It is a festival, however there are no hired artists or spectators. The event is based upon the Ten Principels1. The idea behind the Ten Principles, building a happy society, and the burning of The Man is the only constant over the years. The festival in an ongoing process in building a society.
- Radical Inclusion
Anyone may take part in Burning Man . Any stranger is welcome and respected. No prerequisites but a ticket exist for participation in the community.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, the community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. The Burning Man community stand ready to protect their culture from such exploitation. They resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
- Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources. There is basically no public service, anything a participant needs, should be brought in by them self.
- Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the artist or artists can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
- Communal Effort
The community of Burning Man values creative cooperation and collaboration. The community strives to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
- Civic Responsibility
The community of Burning Man values civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. The members must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
- Leaving No Trace
The Burning Man community respects the environment. They are committed to leaving no physical trace of their activities wherever they gather. The participants clean up after themselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when they found them.
The community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. They believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. The participants achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. The participants make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in the Burning Man culture. The participants seek to overcome barriers that stand between them and a recognition of their own inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
These Ten Priciples are not laws, altough some may include rules also held up by the law enforcing teams. These principles are meant to provide the base for the society as desired by the Burning Man Organistation. Concider the hours and hours of fun debate the wordsmiths had in building these into near incomprehesible words. That is their gift to the Burning Man society.
Larry Harvey gathered at the beach with some friends during the summer solstice 1986. They had a party and were eventually building a man shaped effingy made out of driftwood2 and leftover packagings. Halfway philosophical and gracefull for feeling outside the default world3 they burned it as an epic of the party. This draw the attention from other people on the beach, creating the first seed of the community feeling.
After several years having the Burning Man party on the beach the authorities started to object against this abuse of public space. An new location was sought and found at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, a few miles North of Gerlach a small village once founded for mining gipsum.
The venue is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Paiute people have some sacret sites in the area. The Burning Man organisation has close contacts with both these groups. The BLM gives a permit for the next festival if all agree the restauration after last years event has been succesfull.
The Black Rock Desert
This is a basin at an elevation of 1200 metres (4000ft) it is a dried up nearly flat lake bed. The lake bed stretches out for more then 500 square kilometres. The dried out mud is an alkaline salt. When dried it is a hard shell but it may become a dusty crumble after too much pressure. This is why during the festival the roads are sprayed with water4. The daytime temperature can rise to 37°C (100°F) while the nights can be near freezing. Most years it rains only in spring though last years it also rained during preperation for the festival. High winds are very common during the day and dust devils rising from the crumbled surface can be spectacular. The alkaline salt is flooded near each spring, this is the time for the desert shrimp to awaken from their egg state and eat, grow, procreate and leave their eggs in the drying silt.
Year Round Timeline5
The preparations start before the event is really over as Larry Harvey announces the theme for the next year. This takes place on the Exodus monday in the Center Camp café. This happens to be Labor Day in the United States of America6.
Artists can propose their larger contribution for the event as it may require some space and preparation before the event starts.
Also large groups with a so called Theme Camp have to register early, this also to plan the camp site as it will become a city.
Mutant Vehicles have to be registered early, this to prevent the vehicle to be rejected as the builder was not aware of all safety issues.
In the Bay Area of San Francisco the carpenters are already preparing The Man and The Temple.
In the weeks before the event the Golden Spike is driven into the playa. This is the place under The Man that will become the centre of the city. Many orientation spikes are measured out to complete the road plan. A thrash fence is erected surrounding the roughly five sided area of the event. This fence is at most some five miles7 from The Man. Hundreds of portapotties8 are placed lined up along the roads on the playa and grouped in the camp area of the city.
During the week before the event the activity spikes as The Man is build up and erected, The Temple is constructed as well as many big art projects scattered over the playa. The City rises as Theme Camps settle down. The Central Camp café tent is erected, this will be a record breaking shaded area9 as it grows larger each year. A local official police station is build as are dozens of Ranger posts, the volunteers to keep some order and provide first aid. Black Rock City airport takes shape, access roads and waiting lines are prepared.
