The Burning Man Festival 2008comments (2) August 30th, 2008
As far as I can tell, The Burning Man Festival is like Woodstock for crafters. This annual gathering converges for two weeks each year around Labor Day—a celebration of sorts dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance. It started innocently enough when Jerry James decided to deal with personal events in his own life by creating and burning a wooden man on a beach in San Francisco in June 1986 (while I was busy graduating from high school). Those who witnessed this event were so inspired, they decided to reconvene on its anniversary to create and burn the man again. Just like that, a ritual was born.
Each year on its anniversary, the wooden man, getting bigger and more intricate, was burned on the beach. In 1990 the burn was halted by the local authorities because the man was too big. Thus began the transformation of this spontaneous event. It has morphed into a huge organized community that finds a temporary home for two weeks each year with the cooperation of surrounding towns. Everyone who comes, comes to participate—united by a common art theme that changes each year.
This year, Burn the Man is being held in the Black Rock Desert and the theme is American Dream. Sculptures are erected, art is made, and all forms of dance are performed. The theme becomes an unspoken dress code, transportation and shelter are decorated to take on its elements—and ultimately, it becomes part of the persona of the wooden man. This year the man towers on a scaffolding bearing the symbols of all the world's flags. Before the burning of the man on Saturday night, thousands of 'burners' (as the attendees are called) ride their art bikes to get around and explore the desert, visit the theme camp, take in all the art (both physical and theatrical), and commune with each other. Each year over fifty thousand people make their annual pilgrimage to this powerfully transcendent creative experience and come away transformed.
You can see a running account of the events at Burn the Man this weekend by visiting Theblight.net. What's created here is beyond words. If you want to see more, check out a photo stream on flickr. When it's over, everyone leaves with whatever they brought with them and a small army of volunteers will return the desert to its original condition.