Burning Man

Burning Man
Photo: burningman.org
Burning Man is an annual counterculture festival held in Black Rock City, a temporary settlement located in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, United States. The festival opens on the last Sunday in August and runs through the first Monday in September (United States Labor Day), attracting about 70,000 participants every year.

Burning Man began in 1986 as a summer solstice celebration. Larry Harvey, Jerry James and a group of friends gathered on Baker Beach in San Francisco, made a bonfire and burned a 9-foot wooden effigy of a man, as well as a smaller wooden dog. Harvey has described this ritual as an act of radical-self expression. He was inspired by summer solstice celebrations held by Mary Grauberger, his girlfriend’s friend.

By 1988, Harvey formally named the annual ritual “Burning Man”. What started as a small gathering of friends became an annual event that over four years grew to more than 800 participants. However, in 1990 the burn was interrupted by the police for not having a permit. The organizers disassembled the effigy and moved it to the temporary autonomous zone created by John Law and Kevin Evans in the Black Rock Desert. That’s how Burning Man was born.

Over the years, Burning Man has transformed into an experiment in community and art. The festival doesn’t have a single focus, and the whole experience is created by the attendees rather than the organizers. The event is guided by ten principles formulated by Harvey in 2004. They are: radical self-expression, radical self-reliance, radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, communal effort, civic responsibility, immediacy, participation, leaving no trace. All regional Burning Man events are guided by these principles.

Every year, burners erect a temporary city on a large playa (dry lake) amidst the desert. Black Rock City is arranged as a series of concentric circles in an arc, intersected by radial streets. The very center of the city is occupied by the Man and the Temple. They are built every year from scratch and burned at the end of the festival. The city is filled by theme camps and villages set up by participants, offering services or entertainment to other burners. Black Rock City is so huge that many festival-goers use bikes to get around.

As we’ve already mentioned, Burning Man is all about participation and radical self-expression. All participants are encouraged to do something for the pleasure of other festival-goers. For example, a lot of participants express themselves through the arts, creating impressive sculptures and interactive installations, or performing in the streets of the city. Mutant vehicles are another popular form of expression at the festival.

Burning Man culminates on Saturday evening with the symbolic ritual burning of the Man. The Temple is burned the next evening. All burns are carried out on special platforms so that the playa remains undamaged. When the festival is over, the organizers and burners make sure that no evidence of the event remains.

Burning Man

Photo: TWITA2005




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