are with bicycles and bicycle-built machines - the better. Tricycles or paired tandem bicycles are better because they stand up by themselves and you can carry ice in them a lot easier.
Clean and relubricate before and after. Use chainlube or WD 40 when on the playa. Put a garbage bag down first, then spray down the chain.
Take spare parts like inner tubes, hex keys, locking wrenches and the tool you need to take the tires on and off.
Light your bicycle with legal lights and then about ten times more. Use EL Wire, bicycle blinkies, or lots of glow sticks or glow necklaces in the spokes. Tire Sparx work fantastic and also function as "don't steal me" motion sensors. Unlighted bikes and people are a hazard both on the playa and on the streets where backlit by art car headlights, they become invisible.
Always lock your bicycle. Buy one of those $3.99 bike locks and always use it. People just take bikes. Sometimes it's innocent and sometimes it's not. Locked bikes go home with their real owners. Lock them to your bumper when in camp unless you're right there to keep an eye on them. 2006 was a more than usual bike stealing year from what I heard and my friends experienced, except for Elliot who brought a whole bunch of previously used (junk) bikes with him, all painted white and red and labeled with his address. At the end of the event, they all went home with him.
Remember, it's the Playa.If you try to keep it you may not, if you try to give it away - it will follow you home.
Art Cars and Driving
Art Cars and Art Buses are licensed for neighborhood or playa riding by the Department of Mutant Vehicles. They are decorated, lighted and loud. Some, like "Space Cowboys" incredible machine have video projectors stuck to the side. Others like Lucky's Kazbus are rolling fantasies. And there are art cars at all ranges of the spectrum in between.
Perhaps the most famous art bus, La Contessa, was nowhere to be seen this year. Instead the show stopper was the Golden Dragon, which was simply surreal floating along above the neighborhoods. Unlike most art cars, it looks better in the day time and seemed to run more in daylight just to prove it!
Getting a ride is a combination of politeness and luck. You do not have to be let on board - nor kept on board if your sense of entitlement overrides the owners' sense of decorum. You may only drive at Burning Man when you are arriving and leaving - unless you have a Division of Mutant Vehicles permit.
Division of Mutant Vehicles aka "DMV"
No vehicles may be driven after arrival or on the playa without a permit. Vehicles include anything not pedal powered or pedestrian. Vehicles will be checked for safety and a whole list of other things. See their page on the official website for more. Sometimes the overworked and absolutely unpaid volunteers can't quite believe what they're seeing.
The human powered kinetic racer Henry Ford Goes to Burning Man was pulled over several times by insistent DMV officers all demanding permits or that the pedalers immediately go to DMV for permits. They rather sheepishly backed off every time when they found out that even though it looks like a car - it's human powered.
Much the same thing happened to Camp I Am's Spider which was strolling down Esplanade and was stopped for being a vehicle on a road reserved for pedestrians. The driver pointed out that the vehicle is a pedestrian - it just has six legs, not two!
Black Rock City - Layout
Like an analog clock face, camping is from 10 around the bottom to Center Camp at 6 and up to the end of town at 2. Lines parallel to what would be the line around the face of the clock are labeled "Esplanade" and then "A" through "H" in words appropriate to the theme of the year.
Often called "The Open Playa," the center of the circle (between Esplanade east and Esplanade west) is left open as is the area above ten and two but still enclosed by a 7 mile pentagram. Due to a very wet spring and early summer, the town moved north this year. The Long Lines at the top end are for the airport. After two years of long, hot car trips - I can only imagine what a thrill it must to be fly in and out!
Department of Public Works aka "DPW"
The folks who build everything - all hail the folks who build everything! Amazing volunteers who put up and take down Center Camp, the street signs and all the fixed points in Black Rock City.
Black Rock City Rangers
Conflict resolution assisted by various governmental agencies is the role of the rangers with headquarters at Center Camp 6 o'clock and offices at 3 and 9; they can be found at 3 and 9 of every burning event as well with medical at or under the sign of the blue cross.
Black Rock Desert
The official name of the hot, high desert which includes playa lakes - remnants of glacial Lake Lahontan - including "the" Playa where Burning Man is held.
Bunnies and Carrots Parade
Depending on costume, signs request spectators to become vegetarians or say the carrots "save us - eat more bunny!" It's worth bringing a bunny costume to participate! This year they built bunny ears just the right size for the man and somehow got them lifted up and installed just during their parade - talk about moments you'd miss if you blinked. And there's many at Burning Man.
