Written by Napalm Dragon:
I am one artist defending my right to practice my art and culture that is being converted into a global brand exclusively owned by an American Corporation.
In 1995 I developed a form of art, in relation to a culture here in British Columbia Canada. Much of our inspiration was in relation to a free and open culture that was not owned or controlled in any way by Corporations. This happened because we were not a commodity, and because we’d never really allowed ourselves to be named for fear of being turned into a commodity. It was the cultural engine that fuelled the free parties in England that the Spiral Tribe were involved with, it was the culture that produced the expressions of art and fire that have become synonymous with the Burning Man Culture.
I have documented evidence that shows me and my peers here in British Columbia developed a style of fire and in relation to a free and open culture that the Decommodification LLC is now claiming was invented in the Nevada Desert.
The reason this is important is that even if I decide I no longer want any association with the American Corporation claiming my culture as something they created, I risk litigation for practising my art and culture, because my Art and Culture were absorbed under that generic term of “Burning Man”.
People have said to me “Just don’t use the name, do something else”. But I’m not a party head that just dropped in on an event in Nevada that my culture descended on in the mid-90’s. I’m not just a person who got my ideas from going to that event, created by my culture, who gathered in the Black Rock City and called the culture by the same name as the event they created around the burning of a man sculpture.
It’s a different issue for me. I created my own culture and art in BC in 1995-1997. I never knew about the desert. My art reflected my culture, and our attitude of generosity, collaboration, self-reliance, inclusion, and mutual respect, completely independently of any guidance or control from corporate interests.
While I have no issue with Corporations and their need to do business as the economic engine of Capitalism, what I did in relation to the people I associated was outside the domain of corporations, and religions. It was all our own. A free and open culture. When that culture descended on the desert in the mid-90’s and shaped what we came to know until 2003 as the Burning Man Culture, we did so for each other. We spent our own money and time doing this for ourselves.
When we heard that people like us had set up a kind of Temporary Autonomous Zone in the desert, we went to meet our peers at a gathering point for our culture. When we heard that a city had been set up as a home for our culture, we went to that city to express our culture unfettered by pressures imposed on festivals that receive Corporate Sponsorship, and Sell Everything.
This pace was not a festival. It was a city, and the event was the burning of the sculpture at the gathering of our tribes.
Immediatism, a core element of our culture as described by Hakim Bey existed in a space somewhere on this planet, on a grand scale. The city did not interfere with our culture as it went to the desert and associated with cultural peers who lit the fire, and sounded the all clear through the explorations of the Suicide Club, the Cacophony Society, and Zone Trip #4.
We helped them run the city, we struck a deal. You do what you need to make the city happen, and we’ll pay a tax for using this city. Just be honourable, and use any money left over for the benefit of the city and the communities who self-identify with our culture and bring it to the city. This reflected the attitudes of our culture. That anyone who makes money on our culture aren’t just using our culture as a cheap promotion gimmick like what rave promoters had done with our culture.
I DID NOT get my ideas to Burn from the Desert. I DID NOT contribute to my culture before it became known as the Burning Man Culture to build a global brand owned and controlled by a corporation.
I had learned to breathe fire through a hard-core heavy metal underground musician who had a band called BLAMO. He used was pure fun and pure renegade. He blew up toilets with home-made pyro, for fun. He taught me much of his renegade art, because he liked my renegade attitude. When he connected me with a circus group called Zero Gravity, I met a woman named Jill who’d already been practising her art and culture in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She had also been involved with a local underground arts scene that burned a wicker Bunny on the local beaches, because it was Easter and they’d just watched the old wicker man movie.
The Fire Style started at a show put on by Zero Gravity and was the first time traditional fire associated with tribal cultures in New Zealand and Hawaii had appeared in North America. What we did with it over the next few years travelled down the West Coast and was brought to Burning Man (from Vancouver) for the Pepe Ozan Operas at the Nevada Burning Man event around 1998 or so.
We had fun for the next few years, fully immersed in the culture that was well developed here. We did it for fun, we had no grand design, we just knew it was an amazing experience, and visited many events for little or no cash to explore the full scope of this underground experience and just enjoy it.
Somewhere along the way we started Burning Sculptures as an expression of our free and open culture. Inspired by underground groups in Europe, and as a natural extension of all the fire we’d been playing with. Fire wasn’t a thing at the time, we literally made all our own torches. We just made it up as a creative self-exploration, and shared it openly with mutually respectful peers.
Then at one event, we decided to dispose of some 15 foot tall giant puppets by breathing fire onto them and diving through the flames as a performance. The following year I built something with the expressed intent of burning. I called it a Baboon Robot, because it just happened to look like a Baboon Robot.
We performed “The Burning of the Baboon Robot”
My art involved fire and burning sculptures, and it was an expression of my culture which would later that year start heading to the desert and adopt the Burning Man name.
By 2001 our culture adopted the Burning Man name. We were the Burning Man Culture, and we called ourselves Burners (people who self-identify as the Burning Man Culture). It was a widely used term.