Only experienced Burners10 are concidered to take part in any official volunteer group. The official support groups are there to provide the city with basic needs. A total of near 500 volunteers are the thriving force behind the city and the event.
The Department of Public Works help build the city by doing the construction work. They also maintain the city during the event. Some dirty work with the portable toilets may be involved. These are the ones to clean up the mess if the underground stations are flooded. The underground probably flooded as these same volunteers keep spraying water on the dusty and crumbled roads of the city.
The Box Office Team is for the ticket checking at the Gate.
The Arctica is the volunteer group selling ice at 6 o'clock Plaza, 9 o'clock Plaza and in Center Camp café during the event.
The Black Rock Rangers are there to guide the Burners in behaving themself. They are not a military or police force though if a Burner behaves seriously unlawfull and respectless they may be forced to call in the real police. They provide the communication for the volunteers as they are the only Burners allowed to use portable CB radio.
The Department of Mutant Vehicles receives the vehicle requests and returns appropriate safety information prior to the event. On site each vehicle is checked and rewarded with a night and or day only licence.
Burning Man Information Radio is the rumor free information source for any playa. The voice of The Man speaking to you from wednesday before the event until post Exodus monday. You can recognise the studio by the antenna illuminated with B M I R on the Esplanade and on the south side of the Man road. Traffic information, emergency warnings and full blown radio station with all kinds of music, even Marvin may get played. There are live performances, interviews and the occasional begging for some bacon and green eggs an hour before the sun rises.
Media Mecca helps information distribution to the default world. They also give licence for recording artists to take photos, videos and drones for a walk. They make sure you know taking a picture is in consence with the people on the picture. The people of Media Mecca will tell you flying your drone over objects and crowds is not allowed.
Center Camp café Volunteers is the group running the Center Camp café with the commercial coffee. They also plan the many performances and gatherings on the numerous stages in Center Camp café.
The Greeters will greet you at entrance and provide you with any information. Also explaining and emphasising the Ten Principles before you start your participation is their goal.
Lamplighters are a devision of the Fire Conclave lighting the street lights. A solemn procession of in white, lined with an orange and yellow flame pattern, -robes dressed individuals with poles slung over their shoulders carrying the lanterns. Others pick the lanterns on a hooked pole to hang them on the lampposts each evening right before sunset.
Temple Guardians can be found in shifts of four hours in and near The Temple their goal is to safeguard The Temple and its visitors.
During the event many forms of less official volunteer groups are formed. Guardian Angels help greeting Virgins11 at the gate by having them make a dust angel on the playa. Artists flock together to create direction signs on and near the posts with official street names, the gateroad becomes lined with signs, some philosophical, some announcing an event some just plain weird. These signs may read 'Dust ahead', 'You are on your way Home', 'City limits Visibility' or 'Tea Party at the Hatter Club'. Each year Burners take pride in decorating the portapotties shielding the dull dark blue with festive coloured structures. Adding proximity activated sound systems inside with encouraging words to clean up before you leave and praising you for doing so, or poetry, making you doing your business a releave in several ways. Also functional additions like mirrors a tray and soap are installed.
Basically made out of wood, carved into shape by the carpenter artists a division of the DPW. The wooden outline of the body is for the most parts accuratly shaped to resemble a human. Some parts like the head and heart are more iconic. The Man is illuminated from the inside and each year the colour palette is a marvel. Many truckloads are required to carry it into the playa. Heavy equipment is used to erect the legs, place the torso, arms and head. Often The Man is placed on a Man Base this can be a museum like structure in the shape of a gigantic UFO, a maze of wooden waves, a tall tower or a piramid. Often the man can be touched, most times the man base can be entered. The Man is surrounded by the Circle Of Regional Effigies12.
There is a perimiter outside the CORE lined in the dust where no vehicles may pass. Bicycles have to be parked on the bicycle stands.
The Temple is located in the deep playa, a tranquilent place. The structure is most times made with beautifull carved shade planes and geometrical shapes. Last years effort has been made to construct The Temple without the use of nails or fasteners, pieces sturdy fitting like a puzzle using their shape. There are plenty niches and seperate areas for a quiet moment.