Bureau of Land Managment aka "BLM"
The nice folks from the U.S. government who work with the BRP to try to work out how 40,000 people can come and go - with fur and glowsticks and burning sculptures - and yet "leave no trace." It must be an interesting job. See also "Law Enforcement" and "Stupidity Tax."
A person who has been to a Burning Man and who takes the spirit of the event back to their community in the year of mundanity which separates theme camp "normal" from the real world, home sweet home - the playa.
Burning Man, The - Event
Wikipedia reports: "The annual event now known as Burning Man began on the summer solstice in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco and burned an eight foot (2.4 m) tall wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog." Now grown to nearly 40,000 people, this one week event takes place outside the small town of Gerlach, Nevada. Each year has a theme; in 2006, it was "Hope and Fear."
Burning Man, The - Structure
A central feature of the inner playa, the Burning Man figure is placed upon a different base each year although his general outline - picked out in neon lights - stays similar. He's reportedly taller by about a foot every year. The back of the builder's tee-shirt at last year's San Francisco's decompression read "Building False Idols since ______."
Burning Man Project aka "BRP"
The official name of the organizing body of the Burning Man event, maintains the official website and does an amazing job running an ephemeral city of 40,000 people in the middle of nowhere one week a year.
Only Art Planned for Burning will Burn. Thou shalt not burn thy neighbors' art - they will - or not for it is theirs. That said, much art burns on the Playa. The Man Burn is a party; while the contemplative Temple Burn the following night is in a very emotional silence.
The Man smoulders for days. People come out the day after the burn looking for recognizable pieces; bolts, bits of metal and highly prized slag from the Man's neon glass. The black charcoal and debris is underlain by a Burn Pan which protects the Playa from the intense heat and falling debris, every bit of which will be removed by volunteers for weeks afterwards.
Camps, Theme & Villages
Check the official website for exact definitions, but camps are groups of burners camping together, while theme camps and villages have specific requirements and obligations to the community. Theme Camps are usually nicely outfitted, have interactive themes with and are outgoing to participants (ideal). Occasionally (not ideally) used as a way for friends to wall off whole blocks with RVs in Road-Toaster Villages. Some example camps include:
The theme camp which tells the rest of us all about the art. Take an art tour on an art bus! Go to Center Camp for free tickets.
Black Rock Bookmobile
Just what it says, a vehicle loaded with books on all topics, that lends and receives books during the event.
Black Rock Boutique
A group of super-fashionistas who collect tons of highly creative clothing, iron on labels for their enterprise and then give it all away. Recipients take a turn on an astroturf runway in front of the dome to the praise and applause of those waiting in line for their turn. At the last minute, they give away everything that's left in a Fellini meets Bloomindale's Basement moment beloved of drag queens and fetish divas.
Ice sales support Gerlach, Nevada community groups and charities. Some days the line moves faster than others.
Fascinating color composites of the 2005 Burning Man event; both on gallery boards and online.
Volunteers distribute and light kerosene lanterns on the avenues leading to The Man at 3, 6, 9 and 12.
A group of people, most of whom do a great job by demonstration and nagging to get the rest of us to pick up our own and others' MOOP. Some of whom seem by their holier-than-thouness to have unfortunately lost their sense of humor or proportion. Their camp was running a television on a generator whilst one of their members was complaining of the "waste" inherent in lithium battery powered high efficiency lights!
You bring it, you take it.
More than five hundred volunteers work around the clock to serve coffee, tea and other drinks. The flag-decorated Center Camp structure has been compared to entering the cantina in Star Wars - particularly late at night!
Large communal bike rides by people not wearing clothes on the aforementioned body part. Body paint and masks are common. Both rides end at parties; the CT party is usually cooler and more fun, plus a lot more women do the ride than do men! Go figure. In 2006, the afterparty included the burning of an art piece, appropriately titled "The Bra."
Parties held in various towns (started in S.F.) about a month after the event where people show up in costume and the art cars come out to relive the experience on a very small scale. Great for photographers because of the tight spaces and overlap/juxtaposition of people. Bad for people who don't like incredibly loud repetitive "music" over which they have no control. Decomp SF is louder and more obnoxious than the event itself.
OMG, you had to see it to believe it and you can see on his website.
Almost makes your ears hurt just to watch this YouTube.com video recorded in 2006. I hadn't seen his act because he was on hiatus for the last two years, but apparently the tesla coils, and the folks in the insulative suits fighting with zillion volts in an arc-fest which even made the speakers on the Kazbus buzz and my hand receive a tiny spark from the metal railing at a distance of 1,000 feet. Both vehicles, the Megavolt truck and the Kazbus, of course, rested on rubber tires which should have insulated them. The voltage was high enough that I think the alkalki playa dust was providing the medium by which it was transmitting at that distance.