Now an American Corporation is coming to Canada and claiming exclusive rights to the very same culture we developed here, took to the desert, shared with our peers who were doing the same, and called themselves Burners (people who self-identify as the Burning Man Culture), and claiming exclusive rights to the culture we developed.
The American corporation Decommodification LLC knows they did not create the culture in the desert. They know it came from somewhere else, and now they are claiming that the form of fire that emulated from what was developed here in BC, was invented by them in the desert.
This is incredibly disrespectful to the amazing and talented people around the world who fostered, embraced and celebrated this culture, before and after it adopted the Burning Man name.
Now it’s a problem for me as an artist expressing my culture.
Even if I have no desire to be associated in any way with the Nevada people, I can’t change that my culture was absorbed by the Nevada event my culture created and adopted the Burning Man name as the Burning Man Culture.
This corporation is now trying to convert our independent communities and culture into a global brand that they have exclusive rights to decide who can and cannot express it. They are laying claim to not only inventing my culture, but even the very style of fire dancing we created here in Vancouver and brought to the desert around 1997-1998. They are claiming every expression of our culture as a proprietary Global Brand and Communities they own and control exclusively. Communities that developed independently to foster local Burning Man Culture.
You might say “So what call what you do something else?”
But, I’m not a party head. I did not get my idea to participate in my culture or express an art form now synonymous with this culture from the Desert. I created it COMPLETELY independently. Because my culture adopted that name in association with all the expressions of that free and open culture, I can’t practice the independent art that I developed in relationship to my independent culture without fear of litigation.
I DID NOT get the idea to Burn from Larry Harvey’s hat, or Marian Goodell’s corporation. My organisation, Burn BC applied for a mark that is in the public domain to protect my right to have free and open access to the culture that this new American Brand is based on. Burn BC did so, to give it to the Canadian Burning Man Communities so that no one can stop us from being who we are.
This was wrong, NO ONE should have exclusive rights to what has become a generic term to describe the people, art, and culture that created the Burning Man Culture in Canada, and shared it with our peers in Nevada.
Burn BC has already dropped the name, and they can drop the case. But they’re using the case to frighten me and my organisation into complete silence and isolation.
They know they DO NOT own anything in Canada. They know Canada has a right to express its culture. It is not my fault our culture adopted that name and spent countless hours and resources making our culture notorious. It’s not my fault that the notoriety of our culture and the event that has capitalised on our culture genericised the name to describe a type of art and culture. It’s not my fault that in 2004, they chose to create a new brand based on our open and collaborative culture of self-identifying Burners.
It’s not my fault that they (and their subordinates) are now turning around and telling those of us who do not identify with this new brand, that we are not really “Burning Man” or not really “Burners” or “Not part of the Community”, and insisting that we must adhere to this new brand or essentially abandon our culture.
A culture that existed as a free and open culture, before it went to the desert, and before it created the most notorious event our culture has ever produced.
I don’t want to be associated with this new brand developed in 2004.
I want my art and culture that I already knew and loved, before it ever went to the desert, and I want to be free to express it under any name regardless of what it chooses to call itself in the
future. I want to do this free from the fear of litigation, and I want the same for anyone else who hosts Burning Man Events that celebrate the culture that adopted the Burning Man name…and I want to retain the truth of my life and its relationship to my art and culture. Both if which WERE NOT inspired by the event my culture gathered at and created in the Black Rock City.
I’m begging for help, I’m just one guy refusing to sign away my rights to my arts and culture.
Because whether or not I want to use that name to describe my culture, the media, and people in general now refer to my art and culture as “Burning Man” whether or not I like that. And now, to say “no it’s not Burning Man” is a lie. It’s a lie because the Corporation is claiming my culture as a proprietary thing invented in the desert. That they, and their ceremony on Baker Beach is entirely responsible for evangelising something they created.
I’m at the point where I cannot practice my independently developed PUBLIC DOMAIN art or culture without fear of litigation.
PLEASE HELP ME GET THE MEDIA ATTENTION ON THIS SO I CAN FIND A LAWYER TO HELP ME.
The case is being tried now. We’ll find out soon what the Judge thinks. BMOrg have presented a 1076-page complaint, which seems like an attempt to out-lawyer the other, much smaller, charity. The Burning Man Project’s stated mission is to spread Burner culture around the world, but clearly they need to be more specific. What they really mean is all Burner culture in the world is “theirs”. If you want to help spread it you need to get a license from Decommodification LLC and obey their rules – one of which is “do not criticize BMOrg publicly”.
Those familiar with BMOrg’s views on Intellectual Property and crowd-sourcing might be interested in this week’s brand new South Park episode, “Go Fund Yourself”, which is about cultural appropriation by corporations who do nothing and make all the money from culture that is sacred to others:
The episode is about the absurdity of corporations trying to own culture through trademark law. Check out the “Goodell-bot” and the bug-eye guy. The South Park creators are Burners, we hope they’re Burners.Me readers too.
Although Larry Harvey has claimed he wasn’t influenced by the movie The Wicker Man, he hasn’t said anything about The Legend of Billy Jean, which came out the year before he and “Air Force brat” Jerry James took their effigy to the Presidio’s nudist beach for a pagan ceremony.