Many use The Temple as a place of remembrance, leaving objects of their loved ones, perfoming services. Even the native Paiute tribe may performe a ceremony. Also other large default world groups can use the opportunity to have an announced ceremony. The Temple Guardians take care each will be able performing the ritual they desire. There is a perimeter line or fence where no vehicle may pass. Bicycle stands are near the portapotties. The mutant vehicles and their often very big sound systems are kept at an even greater distance. The Temple burns at sunday evening, this is much less a celebration as well a farewell, goodbye and see you next year.
This is the nexus13 of social life in the city. The Main entrance of Center Camp faces The Man.
Many city wide events start here such as the daily Lamp Lighters procession, the Bunny Ride14 or the Playa Run16.
From dusk to dawn there are performances, studios, gatherings, socialising parties, courses, couches to rest on, coffee to drink, ice to eat and a friendly person to talk with. From dawn to dusk there are conferences meetings and basically all the same activities as in daytime.
The Center Camp is also the headquarters for many of the Volunteer groups, as well as a good starting point for their activities. Especially as there is a canteen for them, a seperated area of Center Camp functions to provide the Volunteers with nutritions.
Ouside the Center Camp café you will find the largest bicycle stand in town, only the arcs17 and gates forming the entrances of the Center Camp café are not blocked by bicycle stands and bicycles. There are special bicycles for the Burners that did not manage to bring their own. These yellow bicycles are actually green and can be used by anyone as long as you do not lock them or hide them from sight.
Black Rock City
Black Rock City is a planned circle segment like a gigantic C with the opening facing North-East. The radiant ways are time numbered. The Man is in the centre and behind it The Temple at 12 o'clock. At 6 o'clock is The Center Camp.
Center Camp is surrounded by Rods road18. The inner edge between the city and the man is The Esplanade, all other semi circular roads are alphabetic named with the years theme in mind. From The Center Camp to The Man leads The Man road, walking furter one comes on The Temple road. At 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock of The Man there are also main roads. All main roads are lined with lantern posts and the roads in the playa have clusters of lined up portapotties.
South of the camp site is a dedicated area designed as an airport with its own control tower. The airport has 88NV as its unique call sign. From the airport a road leads to the main gate. Along this road is also a parking place for the construction and transport vehicles used to build Black Rock City. Leading from the Nevada State Route 447 to Black Rock City is the Gate road, this road swirles through the desert. Near the main gate the road splits up into many lanes, these are waiting lanes to give the Box Office crew time to check tickets and to check vehicles for contrabande.
Most Theme Camps are located at The Esplanade and Rods Road. It may take a few days just to visit them all.
The Black Rock Roller Disco will have a spare pair of rollers for you to use.
The Thunderdome is not unlike the movie scene, be it a lot less fatal using foam blades, the spectators will cheer you from above, clinging on the open dome structure.
Mall Mart comes often with several levels of scaffolding construction with a billboard, also giving visitors an overview of the playa.
There are several costume shops, they usually have a container stuffed with fancy coloured clothes and some sewing machines to make them fit with or without some help.
Inside the city all road crossings have name posts, this is to give you some idea of your whereabouts. Also the less noisy Theme Camps will be located at or near the crossings.
Imagine a camping site stretching for miles while many camps have tents and shade areas up to 6m (20ft) hight, you can not see beyond the first row. Little or big parties everywhere, bazar like structures, exhibitions, make your own jelly bean courses, in short, loads of fun stuff to do everywhere.
Though the site area is limited and the art is plentyfull the playa is vast. Always carry some water with you as though this is a gifting society if noone is around you have to be self reliant. Some shade during daytime and a battery operated (bicycle) light at night are good precautions. Many will wear dust proof goggles and a bandana, these may be more then luxury. Getting trapped in a dust storm when wandering the playa will force any vehicle to stop and many wanderers by foot to loose orientation anyway.
The Fire Conclave is located at the south side of the crossing of Rods road and the Man road.
Though Burning Man is not based on or related in any way with religion, there is a high level of admiration for ceremony and rituals. Burning Man is a celebration of fire in many ways, the inner fire thriving you to get something done as well as the more fysical fire of your metabolism. Staring into the flames is one thing all Burners take as a ceremony worth practicing. The Fire Conclave is the source of all fire in the community.
