Burning man; a non-native’s guide to the city in the dust.
If you’ve never heard of Burning Man before then you may be in for an interesting read. I’ll confess; until approximately this time last year, I’d never heard of it either. However, it’s now somewhere that’s firmly planted on my travel wishlist.
I remember where I was when I first stumbled across a picture of an alien-like cityscape in the middle of the Nevada desert on Instagram. I was sitting in the bathroom of a cottage in the Lake District, scrolling absently whilst waiting for the shower to heat up.
Curious, I dug deeper into the #burningman hashtag to discover a world I’d never heard of before. Burning Man is a week-long global community experience that comes together once a year in the middle of the Black Rock desert, in northwest Nevada in the USA.
Is Burning Man a festival, then?
It’s a bit of a misconception that Burning Man is a festival, but it’s perhaps an easy way to generalise the event. Burning Man is more of a cultural phenomenon than a festival, with it’s own set of ethics and principles that attendees must adhere to.
Rather than being a music event like those we have in Britain, it’s a gathering of people and cultures, celebrates art, science, creativity, freedom of expression and a sense of human community on a scale like no other.
Blackrock City, the self-named, temporary location that Burning Man attendees literally build from scratch, exists solely in the space and time of the community’s week-long event. Calling it an event seems trite when the participants physically construct a metropolis from the ground up.
After that, it disappears back into the dust, along with the thousands of ‘burners’ who escape there each year.
I was fascinated. I still am. The art installations are beautiful. The costumes and freedom of expression – especially the idea that technology and currency in their current forms are worthless; I’d never heard anything like it. But I loved the idea of it…
The central principles of Burning Man
As mentioned, in order to attend Burning Man, attendees must adhere to a special set of ethics. The event is generated by a culture of participants from across the world, but organising such a global phenomenon requires some form of organisation! According to the official site, Burning Man operates around these 10 central principles:
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our 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, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group 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.
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. 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. No idea can substitute for this experience.
Each year the event carries a different theme, this year’s being ‘I, Robot‘. When you consider that there’s no organised entertainment to speak of during Burning Man, it becomes all the more interesting.
Attendees are entirely responsible for their own amusement amongst these ten principles.
Entertainment tends to come to the desert (or playa as it’s known) with the burners themselves, however. Last year’s light and art installations looked incredible.
An inside view
From that moment on, I’ve had major Burning Man envy. I really want to go, even though I’m pale, ginger and hate dust.
Check out this video and see what I mean:
It’s the end of August now, and Burning Man is just heating up for it’s 2018 outing. So while I watch the #burningman Instagram feeds with envy, I’m hatching a plan to get there one day myself.
It may never happen, but then again, you only get one shot at doing the things you want to in life, so who knows?
Have you ever been to Burning Man? Let me know your tips if you’ve ever made it out there, or if you’d like to go there one day too!