One of the preferred housing/camping structures on the playa. If you don't understand how to build one, visit Desert Domes which has lots of diagrams and a calculator for all the poles. Upon arrival on the Playa, do yourself a huge favor and lay the first two rings of the dome out on the ground first! Start at the top center and assemble all these poles. Then put the poles for the third layer out and assemble them all. You will have a dome and never have to use a ladder or even a crane to finish it. Of course, if spending two days in blistering sun on some form of a team-building exercise is your camp's goal, by all means - start at the bottom and work up to the top!
Playa dust is an insidious alkali substance which will coat every thing left out for even one instant. Bikes should be lubed, cameras covered at all times, clothes and food stored in ziplock bags and sleeping bags covered immediately in dust free overcovers or in cars. Skin, feet and clothes all benefit from a quick acidic dip in vinegar mixed at about 1/3 cup to the gallon. Night time photos with flash are ruined by little white specks of playa dust floating in even the clearest night's air. Exit and entry days kick up more dust as the thousands of vehicles' tires raise mini clouds no matter how slowly they drive.
A must for burners; electro-luminescent wire comes in several diameters and many colors all powered off AA batteries or 12-volt systems. Can be worked into clothing, lighted as bicycle identification or decoration or used to light camps. White EL Wire is great for tent lighting. The Stick Figures get my vote for best use of EL Wire on a costume while the art piece with the dragonflies and sea dragons was absolutely superb rolling art.
The first street, Esplanade divides streets "A" through "H" from the Inner Playa. It is lined with theme camps and their accompanying art pieces such as Thunderdome. It runs in a semi-circle, so it may help to think of east Esplanade (towards the rising sun - if you ever see it) and west Esplanade (the other way, towards the setting sun). See "Black Rock City - Layout" for more.
A structure built of 2x4s and heavy black plastic which will allegedly evaporate the water used by members of larger camps for cooking and bathing. Allegedly because I took home 30 gallons in 2005. I heard another member of our camp spent most of Monday cleaning up the "so-called evaporation pit" of 2006. This system needs design improvement for 2007.
The process of leaving Burning Man. This year Exodus was much more of a trial than Arrival as it took us over four hours to get out when Tiger left right before us and got out in 15 minutes and others of our group couldn't and didn't get out until Tuesday!
This is one of those things you wonder how people ever learn it because if my mother knew I could spin white gasoline on flaming poi around my head she would have killed me years ago. We also saw dancers use flaming hoops and some truly suicidal individuals who Nomex-ed up and danced with poi outfitted with fireworks.
Prohibited for you, they'll be featured at several major burns every year. This year, the Serpent Mother, by the Flaming Lotus Girls of San Francisco provided one of the fantastic pyrotechnic shows; the Man Burn follows a huge pyrotechnic display.
Fur plus bikini. Take a hideous or lovely piece of fake fur and make yourself one. Top with bunny ears and bottom with fur shoe covers and do not miss the annual bunny parade.
Bring useful or substantial things - not trinkets and junk - to gift. When all else fails, give away dust masks in dust storms. I gave away a dozen filter masks, several bottles of water and all three pairs of my shop goggles this year to unprepared people and will gift myself new goggles soon. Gifting is giving without expecting a return. It is not exchanging. It is not barter. And it is not a demand for a quid pro quo whether sexual, spiritual or material. Gifting feels good.
If you're straight, you don't need to know. If you're a gay, male - you know.
Johnny on the Spot
The folks who clean out the Porta-Potties. Please do not throw anything but single ply toilet paper and human waste in the portas! Anything else has to get fished out by hand. And these guys are still smiling on Monday!
Of time, of space, of images - occur all the time. Photographic images do not do the Playa's unreality justice. Regular Burners know that there is no need to drink or drug at Burning Man, reality is strange enough!
There are lots and lots of real police officers on the playa. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management Rangers are on patrol, augmented by deputies from two Nevada counties, the one it's actually in "Pershing County" and the one right next door "Washoe County." See "Stupidity Tax."
Matter Out Of Place. In order to keep the BLM and other agencies happy, every human object will be removed from the playa by volunteers before winter.
