Burning Man took place in Black Rock City in the desert of northern Nevada from August 28th to September 5th and for the past 28 years, it has happened in the last week of August just before Labor Day. Around 60,000 people camped out in tents, RV’s and yurts and proceeded to party their brains out.
The festival happens in the desert and probably looks like a beach party during the day (minus the water), and a huge rave at night. The festival occurs on The Playa, which is a desert in the middle of the Nevada Mountains. The Playa doesn’t have beach’s sand, however, and looks more like a backyard going through a severe drought.
While the festival bills itself on the general theme of art, the various incarnations and aspects of such a diverse set of categories makes “art” a moving target. This hodge podge of ingredients and themes looks like a joke that goes like this:
Master: Do you know about the Chimera?
Student: Yes Master, that’s the monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a scorpion’s head. What do you want me to know about it?
Master: Yeah watch out for that.
Take for example the festival’s emphasis on “art cars.” What, pray tell, is an art car? On one hand, art cars are small go-carts designed to look similar to a bumble bee or a small dragon. On the other hand, art cars are large trucks refashioned in order to be double-decker buses to party on.
The large art cars often serve as gigantic sound systems. So for example, “The Mayan” had a Mayan warrior’s face in the front of the car and a really cool laser show and sound system on the side of it. The laser show for the Mayan had a massive triangle, and the lasers were bright enough to resemble a ceiling. The laser show was good enough to peel the roof of paint off of a person’s mouth. In a similar way, “Robot Heart” has a metal heart made of pipes where dancing ladies would wind and grind all night long.
Large scale sculptures were set up on the Playa. Vicktrola was a facsimile of a 1920’s record player complete with the amplification cone. A sculpture of a human head looking at hands could be entered—through the ear of course—in order to see a projection from the sun of the hands upside down exactly in the same way the human brains turn images upside down in human scale. A hexagonal structure had phrases such as “love” and “inspiration” on the outside, and the inside had chalk boards where people wrote what those terms meant to them.
Light and darkness as elements of sculpture and conceptual art were more than pervasive. The festival’s ties to rave culture and the burning fires made this readily apparent. In addition to the aforementioned light shows of the art-car parties, thousands and thousands of people wove Christmas lights and LEDs around their costumes and their bicycles so that when one looked at people at night, it was a feast for the eyes of neon blues, reds, oranges, yellows and greens. One sculpture was a series of dozens of ten foot light circles people could ride their bikes through.
On Thursday, the festival set two mansion-sized wooden pyramids on fire at sunrise. This certainly showed the beauty of fire, which is always a motion-sculpture, but surprisingly showed the blaze of the sunrise shooting out from behind the Sierra Nevada mountains. The sunset and the sunrises on those mountains, with blinding yellows, oranges, reds and pinks, seared the purple of the mountains, the electric infinite blue of the skies and the dusty grays of the clouds.
The sunrises at Burning Man are without a doubt some of the most beautiful events of the entire festival, and from the looks of hundreds of ravers crying from the sight, maybe one of the most beautiful events anywhere.
In his children’s book The Missing Piece, Shel Silverstein told a story about a wheel that falls in love with a wedge and then loses her. The wheel rolls very fast through the story—just like humans do. In the middle of the story, Silverstein wrote, “these times were the best of all,” and drew a picture of the wheel taking a moment with a butterfly on its nose. Likewise, the festival’s early days support quiet, convivial conversations between people from all over the world during its daytime beach party phases. In these talks, people are just as likely to meet their soulmates as to learn about the Gilbert neighborhood of London or the difference between the city of Vancouver and Vancouver Island (the island is where the city of Victoria is!).
Quoting Silverstein, one might say these times were the best of all.
Photos credited to the Insider’s Jacob Goldbas and his firsthand account of 2016’s Burning Man Festival!