On the first Monday of the event, Crimson Rose extracts a flame from the sun to light the fire in El Diabla, a special cauldron located in front of Center Camp on the Man road. For the flame to continue burning it must be stoked, disturbed and kept alive throughout the entire week. It is encouraged to all those that encounter El Diabla to help keep this flame alive.
During the event many Burners get the fire for their burn from El Diabla. On request the Fire Conclave may send their representatives to bring the fire in ceremonial style.
On Saturday night the fire that has been extracted from the sun, and has been burning all week long will be transferred to a special lantern, the Luminferous. The Procession of the Ceremonial Flame will proceed with drums and dancers around, to the Great Circle around The Man inside the closed perimiter. Here the largest convergence of fire performers, the entire Fire Conclave, will utilize that same fire to start their dances dedicated to The Man before it is released in pyrotechnic delight.
Motorised transport on the playa and in the city is limited to Mutant Vehicles19 also known as Art Cars. It is absolutely fabulous to see a 15m (50ft) high square rigger coming out of a dust cloud, in the middle of a desert. Mutant vehicles are by definition no ordinary vehicles they come in any shape the artists who designed them manage to transport to the playa. If it is an articulated caterpillar, a fire breathing dragon, a space ship, a golden gate bridge, just a gigantic brick or dozens of cupcakes they all swirl over the playa and crawl through the city. Several are ship shaped with sails, illuminated and or moving waves or just a drifting raft. Mutant Vehicles are registered, checked and licenced by the DMV. Mutant Vehicles must be able to maintain a maximum speed of 5mph and stop at will in a reasonable distance. The driver must be in possesion of a valid drivers licence. The driver must have a reasonable view in front and to the sides. If the driver is in a seperate cabin there may be alcoholic drinks in the passenger part of the vehicle. A night permit is only for vehicles with sufficient front and rear lights. No passengers may be taken aboard during motion.
Having passed these safety tests the Mutant Vehicle may show a display of flames, lights and music unlike any streetlegal car ever will. At night they are flooding the playa with coloured, strobing and fire light and many a musical genre you will have never heard before. They will create a massive disorientating effect as they move, you would expect that gigantic tape deck to be part of a fixed installation. They also happen to be the only public transport, if they stop to take you aboard.
Art and Performances
What is art? Perhaps a 12m (40ft) high slide is not in the common definition nor is an Ant Farm where you can be like the ant, crawling through tubes, clinging on the scaffolding. At Burning Man anything is and will be art, swirling with your umbrella is a performance. The nature of expressing yourself and what it does to you and fellow participants is the essence of beeing there. Anyone can be the star, dress up like a flower or wear loincloth, anything goes, anything is concidered art.
Some of the art is concidered controversial or daring, most is impressive in its own right. Many larger art objects are to be visited, climbed upon or played with. Imagine a pier stretching out for half a mile in the desert. A reconstruction of a pirate ship docked on the end of it, also to be visited. Walking through the desert you find yourself surrounded by flowers making wonderfull sounds. You stop and the sounds fade away, only to start again if you move on. At night also light will play a role in the often interactive play of the art. Stepping stones as if in a pond of blue light splash up in red and green when you jump from one to another. What is the art and who is the performner?
Another rather controversial aspect of the Burning Man festival is to burn down the magnificent art works they created. To burn an object that has taken great effort to build will actually give the same satisfaction as creating it. For an artist it is a releave to find a project is over definitely. Besides that, the fire itself is worth remembering as much as the object to be burned. Often artists take great effort in constructing the shape and using selected types of wood to create a specific kind of fire. The burning itself becomes an act of art.
During the week of the festival many art objects are scheduled to burn, very few will burn on the monday as the event only just started. However the event is not for the spectator and thus some objects may have been burned before you managed to find them. The more visual and bigger objects tend to burn later in the week. Something like the Trojan Horse burned on a friday after thousends helped to drag it on its wheels to the designated burn site. Special concideration with the desert floor is taken on burning. Preventing the desert floor from burn scars is as important as leaving no trace.