Every citizen of Black Rock City is requested to spend three hours on MOOP patrol outside of their camp in addition to not making MOOP in their camp. Think before you leave and don't take a single thing you don't need. Do not over pack. You don't need much to survive and besides the playa provides. See "Obtainium." BTW, petting zoos and bars that smear litter all over the landscape are fun while they last but an annoying nuisance to their neighbors who have to pick up all the trash left by irresponsible burners. Don't be one.
A new game, invented by me. One point for every object of MOOP you can pick up without taking your body off your bicycle even if your feet touch the ground. One point deducted for everything which falls off your bicycle during these maneuvers. Long handled grabbers or sticks with nails hanging out the end are handy as are tightly closing bags. MOOP polo netted me about one dozen drink containers and more than two dozen useful objects and innumerable "what the hell are you doing" conversations with a wide variety of denizens of the floating world.
There was just too much to put all at the top, so here are some more of my favorite Art Pictures from 2006.
Even some of the things stated as playa gospel do not occur for every playanaut. Here's some things I've found not to be true and why.
Your relationships will not survive. Depends on your relationships, I suppose. Our playa family does really well at surviving intact year after year.
You will never get playa dust out of your stuff. Use vinegar in the wash water and playa dust comes out of anything. Compressed air for non-washable items either out of small cans or from electric compressors (fide Lucky who cleaned the whole Kazbus with compressed air and vacuums).
Playa dust kills all electronics. Sure if you rub it in, bury your camera or run it over with an art car or your bike tire. Reasonably careful use and a tight cover pretty much guarantee survival of beloved gear. I used a neoprene "stubby holder" for the past two years and the same camera has done the trip both times. Ken took his Leica and covered it in a Neoprene zippered makeup bag which it fit very well. Film went separately in a minicooler. My digital cards were sealed in tiny ziplocks. It all survives.
Playa dust ruins your car. See above. Wash the car and the engine when you get home with vinegar water and car soap. Use a pressure-washer if you have one and an air compressor on the upholstery with a shop-vac. Use your extra playa dust masks while compressoring!
It is very quiet and easy to sleep through all the art installations and art cars. Bring earplugs or better yet, airport or shooting quality sound-blocking headphones to sleep at will.
You will get ______ (hungry, angry, lonely, cold, miserable, happy, ecstatic...). Of course you will. You do at home. You will be yourself on the Playa - perhaps more so - perhaps less so. You pick your path of radical self-reliance.
You will get lost. True if you don't bother to read your map, take a compass or use common sense. False if any of the above are true with bonus points for actually carrying your map and marking in all the bars and places you liked when you found them so you can find them again or accurately describe to your playa family where that "awesome artwork" was. See "Black Rock City - Layout."
You will only meet wierd people and learn nothing relevant in the real world. I suppose the same can be said for most colleges and other learning experiences. Below are two examples of cutting edge, off the grid technology that rely on the sun for power instead of burning fuels.
Useful objects received as MOOP, Gifted by Individuals or by the Playa itself. My list of things given away includes dust masks, batteries, aspirin, lots of water, food, advice, directions and anything I just found and didn't want. My list of things received is without number. I can't begin to remember how many of my things I use in daily life were received as "gifts of the playa," but my favorite is an orange, purple and red fluffy scarf that I wear all the time and which never fails to get compliments!
Art is not limited to statics, mobiles, sculptures, painting, images from outer space and other forms of radical self-expression. Here a man performs with passerby; he is a human-powered "video game." Play with him. Win a prize. Everyone does.
A Spanish word for beach, used in geology for flat, evaporative lakes, usually saline or alkaline such as the one north of Gerlach, NV which hosts the Burning Man Festival each year.
Lingers long after the event, see Playa Dust and Playa Myths for more. Dust masks on the Playa are a necessity! Watch for blowing white dust trails out of the vehicles in front of you at Exodus when pedal hits the metal on the Blacktop road.
Mutant vehicles (sometimes bicycles or pedal driven) which look like fish. There are whole schools of them sometimes; they don't seem to be related but a theme which recurs in different artists' imaginations.
Either a bar or an art car. The bar is usually around 2:30 and Esplanade. The art car might be anywhere.
You may or may not receive a playa name as a gift. You may or may not make one up for yourself, depends on the ethos of your group. They started as unique radio handles for early Burners.
The folks you live with on the playa are your playa family; often they are closer than your real family. Here Aunt Phoebe (left of speaker) sings with the Black Rock Gospel Choir. Many of the rest of our family watched.
The flaming or LED thingies on the ends of chain used by fire dancers or poi spinners. See also "fire dancing."
