During my travels to many countries over the past say 15 years Ive met quite many people from various walks of life whose bucket list for life contained a visit to Burning Man. Many of them hadn’t yet checked off this item from their lists despite the fact Burning Man has been running for almost 30 years now. I too had this event as one of the things to experience under the Sun before moving on. For whatever reasons I hadn’t visited this remarkable evet in the Black Rock desert until this summer of 2019.
Growing into being a Burner by visiting local Bling events
One of the driving factors that pushed me to finally apply for the ticket and plan my vacation accordingly was due to a fact that I’ve been lucky to be involved in Bling festival and related community in Estonia. The first Bling festival was held in the New Years eve of 2012/2013 that is exactly 8 years ago as I’m writing this on the 31st of December 2019. After that Bling took place on regular basis over the years and always during the New Year’s Eve and Midsummer Night. The organizers and participants of the Bling festival were inspired by Burning Man and some of them had visited the Burn few times already.
So I had found a place to feel free and dance myself into the state of well being. I have been visiting most of the Bling events ever since and organically grew into this Bling family. Over time I got to know these people as I started meeting Blingers also outside of party atmosphere. I learned that there are so many different people in this family, different backgrounds form different walks of life, all drawn together by music, dance and co-creation of these events. Over time I too started to contribute into the events, building light installations and contributing into organizing of the events.
By living this Bling thing it got me to a point where the most natural thing for me to do was to visit Burning Man. Luckily my project installationart.tv had a chance to become an official media partner for Burning Man and thereby do some pictures and videos here and there in the Back Rock City and Playa.
The 10 principles of Burning Man
Talking about the need to dance like there is no tomorrow or like a “crazy” it’s a good moment to mention the ten principles of Burning Man that basically are the set of values that people share and live by.
• Radical Inclusion – anyone may be a part of Burning Man, we welcome and respect the stranger. • Gifting – Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. • Decommodification – to be unmediated by commercial sponsorships and advertising. • Radical Self-reliance – to encourage the individual to rely on his or her inner resources. • Radical Self-expression – no one other than the individual can determine its content • Communal Effort – the community values creative cooperation and collaboration. • Civic Responsibility – we value civil society. • Leaving No Trace – to leave no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. • Participation – We believe that transformative change occurs via deeply personal participation • Immediacy – We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers.
Experiencing Burning Man by building your own Camp
There are various possible ways you can experience Burning Man, of course. Maybe one of the easiest is to apply for a regular ticket and enter the Black Rock City at night whenever the event is in full swing. This can be quite mind-blowing and/or overwhelming experience as the whole Black Rock City and Playa are full of flashing lights, art installations, art cars and radically self-expressing people. This would be like stepping into a night club that is more like a wonderland, experience it as it happens for two to three days, and then leave the morning after the Man Burn to sleep like baby for the next 48 hours straight.
But one of the most engaging and fullest way of expiring the Burn is to be involved in a camp and art car project. Normally in the Black Rock Desert there is nothing but heavy sun and dust storms bringing the fine dust to EVERYWHERE you can imagine. Also Black Rock Desert definitely offers no food, no water, no shelter, no toilet, no electricity. There is nothing you can buy there, money has no value at Burning Man, so you want to bring everything necessary with you. So as you imagine there is quite a bit of planning & preparation involved to actually have a camp to spend two weeks in.
Since the Bling community in Estonia had grown so strong we made a decision to go to Burning Man and set up our own camp. We were able to get a spot for our camp in the Nordic Village being neighbors with Swedes, Danes and Finns. There were 50 of us who traveled form Estonia to Black Rock Desert this year, it is the largest representation of Estonians at Burning Man history. Considering the fact that Estonia has only 1 million inhabitants, the participation per capita might have been the highest of all countries participating. So we built our camp Siil (means a hedgehog) that was located at 3:30E.
Once you have a spot to set up your camp you need to go to the desert few days before the event starts in order to be ready to accommodate yourself and the fellow Burners walking/cycling by. So we spent two full weeks in the desert when preparing for the event, experiencing it and taking down the camp and leaving no trace. This was a great experience, having our own basecamp in the middle of the desert metamorphosed into a wonderland.
Building and shipping our Art Car “Siil”
An art car or mutant vehicle is basically a special experience on wheels. It is when you take a chassy of a vehicle of any sort and make it into something your fantasy is suggesting. It can be a party on wheels with a DJ, audio equipment and loudspeakers. It can be a mobile huge flame thrower, it can be a cute little love wagon, or anything you desire really. There were at least couple of hundred art cars driving around the desert and this is what made the desert especially interesting and dynamic place.
Most of the art cars were having DJ and proper audio equipment of board and when slowly driving around the Playa they attracted people to join them. This way the popup parties here and there took place all around the Playa. You can go and join any art car at any given time, you may choose it by its appearance, the music it plays or based on the crowd that follows it. You can hop on and even spend half a night driving around with one and contributing into its vibe.
Talking about our art car it has to be said that even more mutual effort than building our camp was to build and ship our art car named Siil (hedgehog). The decision of building an art car was made so late in the process that we had only some weeks to come up with an idea, design it, finance it, build it and ship it over the Atlantic. I wont go into the details here, it deserves a whole post devoted to our Siil, but it made it over the Ocean in time and it was assembled and operational by the time the event officially started. Our Siil got many compliments because of its minimalistic design, it really did stand out in the seal of flashing lights and lazers.
