Silliness is Golden :: diaries :: diary :: burningman

Fri, Oct 07, 2005


Black Rock City is about two miles across, and much of the most interesting art is a couple miles out from that, in deep playa. Some sort of transportation is all but manditory at this point if you're gonna do much exploring.

A bike is by far the easiest solution, but even that has its problems. It's an expensive pain to transport one from the East, and the playa dust is gonna thrash the hell out of any bike you take. Buying a cheapie in Reno, and giving it to a thrift store on the way out isn't a bad option, but leaves you at the mercy of the fates with regard to what you end up with, and gives you little room to decorate or customize your ride.

There's another, subtler, problem with bikes that Jackiejack pointed out to me: a lot of the delight of Black Rock City arises in the random interactions you fall into when you thought you were trying to get from one place to another. A bicycle isolates you, puts you in a little bubble of goal-orientedness that tends to insulate you from most incidental interactions while you're on the saddle.

Considering my options, I started wondering about kick scooters.

See more ...

[/diaries/diary/burningman/] 3 comments

Wed, Oct 05, 2005

Lux, Veritas, Lardum

Well-intentioned people may have told you that the theme for Burningman this year was "Psyche." They were misinformed. The 2005 theme was bacon. Crisp, thick cut, slightly chewy bacon, with just a bit of maple flavor.

The Official Newspaper, the Black Rock Gazette, was abruptly decomissioned this year, but the staff, in true burner spirit, rapidly raised funds, renamed their journal to the Black Rock Beacon, and put out a week of issues without official aid. Of particular interest was their new slogan--Lux, Veritas, Lardum, or, roughly translated, Light, Truth, Bacon.

This was my first year camping with a big, well organized theme camp (the mighty Automatic Subconscious), and I gotta say, the kitchen was a wonder. Dinner was the only communal meal (cooking for fifty was an educational and adrenaline-y experience), but the noshing was damn fine for the rest of the day too, with the aforementioned bacon not the end of the story by any means.

There were several other exciting cullinary adventures that week. Most notably, our Kitchen Goddess, Rachel, brought a jar of homemade preserved lemons for the chicken tagine she was going to make. Supplies were limited, but she let me try one the day before she was going to use them, and it was fantastic. Tart, bracingly salty, tender, and intensely aromatic. I immediately realized that they would make the world's best Martinis.

I arrived home intoxicated with the prospect of revolutionizing the Martini world, picked up a bunch of organic lemons at Harvest, and made myself two jars full. A month later, I have refined the formula a little, and won rave reveiews from a small circle of beta testers. The good news is that Moroccos (as I have dubbed them) are at least as good as I hoped. The bad news is that the idea is not so original as I had hoped. However, for posterity, I have compiled a few words on how to make your own Morocco

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Mon, Aug 15, 2005

Dialogue from last year:

Sebbo: I hear next year they're making the dress code official: no man will be let in without a Utilikilt or sarong, and no woman will be let in without a bellydancing hipbelt or pair of butterfly wings.

Random Burner: Really??

Sebbo: Um, no. Not really.

Random Burner: Oh.

[/diaries/diary/burningman/] comment

Mon, Mar 14, 2005

Playa Æsthetics

Burners like to joke about the contrast between Black Rock City and Nevada's other famous cities—Reno and Las Vegas. Most of what we're referring to is consumerism, which is nowhere more celebrated than Las Vegas, and rarely more thoroughly repudiated than at Burningman.

The joke's on us, though—the similarities, from the right distance, are at least as great as the differences. There's the frantic hedonism, of course. But most of all, there's the taste for the grand gesture—the bright, the loud, the big, the opulent and extravagant.

The moment this similarity hit home to me was a Monday morning, just back from the playa, freshly showered and seated at the Pepprmill casino hotel's Island Buffet. Over the toqued servers, imitation tropical vines swayed in imitation tropical breezes whiile lite country music played over the speakers. Every half hour or so the lights dropped and an imitation tropical thunderstorm swept across the room. The total effect was of the Temple of Zara transgenically mated with an upscale Denny's.

