Burning Man Themes… Reflecting the Mind of Larry Harvey

One of four gateways to the 2015 Burning Man carnival. William Blake's poem "TIGER, tiger, burning bright. In the forests of the night,. What immortal hand or eye. Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" was printed around the edge.

One of four gateways to the 2015 Burning Man Carnival. William Blake’s poem “Tiger, tiger, burning bright, In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” was printed around the edge.

Larry Harvey created the first theme for Burning Man in 1995, ten years after he had co-founded the event. Ever since, he and his crew have been churning out a new topic every year. I picture him sitting somewhere in San Francisco, puffing away on his ever-present cigarette, and waiting for inspiration to strike. Finally, the proverbial light bulb flashes. Why don’t we make this year The Nebulous Entity, or Caravansary, or Beyond Belief? It would be interesting to track Harvey’s thought process.

The first theme was Good and Evil. Undoubtedly, there were costumed angels and devils wandering all over the Playa and Black Rock City. There still are. I recall one year when every other woman seemed to have sprouted wings. Maybe there was a sale on. I ran into a bit of good and evil myself at 2015’s Burning Man. I spun a wheel of fortune and was told, “you will soon discover if you are the good twin or the evil one.” Did I really want to know? Later I found a graphic sideshow poster of how it might look.

A wheel of fortune at Burning Man suggested I would soon find out whether I was a good or evil twin.

A wheel of fortune at Burning Man suggested I would soon find out whether I was a good or evil twin.

Carnival or sideshow art has been used for over a century to pull people into sideshows where all sorts of unusual sights were promised.

I must say, being evil looks a bit more interesting. Carnival or sideshow art has been used for over a century to pull people into sideshows where all sorts of unusual sights are promised.Vintage original art is now worth thousands of dollars to collectors.

Burning Man invites individuals, groups and artists to participate in and interpret its annual theme through their costumes, camps and creative works. Here’s a complete list of themes since 1995:

2016 — Da Vinci’s Workshop

2015 — Carnival of Mirrors

2014 — Caravansary

2013 — Cargo Cult

2012 — Fertility 2.0

2011 — Rites of Passage

2010 — Metropolis – The Life Of Cities

2009 — Evolution – A Tangled Bank

2008 — American Dream

2007 — The Green Man

2006 — Hope & Fear

2005 — Psyche

2004 — Vault of Heaven

2003 — Beyond Belief

2002 — The Floating World

2001 — The Seven Ages

2000 — The Body

1999 — The Wheel of Time

1998 — The Nebulous Entity

1997 — Mysteria

1996 — The Inferno

1995 — Good and Evil

The 2015 theme was built around the concept of carnivals and mirrors. A city of tents grew up around the Man featuring carnival posters, mirrors and games of chance. Four large gateways invited Burners in to where hucksters pushed their games of chance, or just strangeness. I checked my image in each of the mirrors but skipped the ring toss where the posts took on a definite phallic look. I stopped to watch a show where a talented acrobat displayed her skills, and I helped pull ropes that made a giant skeleton dance.

A devilish gateway into Burning Man 2015.

A devilish gateway into then Burning Man Carnival. Note: I arrived early at Burning Man this year before the crowds gathered. Many of the Carnival attractions and other installations throughout Black Rock City were still being set up.

I found this humorous guy hanging out inside.

I found this humorous guy hanging out inside.Nice tongue.

Taking a page from Dante's Inferno, this gateway switched the words from

Taking a page from Dante’s Inferno, this circus elephant gateway switched the words from “Abandon all Hope” to “Abandon all Despair.”

The fourth gate into the carnival was this nerdy looking young woman.

The fourth gate into the carnival was this nerdy looking young woman.

A stage in the carnival featured ongoing shows such as this flexible acrobat.

A stage in the carnival featured ongoing shows such as this flexible acrobat.

A large skeleton puppet had ropes that Burners could use to make the skeleton dance.

A large skeleton puppet had ropes that Burners could use to make the skeleton dance. Carnival poster art surrounded the Man and what Burning Man called its Fun House.

Following are three sideshow posters that I found particularly amusing including this tattooed cat.

Following are three sideshow posters that I found particularly amusing including this two-headed tattooed cat.

