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Monday, 22 September 2014

OVERVIEW: What's it about, how does it work?

Burning Man is a one week festival held the week before Labour Day in a temporary city in the Nevada Desert. It's set on an ancient lake bed and known as Black Rock City and is about 3 hours drive from Reno. Many people drive from San Francisco or LA to get there. It's approximately 7.5km wide and this is how it shows up on Google Maps.

black rock city

It all began on Baker beach, San Francisco in 1986 when Larry Harvey and his friends burned an 8 foot tall wooden man as an effigy. It grew quickly and got too big and dangerous for the location so was moved to the Nevada desert in 1989. 

People who go to Burning Man are called 'Burners' and In 2004 they made the 10 principles of Burning Man official. When you are denizen of Black Rock City you commit yourself to these 10 tenets.


1. Radical Inclusion: BRING YOUR BEST HUG

Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. Seriously, all ages, shapes, colours and inclinations seem to be encouraged. It's all about welcoming and respecting the stranger. It's common to hug a person while waiting in a queue for the toilet. 


Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. I expected that it would be more of an exchange economy but it wasn't at all. You pay it forward, you give to others without expecting anything in return and somehow it all works out. You give me candied bacon + I give someone a pair of sunglasses = Burning Man equilibrium.

3. Decommodification: LEAVE YOUR WALLET AT HOME

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, the community is serious about creating social environments that are untouched by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. People get really funny about this. I saw a guy giving out stickers for his company and he was almost spat on by the old burners. They're ready to protect the culture from such exploitation, you're not even supposed to use the Burning Man logo on anything. 

4. Radical Self-Reliance: OWN IT BABY

Burning Man encourages you to discover, exercise and rely on your inner resources. For me that meant bringing a truck load of museli bars and my watercolour paints.

5. Radical Self-Expression: NO SUCH THING AS WEIRD

At Burning Man, it's accepted that radical self-expression is born out of the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. This means pretty much ANYTHING goes. In this spirit, there is no eyebrow raising or judgement... even if you see a man dressed as giant penis riding a bicycle. 

6. Communal Effort: ALL HANDS ON DUST

The community is all about creative cooperation and collaboration. It's one big social experiment and everyone strives to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces and works of art. If you have an idea for how to make something better, just do it and no doubt other people will join in and help.

7. Civic Responsibility: DON'T BE A DICK

Lots of Burners organize events and it's assumed that they will take responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. For us that meant responsible service of alcohol and people who looked under 30 years of age got carded. (Otherwise we could have copped a $15,000 fine!)

8. Leaving No Trace: YOUR MUM (probably) ISN'T HERE

I've never been in such a large community that respects the environment so much. Every person must leave no physical trace of their activities. We were literally on hands and knees examining the dust of our campsite on the final day. A big contrast to the dirty trash can that is Glastonbury!

9. Participation: NO ONLOOKERS ALLOWED

As soon as you arrive you realise there is a radical participatory ethic. The idea is that transformative change can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. In other words, being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. The world of Burning Man is made real through actions that open the heart.

10. Immediacy: BURN BABY BURN

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important and unique value of the Burning Man culture. There is no phone or internet coverage, barriers that stand between our inner selves and those around us literally fall away. This is the moment, it's one week, then it all burns or is packed away.

No idea or pitiful blog description can substitute for this experience... however I'll do my best!


It's run like a city with well marked streets, public transport (art cars) and a shit tonne of porta potties – forgive the pun! Black Rock City even has it's own newspaper printed daily.

Aerial view 

LAYOUT: The aerial view of the camp looks like a desert crop circle or futuristic settlement. That dot in the centre is the giant wooden man. Most people move around on heavily decorated bicycles and navigate by the hours on a clock. We were camped at 6:30 and I. There's also a beautiful wooden temple behind the man which is burned on the closing night. 

CAMPING: Burners organize themselves into camps of all sizes. The larger and more established of these are called Theme Camps. It's freaking hot during the day and can get close to zero at night. People most commonly sleep in tents, yurts or RVs.

NO MONEY: It's a social experiment with no consumerism. That means that no one is supposed to make any money off it. There's a culture of gifting and the only things you can buy are ice and coffee at the centre camp. 

MUSIC: It's not a music festival but there is music there. Some of the world's best electronic music artists and DJs perform for free and there are always lots of rumors about who might show up.

ART: There is a new art theme each year that unites the hundreds of art pieces by a common thread. The 2014 art theme was, GRACE.


NOTE: I am posting one link per week as I tell the Burning Man story post-by-post.

  1. BURNING MAN: Party or Pilgrimage?
  2. GETTING READY: What to pack and how to prepare
  3. OVERVIEW: What's it about, how does it work?
  4. LOGISTICS: Getting in, Getting Dusty!
  5. PEOPLE: Who goes to Burning Man?
  6. EMOTION: What does Burning man feel like?
  7. GIFTING: My creative Postcard Project
  8. DIARY: My day-by-day journal
  9. AFTER SHOCKS: What happens next?




Latest Poll Results
New York: What will Indiana June do in the big apple?
21% Track down and visit Oliver Jeffers:
Renowned Children's storybook writer & illustrator
11% Walk the High Line:
A linear park built on a 1.45-mile section of the elevated NY Central Railroad 
11% Be a NYC detective for a day: 
Part game, theatre and tour to discover some of NYC's most off-the-beaten path spots
13% Explore the City Hall Subway Station: 
Abandoned & hidden from the public for 60 years
12% Flying trapeze class:
Hone her circus skills learning how to fly on a trapeze 
30% NZ Flag + Statue of Liberty:
Bodypaint the NZ flag on her body and go up the Statue of Liberty
2% Go to Queens and find a 'Nanny' sound-alike:
Video someone with the nanny accent saying "noo Zealand, i love that place"
Voting closed | 204 VOTES
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