The desert is a perfect canvas for art installations
I haven’t yet mentioned here that one of the main reasons for me to go to Burning Man is art installations. So, in addition to building a camp, presenting an art car, dancing like there is no tomorrow, participating in various lectures and workshops, walking around naked or having an orgy experience in a dedicated camp, one could also choose to focus on the art installations. This is what I did most of the time. I have to say my camera malfunctioned quite early in the festival due to the dust so I have limited number of photos with limited quality, but that gave me a great opportunity to experience these installation even more, without the lens in between me and the arts.
The Black Rock Desert is located about 2000 meters from the seal level and has actually nothing to do with black rocks at all. In fact you actually cannot find any rocks or stones over there, its just a fine fine dust that makes the floor of this desert. It’s an even ground with no holes and no bumps. This is because every spring the desert is actually a lake and the dust is actually a thick layer of mud due to the snow melt form the mountains. After the water evaporates in the summer the lake bed becomes cracked floor that is almost white in color. So it becomes a perfect canvas for art installations.
As the Playa is a huge desert area next to the Black Rock City every art installation can have plenty of space so no installation interferes with each other. Many of the art installations are so large scale and/or so sophisticated that it makes you awe – how is it possible that people come so far war from civilization and set up these huge pieces of art just to burn them or take them down after only few days!? It’s just amazing! People do it like this is going to last for the rest of their lives. And Im not only talking about setting up the art installations, it applies to how people feel and behave in the Dust – it’s like this is how its going to be like form now on. You rarely see this kind of drive and devotion in people.
Of course an art installation doesn’t need to be large and/or sophisticated to touch or inspire you. Many that I relay enjoyed were simple or cute or minimal or funny. Some of them might have affected you just because of the particular moment over there at the sunrise, or sunset, or random 11:37am. Other might have caught you in the right moment just after shrooms or acid had kicked in – there are so many different ways and reasons to be affected by these art installations in the desert.
Art is expression. Blooming of the mystery of the divine creativity in humans—it births a moving response, often deep change, in the minds, emotions, and wills—the souls, of those who experience it. Some art is simple, like viewing a ‘2D’ canvas bearing Van Gogh’s brushstrokes in swirly colours of static paint, ancient minerals hanging on a wall at the Lourve. This can be powerful and evocative. Yet humans are creatures with (at least!) five senses, and so immersive art installations can be even more engaging, moving, ’REAL!’
WHAT IS IMMERSIVE ART AND WHERE DID IT START?
Amazing new art exploration is exploding in the realm of Virtual Reality, blooming through programs like Google Tilt Brush, Art Scape, and Zbrush, where artists are creating digital sculptures, landscapes, and more. These can make for potent immersive experiences.
But what did we do before do before technology’s matrix allowed us to step into an artist’s alternative reality? And what about the sense of touch, smell, and ’real’ interaction?
ART INSTALLATIONS ARE THE ORIGINAL VR!
I have seen 2D things that have made me catch my breath. But when you walk into an art installation that touches the strings of your heart, it’s like being in a dream…like visiting another planet—without having a helmet and goggles on! It’s real! And for that, no where on this planet is better than Black Rock City! For example, can you, in virtual reality, enter a space which thrums with a low deep bass sound of a heart beat emanating from surrounding speakers, and find a stethoscope hanging, and place it on your friend’s chest to hear their heart beat? You can when you enter the ’Listen’ art installation. Where can your find this?
BURNING MAN IS WORLD’S BEST FOR ART INSTALLATIONS!
For over 30 years, Burning Man art installations have manifested some of the most potent immersive art experiences to be experienced on earth. Burning Man Festival, held in Black Rock City, Navada, is the biggest, wildest and most radical gathering of artists I’ve ever seen, and includes hundreds of fresh new art installations every year. My description—and I’ve been around the block, is that Burning Man is “the pinnacle of what fallen humanity has ever accomplished,” this is more than a festival. In the middle of barren arid desert, the second-largest flattest part of the USA (after Bonneville salt flats), in a few short weeks, the full Black Rock city is laid out, streets, regions, zones, ready to host an impromptu community of close to 100,000 people.
While many smaller art installations are set up and displayed throughout Black Rock City by ’Burner’ residents in the ’yards’ surrounding their tents and RV’s, the main stage for diligently planned large-scale art installations is the central playa. This area is huge—about the size of downtown San Fransisco—it can take hours to walk across this area, depending on what state of ’Art appreciation’ you are in! In this vast and sparse dusty theatre, creations beyond description are built by individual artists, and collective groups, often including internal generators or solar panels for power. Sometimes one can enter into rooms, climb levels, walk (or crawl!) through these immersive experiences. These are almost always left unattended, and are usually well respected by wandering Burners. On the Burning Man playa these mind-blowing, soul-stimulating art installations wait, ready for your surreal encounter.
Not only 3D static art installations dot the landscape. Amid the arid gallery, ambling at at safe 5 mile-per-hour max, you see ’Mutant Vehicles’, aka ’Art Cars,’ dragons, pirate ships, UFO’s, and more. These are perhaps best described by Burning Man’s own website Burningman.org as “…especially at night…roving works and whimsical forms of public transformation, carrying people deep into the playa to explore the art and experiences to be found there.”
Burning Man is meant to be, and is, one big huge radical art installation! Not only about art though, it is a deeper exploration and experiment in communal living. With a ‘gifting economy’ intention, participants are encouraged to share and give, refusing to engage in financial transactions. Thus the artists don’t ’charge’ for their art. Through grants, crowd funding, donations, and personal sacrifice, the art installations are paid for and completed.