The classic female nude has always been a favorite subject of artists. This beautiful woman was over 50 feet tall and was one of a series of three at Burning Man. Art, more than anything else, has been pulling me back to Burning Man since 2004.
With two laptops down and this one heading for the doctor, I have to revise my publishing schedule for the next week. I’m reaching back into my archives and pulling out three former posts that are at least in the spirit of what I have promised. Today is on Burning Man. I’ll follow up with an historical blog on Philadelphia’s Fort Mifflin and then a backpacking tale that includes bears, lots of them.
I may be totally off the Internet for the next week. If I don’t respond immediately, that’s the case.
It’s time to buy tickets for Burning Man again, which is always a harrowing experience. At least it has been for the past several years. I made my first trip to Burning Man in 2004 and have been back numerous times since. I can’t resist. It is one of the most unique events I have ever attended. Following are some of the reasons why. Today kicks off a Friday series on Burning Man I will be running over the next couple of months during the ticket sale time that feature favorite photos from my archive of thousands. Enjoy!
I should probably name this blog Curt Mekemson’s Ten Favorite Burning Man Activities. When it comes to Burning Man, things get personal. One person’s preferences might very well be another person’s boring, with just the right teen-age emphasis followed by, “Was that guy actually there?”
For example, I don’t like loud music but there are camps at Burning Man with humongous speakers that blast out ear shattering decibels 24/7. Fine, it’s their thing and they have lots of fans, not to mention some of the best DJs in the world. Many Burners list these venues among their top choices. They joyfully dance the night away, literally. I like stopping by but my ears soon send me scooting for quieter locations— like the opposite side of the Playa.
Dancing and music are an integral part of Burning Man. The event attracts some of the top DJs in the world who spin their tunes for free at Burning Man. The hanging speakers give an idea of the volume that can be generated.
I don’t run around naked at Burning Man, either. That would be scary— for both me and anybody looking in my direction. But I have no objection to other people being nude. Some Burners are quite attractive while others are at least, uh, colorful. I assume all are enjoying some form of liberation, or at least a bit of exhibitionism.
Outrageous costumes make people watching at Burning Man a number one activity. The guy ‘looking the wrong way’ helped make this photo. What was he thinking? Note the platform shoes on the woman. She wears them well.
The thing about the Burning Man experience is that it depends on the individual. My recommendation for new participants is to come with an open mind and explore. If you want to get naked, go ahead; but you don’t have to and most don’t. Your experience can be as radical or conservative as you wish to make it.
So, having established my parameters, here is my top-ten list of things to do at Burning Man (assuming one can finagle a ticket). They aren’t in order of preference.
1. Attend the Burn: First, you will want to visit the Man during the week. There are usually a number of activities taking place that reflect the year’s theme. Plus you can often climb up into the base and enjoy some of the best views available of Black Rock City! The burning of the Man on Saturday night is the climax of the week where everything and everyone comes together. Hundreds of fire dancers and drummers kick off the event and are followed by an elaborate ceremony where the Man is set on fire. Things start with a bang, literally, as rockets explode and light up the sky. The Man then moves toward his ultimate demise, slowly. His last seconds are met by silence from 70,000 people, possibly the only time when Burning Man is quiet, followed by oohs and ahs building to a crescendo as he comes crashing down, completing his annual sacrifice. Don’t worry, like Frosty the Snowman and the Phoenix Bird, he’ll be back. The burn is only part of the show, however. Elaborate costumes, giant mutant vehicles, and total bedlam compete for attention.
For six days the Man serves as a gathering point on the Playa and as a landmark for lost Burners. On Saturday night he burns in what has become one of the world’s best known New Age rituals.
Burning Man’s roots go back 31 years to the burning of an 8 foot tall statue on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Today’s man stands some 40 feet tall and rests on a 60 foot pedestal.
My friend Don Green took this photo of the Fun House entrance that was built around the Man in 2015.
Suddenly the night sky and the Man are lit up by fireworks. The burn is about to begin.