Desert Art

I have a theory that helps to account for some of these parallels. In a way, it's the simplest possible theory. The reason that two very different communities of people, coming to the same place, create similar work is the influence of the place. The stark emptiness of the desert in general, and of the playa in particular, calls forth an urge to do something that cries out—as loudly and forcefully as possible—"I AM!"

Art on the playa has to go boom, has to light up, to shoot propane flames, and burn at the end of the week and send its sparks high into the chilly desert sky. Anything short of this would feel weak and tentative against the vast patient emptiness of that ancient lakebed.

Is this something deserts in general do to people? Well, I haven't visited any deserts outside North America, but the Great Pyramids and the Nazca Lines suggest that it's not inconceivable.

Forest Art

If this idea is true, then a different landscape calls for a different register of art. 2004 was the second year of Firefly, a New England festival based in Burner culture. The first year's was held on private land on the Maine/New Hampshire border; last year's on a similar site in Vermont.

And, hell, it's certainly not a perfect test case for my thesis. Large scale fire art isn't really prudent in the middle of the forest, for example, no matter how wet a spring is winding up. On the playa, open space is as abundant as water isn't; at Firefly, finding enough open space for just your tent can be a challenge. The core Burningman membership when the event first mutated from an afternoon on a San Francisco beach to a field trip to the Nevada desert already included a high proportion of pyro geeks and gun enthusiasts. The core of the Firefly crowd are primarily rave music fans.

Even with all this, though, the art that's most successful at Firefly has a distinct aesthetic better suited to the forest environment.

For Example

Firefly I had no actual fireflies, but that didn't stop artist Bob Rees. Through trial and errors, he found the perfect combination of capacitors and tiny white LEDs to imitate a firefly's distinctive rapid lighting and slow fading, so that a line of fireflies blinked in the woods along the path up to the lodge.

Further down the same parh, several bridges arced over rocky little streams. It was only on my third or fourth pass over the bridge that I noticed the little stone frog with gauzy wings sitting on one of the rocks. Prefab, purchased art from some garden store, but given grace and charm by its inspired placement.

At Firefly II, someone had strung multicolored banners around an otherwise unremarkable square patch of forest, with a sign advertising Fast Eddie's Used Trees.

Out by the beaver dams, a good half-mile away from where most attendees were congregated, I found two windows hung from trees by nylon cord, offering a Magritte-like opportunity to enjoy the scenic view through the comfortable mediation of a window frame. The artist, I later found out, was Ted Lyman.

Art and Place

Where the playa environment is an emptiness that one yearns to fill, the New England forest is already full. When you walk in the woods, all of your senses are getting a rich array of information. In this context, the most effective art uses small, elegant gestures to change the meaning of everything around it. Where the desert is something to be resisted, the forest is something to engage with.

Even with these differences in approach, it's possible to see hints of an underlying Burner æsthetic. Most of my favorite Burner art has an element of wit or humor, but it's not just a joke. it encourages the spectator to look at her entire environment in a new way, to respond not just with appreciation, but with reciprocal creation. In other words, Burner art is viral, it's contagious. And like all the most successful viruses, it mutates as it spreads.

[/diaries/diary/burningman/] 6 comments

Wed, Sep 01, 2004

Is there anything lamer than posting IM transcripts to your blog?

popesebbo: I don't think I'm gonna be attempting to install munpack over the hiptop's telnet client.
popesebbo: A project for next week.
crismxml: Wimp.
crismxml: Use a public access term on the playa. (-:
popesebbo: Not so easy to find as you might think.
popesebbo: I've had a rocky time when I've tried to seek one out, at any rate.
crismxml: Huh.
crismxml: To my surprise.
popesebbo: Requires a satellite connection.
popesebbo: No wires, no cellular.
crismxml: Yeah... still, I'm surprised the geek quotient isn't high enough.
popesebbo: Very cool to do the first time.
popesebbo: Incremental benefit of subsequent ones has trouble keeping up with incremental cost.
popesebbo: If there's 20 satellite uplinks, there's still 30,000 people.
crismxml: Gotcha.
crismxml: Novelty economics.
crismxml: (== Burning Man defined.)

[/diaries/diary/burningman/] comment

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