Burns normally take place during the evening some hours after sunset weather providing the right conditions. High winds might not only create risks with the flames but also would obstruct the view by the dustclouds they create. However like anything on Burning Man, even this can change, last years Embrace (2014) was lit during the early hours right after sunrise on the friday morning. As soon as the fire perimeter is given free the Burners rush in to take souvenirs and clear the area of MOOP20. While throwing the burnable remains into the fire pit.
The Burning Man
This is still the culprit of the event, the epic of Burning Man is burning The Man. From friday night on a fire perimiter is erected and access is limited to DPW crew. They are going to prepare The Man to be burned, remove as much as lights and wiring as possible. Still some basic lights will ramain. An hour before sunset on saturday He will raise his arms with the nonverbal command 'All Gather Here'. Though many other events take place on the saturday evening most of the citizens of Black Rock City will obey his gesture. Magnificant illuminated, rising tall in the real centre of the entire event and then raising his arms is luring even the least experienced Burner to the effingy.
Hours before the burn a large group of Burners are gathering around the man. Mutant vehicles circle in ever wider circles blasting their music and light over the crowd. The poi dancers start performing and you loose the reality as a fire shaped dragon dances in circles while everywhere circles and spikes of fire create a forest. Massive music overloads any other senses from time to time. Eventually some fireworks start engulfing the statue and the firedancers all disappear while the man starts leaking flames on the extreme parts. Ever more colourfull fireworks even overcome the music and temporary blur your vision. The crowd yels and chants 'Burn' everyone celebrates the burning of The Man. Slowly the fire desintegrates the structure and the crowd really gets wild as parts of the structure fall down.
Hours later the simmering remainders are still cared for as Burners throw them onto the pile in the centre. Even nails and screws are kept as souvenirs or at least taken away as garbage.
However fancy and beautifull, feathers are frowned upon, as they tend to blow out of your costune and end up as MOOP. Also with real leaves, they may have some exquisit charm and beauty but they tend to crumble and are hard to remove. Pets though maybe loved by their owners are not allowed at all. Minors, under 18 years have to be attended at all times. Black Rock City may be a tranquil and safe place there are things you rather (should) not have your siblings exposed to.
Place a cardboard with some spikes under your car after parking, you are responsible for not leaking oil into the desert. As with any body fluids, the occasional drop of sweat will do no harm, anything more is a hazard. Store your waste water or have an evaporation pool to reduce the volume. Concider what you take with you before you leave the default world. The cerials come in a bag in a box, you can come without the box.
No fireworks are allowed by participants to take in to the site.
No firearms or weapons of any kind are allowed. Laser pointers are as of 2015 also prohibited. No drugs or illegal substances are allowed to enter the city perimiter. On entrance the Gate Crew will do a vehicle search and a belly button check.
And in addition to the idea of to expect the unexpected the theme camps are promoted not to give an hour by hour planning for anything in advance.
After The Man burns Exodus starts, tune your radio to 94.5 FM or listen to BMIR.org on the internet. The mantra 'leave no trace' is particulary valid during the Exodus, take all your gear and garbage with you. There is some sort of public transport but check in early at the Rangers for seat volume and times. There are drop off points for reusable materials and sealed food leftovers. This to provide Burners Without Borders with materials for their charity projects and the MOOP crew21 with some incentive to dust off the playa in the coming weeks.
If traffic flows nothing the matter, however as soon as jams occur the Rangers will organise phased shift motion. This means you are stuck in the jam but can leave the vehicle for an hour. Pack your gear with musical instrument on top to provide your newly neighbors with song dance and drum circles22.
Concider the city and station for dropping of your garbage and grey water with care as many others will have to use the same place.
The event is non commercial though the organisation does require money for various projects. The city has to be build, the crews have to be fed, there are grants for transport and construction of many projects on the playa. The BLM and official police also require fees for their contribution. Tickets are not cheap and they have to be acquired online before the event starts. To prevent trespassers and mutual nuisance, the entire lake bed outside the city is off limits for anybody during the event. The BLM sets a limit to the number of participants, recent years this has been 60,000 but this will change for future events.