Don Green captured this photo of the Man Burning.
Huge flames light up the night.
People perched on El Pulpo Mechanico at Burning Man and watched as the Man burned. Even the mutant vehicle, El Pulpo Mechanico, seemed entranced.
2. Enjoy the People: I don’t know where one could find a more interesting cast of characters than Burning Man. But then again, there aren’t many places where you are encouraged to be yourself and pursue ‘radical self-expression’ in a region where temperatures top 100 and 60 mph windstorms kick up massive dust storms that create zero visibility. Tribes, events and volunteering create numerous situations where it is easy to meet people and make friends. While Burning Man preaches involvement, you are also totally free to wander around and simply observe.
The folks who come to Burning Man represent a broad spectrum of people from all ages and occupations— from broke college students to billionaires. This fellow is a veteran Burner who works with the Department of Public Works that helps build Black Rock City.
This young couple stood next to me as we watched a burning piano be tossed 50 or so yards up the Playa.
Costumes are an integral part of Burning Man and some people such as my friend Ken (aka Scotty) love to dress up. Scotty, BTW, is Ken’s Burning Man name. Almost everyone has one. Mine is Outlaw.
3. Appreciate the Art: Burning Man art comes in all forms, from monumental to small, from sculpture to painting to performance. Most of the major pieces and performances take place on the Playa or along the Esplanade. But there are many smaller pieces (and performances) found throughout the camp and at the Center Camp Cafe. Much of the art is interactive. Be sure to check out the playa sculptures at different times of the day. Many of the pieces are schizophrenic with radically different day and night personalities. And many are making there way into communities around the world.
Burning Man has become a major center for what is happening in today’s art world. Selecting a piece to represent what is happening in the Nevada desert is close to impossible. These two oil tankers welded together and stacked on top of each other, meld environmental concern with art, two of Burning Man’s major themes.
Medusa, with her writhing snake hair, was one of my favorite sculptures in 2015.
Monumental sculptures, many you can climb on, are among the most popular art works at Burning Man.
4. Save Time for the Desert: The Black Rock Desert and surrounding mountains are beautiful. Look around. Once the Playa was part of the huge Lake Lahontan, which was over 500 hundred feet deep. Mammoths wandered the lake’s shore. Early morning and late evening provide the best times for desert viewing. An early morning walk, while Burning Man more or less sleeps, is the best time to appreciate what the desert has to offer. Embrace rather than dread the weather. When else in your life will you experience a massive dust storm or see a desert rainbow?
The evening sun bathes the surrounding mountains at Burning Man in soft light.
I think Burning Man fails to emphasize (or assigns to footnote status) one of the event’s most spectacular assets… the beauty of the Black Rock Desert.
A massive dust storm crosses the Playa and hides the camp.
4. Visit the Temple: The folks who build the Temple deserve a huge vote of thanks from all of us. Visiting is both an aesthetic and spiritual experience. To start with, the temples are gorgeous, with each year’s building a unique creation. Thousands of written messages are left on the walls to honor loved ones who have died or to give thanks for blessings. The messages are both sincere and touching. Take along a pen or a marker if you wish to honor or thank someone who has had a significant impact on your life. On Sunday night the temple burns, sending messages skyward in what I can only describe as a sacred experience.
The Temple of Promise at Burning Man 2015.
The Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014.
The Temple burns on Sunday Night. Unlike the Burning of the Man which is a bit on the rowdy side, Burners watch silently and respectfully as the Temple is consumed by flame.
5. Check out Camp Center Cafe, Often: Whether you want to perform, show off your costume, pick up the latest news, attend a show, enjoy art, have a cup of coffee, meet friends, have your fortune told, apply pasties, watch people or just hang, Camp Center Cafe is the place to go. It’s open 24 hours a day. Something is always going on. I visit two to three times daily. Be sure to watch the costume contest and the talent show.
This robot with his dog and a flower was in front of the Center Camp Cafe. He would raise the flower up to his nose and sniff it. Each year Center Camp Cafe features a major sculpture.