Breathe in, breathe out. Install noseplugs. Find empty portapotty but not during the hours of 10 and 2 when they are too hot for anything but lizards and hung-over Angelinos and Belgans! Pumped by Johnny on the Spot; a bunch of comedians if there ever was one - basking in the applause of brightly painted people as they arrive to do the daily... ugh. Try not to be down wind. Never camp on the backside (non-doorside) of the portas. Ever.
"Save the Man"
An annual movement which humorously attempts to save the Man from Immolation. Stencils appear at certain street corners. Bring your own tee-shirts or sheets and use their spray paint to make instant fashion.
Sex, Drugs and Glow Sticks
O.K., yes to all three if you count daily coffee and tea. It was a thrill to have my husband there this year! Nuts to people who say a relationship does not survive the playa!
A derogatory term, applied to men who wear only a tee shirt and possibly shoes and hat on the playa. One theme camp of years past fired off pairs of pants at passing Shirt Cockers and in 2006, the S.C.'s had their first parade.
Don't get complicated. No matter what your camp mates say, always take your own baby wipes, sprayer or camp shower bag. That way, if their system doesn't work - you still get clean!
It is *not* true that skydivers get in for free! BurningSky.org has all the information needed for very experienced people to participate; or just enjoy all the photos of BRC from the air!
All the streets from 10 to 2 and Esplanade to whatever they call "H" street each year are labeled with artistic signs all of which will be stolen usually before Burn Night. If you camp near a corner, prepare a replacement for your corner so you and your friends can find your way home!
This disrespectful term is applied by undercover police to the large sums of money paid by people caught rolling joints next to brightly lit, flammable sculptures. Be aware, some of the police officers roam costumed or even naked in an effort to rout out drug users!
Take Home Message
Everyone has their own. Mine is, Cherish Art in Daily Life.
Every year, a temple is constructed. People conduct ceremonies, pray for lost loved ones and inscribe messages to them on pieces of wood. Sometimes shrines and memorials are made - nothing will be removed before the Temple is burned on Sunday night. Traditionally this has made Sunday more somber than the rest of the week - this year that was changed by the Waffle burn following the Temple.
Unlike the Man Burn and this year's Uchronian Burn, the Temple burn is a time for quiet reflection as messages and keepsakes of those who have passed before us burn and carry our thoughts upwards.
Just like in Mad Max, except padded and you survive. I did it in 2005 and it was all good - except I don't have any pictures!
You absolutely positively must have a ticket before you leave home for Black Rock City. All details from the official Burning Man Project website only! Do not take anyone's word for anything but the *BMP* about your ticket.
A seven-mile (11 kilometer) long temporary trash fence is erected every year to stop blowing MOOP from leaving the BMP area.
Things you prize highly will remain yours if you are careful with them. Electronics need to be protected from dust although I doubt if anyone who changes a lense outside at Burning Man will ever get the dust out of their digital cameras. Money and wallet should be hidden somewhere locked up in your car. Nothing of any value should be left in your tent burn night and experienced burn camps always leave someone in camp the night of the burn. Motion sensor lights that mimic presence of people are often times also used.
A first-year burner; virgins make a wish and ring the bell at the greeters' station on arrival.
The only sculpture to receive a universal Playa Name this year was the Uchronians Message from the Future, ubiquitously called "The Belgian Waffle." The structure took more than 25 people better than a month to build. They have a website with day by day pictures and descriptions of what it felt like to come from Belgium to the Playa and make this incredible structure. Later, it was revealed that the structure was funded by a corporation and that it had no burn pan and cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to clean the Playa afterwards.
Several miles of odd size 3x5 inch timber burned from the bottom down following a long, interesting program of firedancing with art cars, The Venus FlyTrap and The Flower.
Do not take showers behind water trucks anymore. The water is non-potable and many people got sick in 2005 from bacteria in the water.
Dust-devils can blow up any time; they're aided by dust kicked up by people arriving and departing. When they all combine - Whiteout! Use your compass if you're going anywhere; hunker down if you have no reason to move. The photos below show the sequence, from clear skies, to total whiteout with people taking shelter in just about any structure. Don't forget your dust mask!
Yes, much wind; powerful wind - often and when you least expect it. Wind which will take your stuff away, pour dust into every crevice and blow your shit into your neighbor's buildings (been there - been squished by their kitchen) or else blow it into the Trash Fence making the Earth Guardians really pissed off at you.
I hope you enjoyed your visit to the Playa if you have made one, if not I wish that you fulfill your dreams on your own path. Peace.