Ancient Aliens...

Ancient Aliens…

A Playa Chicken.

And a Playa Chicken.

My friend Don Green took this photo of the Fun House entrance. I will be featuring many of Don's photos throughout this series.

My friend Don Green took this photo of the Fun House entrance. I will be featuring many of Don’s photos throughout this series.

Don seems a little worried about the doctor that was prepared to operate on him in one of the carnivals side tents.

Don seems a little worried about the doctor that was prepared to operate on him in one of the carnivals side tents.

I was taken with the detail in this painting that welcomed Burners into the Fun House.

I was taken with the detail in this painting that welcomed Burners into the Fun House. (See Don’s photo of the entrance above.)

A closeup of the face.

A closeup of the face.

And even more detail featuring a gypsy woman.

And even closer shot featuring a gypsy woman with her incredible detail.

Various mirrors welcomed Burners inside the Fun House. I took this photo of Squirrels on my T-shirt. The caption was "Birdseed, what birdseed?"

Various mirrors welcomed Burners inside the Fun House. I took this fractured mirror selfie of my see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil squirrels  T-shirt. The backward caption is “Birdseed, what birdseed?”

A final shot for today, this one looking up at the Man from inside the Fun House.

A final shot for today, this one looking up at the Man from inside the Fun House.

The 2016 Theme, “Da Vinci’s Workshop,” is designed to draw a parallel between Medieval Florence and Burning Man in terms of art, technical innovation, and patronage. (No one has ever accused Larry Harvey of being shy, modest, or lacking in ambition when it comes to promoting Burning Man, but seeing Black Rock City as the equivalent to Florence, and as “the epicenter of a new renaissance,” is something of a leap.)

Still, the art being inspired by Burning Man is very impressive. And the 2016 Man being “surrounded by a public square, a piazza lined with workshops, each representing a guild…” with the guilds being “self-invented and devoted to the interactive manufacture of whatever participating artists and inventors can imagine, ” sounds like fun.

NEXT BLOG: We will travel into Black Rock City and out into the Playa to explore other ways the 2015 theme of Carnival and Mirrors was represented.

Burning Man: A Media Circus— Or, Possibly, the Greatest Show on Earth

Media representatives are required to check in at Burning Man each year.In line with the 2015 theme, this was the media tent.

Media representatives are required to check in at Burning Man each year. In line with the 2015 theme, this was the media tent. The clown opened its mouth when ready for business.

Burning Man has been in the news a lot, lately. The event has a way of drawing media coverage like, uh, The Donald (that’s in Trump, not Duck). Among the stories: “One-percenters have taken over; The Bureau of Land Management wants Burning Man to pay for million dollar accommodations— plus ice cream, and; (my favorite) Gazillions of bugs are crawling out of the ground. ” The list goes on. Naked people, hippies, and drugs are almost always worked into the story. It improves ratings and readership. If accuracy suffers, oh well.

I thought the 2015 theme, Carnival of Mirrors, was one of the best ever, not to mention an excellent reflection of most media coverage for Burning Man (and presidential politics).

I didn’t think I would be at the event this year, having failed to score in the annual grab bag ticket sale, which rarely works as promoted. But three days before Burning Man, my friends Don Green and Tom Lovering managed to find tickets on Craig’s List in South San Francisco. Don drove down from his home in Lafayette with a thousand dollars cash in his pocket and met a person he didn’t know around midnight on Thursday at a coffee-house he had never been to. The money was for two tickets and a vehicle pass, a real bargain in this age of massive scalping.

I spent all day Friday racing around taking care of the myriad details that involve surviving in the desert for eight days. (Peggy sat this year out since she had just returned from a two-week trip to England with her sister.) The van had to be made ready, my bike checked over, food and water purchased, and a minimal costume assembled. Plus there were the inevitable questions. Where had I put my goggles and bandana for dust storms? Which box hid my bike lock? Did I have enough glow sticks to avoid being run over by mutant vehicles at night? Etc. Eventually, I had everything together and by 10 a.m. on Saturday I was on my way to the small town of Cedarville on the northeastern border between California and Nevada.