“Yes Master.” Camp Center is a great place to watch people, show off your costume, and live out your fantasies… and it is always entertaining.
A show of some kind of the other is pretty much guaranteed when you visit the Center Camp Cafe. Here couples practice partner yoga. Are the two guys on the floor center-right twins?
Center Camp is also a prime location for Burning Man art.
6. Stroll or Bike The Esplanade: This is Burning Man’s other major center of action. It provides the border between the Camp and the Playa. It is a theater, circus and walkway all in one. Stop by and watch people pummel each other with foam sticks in the Thunder Dome, enjoy a troop of fire dancers, go roller-skating, play games, try out a balloon ride, hear how loud music can actually get, dance, watch a movie, become lost in a maze, meditate… etc.
Hundreds of people lined up for an opportunity climb into the sky on this balloon ride that was offered on the Esplanade. Entertainment along the Esplanade varies from dancing, to roller skating, to circuses. Once there was even a booth that would spank you, assuming you needed it.
Major tribes , some with hundreds of members, build elaborate camps along the Esplanade.
7. Check out and/or Ride on Mutant Vehicles: Undecorated vehicles are restricted to camp. If you are going to drive you have to decorate. What’s not to love about a giant, wooly mammoth or a cat car with fur? Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man come in all shapes, forms and sizes. Some people spend weeks/months creating their fantasy transportation systems and even bicycles are elaborately decorated. Various vehicles become dance floors, spout fire, look ferocious and even appear friendly. A polite request may land you a ride.
The Cat Car is a perennial favorite at Burning Man. This year she had a makeover and was looking quite snazzy.
The tusks on they mammoth are what make this art car one of my favorite mutant vehicles. People sit inside the rib cage. The driver climbs into the head.
Never Was Haul resembles a Victorian House that has been converted to a steam engine train.
A rhino even more massive than its counterpart in East Africa.
8. Join a Tribe, or not: Tribes are the major social units at Burning Man and there is a tribe for almost any inclination. Many feature theme camps based on the year’s theme and welcome visitors. You can also form your own. Let’s say you are a purple alien from outer space and can’t find a tribe. Create the Purple Alien from Outer Space Tribe. Odds are there are other purple aliens who will want to join. It’s doubtful that anyone will even recognize that you are an alien. They will just think, “Oh, he’s got a neat costume,” and want to take your picture.
The Peripatetic Bone, held here by Boots and featuring his leather vest, has his own tribe… the Horse-Bone Tribe. He has been visiting Burning Man for years and was even married there to Bonette, a few years ago.
9. Go out into the Night: The Burning Man night is magical. Everyone and thing includes some kind of lighting system including art, people, bikes and mutant vehicles. Most blocks provide entertainment. Is it going to be pole dancing, jazz or vodka creations that capture your imagination? You will think you have entered a different universe.
The Temple of Promise at night.
R-evolutuion lit up at night. Here, a large group attended an evening discussion on the issue of violence against women.
A fiery dragon.
And a mutant vehicle vase.
10. Peruse the Catalogue: You are given a catalogue when you arrive that includes literally hundreds of things you can do at Burning Man ranging from attending a lecture on solar power to having your breasts painted. The various tribes sponsor these events for free as part of Burning Man’s gift-giving culture. You can practice yoga, learn the samba, improve your fire twirling skills, watch a show, and even improve your sex life, regardless of which way you lean. You can also drink. The catalogue lists dozens of bars featuring everything from Bloody Marys to craft beers. One year I found a casket that featured beer spouts. Drinks are free; bring your own cup. One of the first things I do after setting up camp is to go through the catalogue and check off things I might want to do. Hmmm, I wonder what bondage is like? (Just kidding… but there are opportunities to learn about it, and practice.)
Burning Man may be the greatest show on Earth. Bring along your imagination, sense of humor, and willingness to experience new things.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, are planning on going to Burning Man for your first time, want to learn more about the event, or want to reminisce about past events, I invite you to join me on Fridays for the next couple of months.