Cedarville is our jump off place for Burning Man. We normally stay at the fairgrounds. Not this time. The Modoc County Fair was taking place. You know the old saying, “When you are given lemons, make lemonade?” So I camped at the City Park and walked to the fair. It was perfect. The pigs hammed it up, a goat nibbled on my shirt, and country-western singer sang “Pistol Packing Mama.”

The pigs were 'hamming it up' at the Modoc County Fair in Cedarville, California.

The pigs were ‘hamming it up’ at the Modoc County Fair in Cedarville, California. Check out their cute curlicue tails.

I’ll be writing about Burning Man off and on over the next few months, adding stories in between the other things I blog about. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while, know that Burning Man is one of my favorite things to do— that I love the art, the creativity, and the magic. Regardless of what the media may report, it is one of the greatest shows on earth. What’s not to love about an event where a huge catapult is built to toss a flaming piano for 100 yards? Or where Susan Sarandon shows up with a portion of Timothy Leary’s ashes to re-cremate. (Leary was the guru of LSD in the 60’s and coined the phrase, “turn on, tune in, drop out.” His ashes were distributed among friends after his death. Some were rocketed into space, along with those of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. Susan decided that Burning Man was the perfect place to distribute her share.)

Today, my objective is to introduce Burning Man 2015 with a series of photos. Enjoy. NEXT BLOG: I’ll return to my backpack trip into the Grand Canyon.

A carnival of sorts, complete with sideshows surrounded the Man this year. This was one of four main entrances.

A carnival of sorts, complete with sideshows surrounded the Man this year. This was one of four main entrances. I arrived on Sunday and wandered around before the crowds arrived.

A close up looking up at the Man.

A close up looking at the Man.

Side show posters were located through out the Carnival. I'll show many more in another blog, but this was one of my favorites.

Side show posters were located throughout the Carnival. This was one of my favorites.

Another 'view' of the Man.

Another ‘view’ of the Man and surrounding carnival through a glasses sculpture.

Burning Man is known for its unique sculptures, such as this dragon protecting its egg created by the Flaming Lotus Girls out of the Bay Area.

Burning Man is known for its unique sculptures, such as this dragon created by the Flaming Lotus Girls out of the Bay Area.

Burning Man dragon created by Flaming Lotus Girls for Burning Man.

The same dragon at night.

The Temple of Confession where Timothy Leary's ashes were re-cremated.

The Temple of Confession where Timothy Leary’s ashes were re-cremated.

Susan Sarandon donned a wedding dress and led a parade out to the Temple of Confession to deposite Leary's ashes. El Pulpo Mechanico, a 30 foot high octopus was part of the parade.

Susan Sarandon donned a wedding dress and led a parade out to the Temple of Confession to deposit Leary’s ashes. El Pulpo Mechanico, a 30 foot high octopus, was part of the parade.

Medusa with her snake hair was one on my favorite sculptures.

Medusa with her snake hair was one on my favorite sculptures. Note the tennis shoe mutant vehicle to the right.

The dragon mutant vehicle on the left brought its baby this year.

The dragon mutant vehicle on the left brought its baby this year.

Costumes are big at Burning Man, as are the dust storms seen in the background.

Costumes are big at Burning Man, as are the dust storms seen in the background.

Sculptures come in all sizes at Burning Man. From this giant woman...

Sculptures come in all sizes at Burning Man. From this giant woman…

To this 'Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe' sculpture...

To this ‘Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ sculpture…

To this unique sculpture that I found very attractive.

To this unique sculpture that reminded me of flower pollen.

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.

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.

Performance art is found everywhere in Black Rock City.

Performance art is found everywhere in Black Rock City.

The Burning Man Temple at sunrise is guaranteed to draw a crowd. Burners had spontaneously joined hands as the sun little up the Temple.

The Burning Man Temple at sunrise is guaranteed to draw a crowd. Burners spontaneously joined hands as the first rays of the sun bathed the Temple in a gentle light.

I'll conclude with this shot of the Man taking on a ghostly appearance as he burns on Saturday night.

I’ll conclude with this shot of the Man taking on a ghostly appearance as he burns on Saturday night. Hopefully you have found these photos fun and interesting. Many more will follow over the next few months.