Radical Stagnation: A Call for Creativity

Chris Colley at Justburnus has written a great op-ed about where Burning Man is today. He also offers some ideas for the future, something I think this community needs to hear more of.

It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here are some highlights:

image from justburnus

image from justburnus

There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about how Burning Man is changing, about how it is expanding across the globe. The people who own Burning Man spoke loudly and proudly about a great change as they moved Burning Man to what was to be a non-profit. The spoke about how the regionals were the future of the burn. They lauded the actions of Burners Without Borders and Black Rock Arts Foundation as things that would spread burner culture. But through all of this, not much has changed on any front.

Burning Man seems like it is on autopilot. That might not reflect well on it, as the organizers seem to tout the fact that it is cutting edge and constantly innovating. But, even with this apparent slowdown in creative ideas it seems that Burning Man has been very financially successful. Just how that is so is a bit more complicated than “burning man is fun.”

…The hopes for this wonderland were peaked when it was announced in 2011 that burning man was going to transform in to a non-profit. There was talk about gifting burning man back to the community (though the founders now claim this didn’t happen). There was talk about a year round art center for burners near the event site in northern Nevada. There was talk about more money going to art. But, here we are in 2014 with the transition complete and not much of anything has happened. The new non-profit has done essentially nothing. Meanwhile the event is still arguably for-profit, as the tickets are sold by a for-profit LLC, and a for-profit LLC owns all of the intellectual property.

The only thing innovative the organizers have done in the past few years was in an office with their accountants and lawyers. A lot of hope for the future which they hyped went up in smoke.

During this recent period we’ve seen the embrace of for-profit operations running at burning man itself, a divisive issue in the community. The founders OK’d selling all-inclusive packages on-site. We’ve seen the ever growing amount of big dollar corporate media projects (the recent Spark film has been sold by amazon, itunes, netflix, microsoft, sony, and available on ShowBox). A founder said that Rolling Stone magazine and Vogue magazine were asked to pay $100,000 fees to make photographs at the event. With all of these ventures the organizers of burning man get a cut of the proceeds. But, little to nothing ever comes of that money which comes in.

It seems a shame that at a time of apparent unprecedented profit and success for the business that little seems to be going back in to it. The infrastructure has been mostly the same for the past 15 years. The organizers still refuse to fully fund any art pieces but The Man (3.5% of the projects at burning man get a small stipend which doesn’t cover the projects total cost).

…Imagine a burning man with a vastly different layout each year, where you couldn’t always predict that your neighbor camp was going to be next to you, because the organizers don’t even know what the city would look like next. Imagine a burning man where the art was more well integrated in to the city itself, by the organizers themselves, who paid top dollar for amazing creations that the community would have difficulty funding and achieving

Read the whole piece here.

Creativity, fun, and helping others are a great start. What other principles and ideals do you think are important? We could do so much better. Let’s mix it up a bit.


Big Art That Will Blow Your Mind

Fest300 have published a story on some of this year’s larger art installations.

We’ve covered some of these already:

Embrace Embrace

Temples, Temples, Everywhere

Temple Deal Falls Through

2014 Art Grant Winners Announced

Temple Debacle Highlights Hypocrisy

The only one that will actually get burned this year is David Best’s Temple of Grace.


Re-blogged from Fest300:



Article by: 
Published: July 15, 2014
Photo by: Josh Haywood

Soon the desert will bloom with art. Like a lunar cactus that only flowers once a year, the Black Rock Desert will blossom with the weird, wild, and wonderful during Burning Man. Here are a few art projects we are excited to see, and you can contribute to their success.

The Embrace by the Pier Group

The Embrace   By The Pier Group

From the artists who imagined a sand-locked shipwreck comes an enormous Embrace  fit for those fleeting Playa moments that seem eternal.

“It’s planned to be a space where people can sit, reflect, look up, feel the wind through the sculpture, and think about life and love,” says Matt Schultz, the project’s lead artist.

The sculpture is a monument to relationships, both present and past. Schultz’s stepfather died unexpectedly in 2011, and the persistent feeling of absence inspired Schultz to reflect on the moments in relationships when people know they are loved.

Embrace is also meant to explore the idea of collective consciousness, the shared beliefs and ideas that unify a society. To this effect, each of the figures’ heads will be accessible by spiral staircase and will each hold about 20 people, who will have a view out to the other head, the event, and the expansive desert. This design feature is intended as a metaphor for shared experiences and viewpoints.

You can help.

The Temple of Grace by David Best

Grace 400

One of the most renowned temple artists is no stranger to Burning Man. After the proposed Temple of Descendants got sidelined, David Best stepped up again. Known for his masterpieces The Temple of Juno, The Temple of Forgiveness and others, this prolific temple artist is very loved by Burners.

“The Temple of Grace is intended to be a spiritual and sacred space for memorials, reflection, celebration, and to commemorate life transitions. It is the latest in a long line of temples going back to 2000, which started the tradition of the temple built as a spiritual center for this art festival. It is a special work of art given to the community, and is a spiritual refuge where thousands gather, each to engage with it in his or her own way. The community comes to write their memorials and place tokens of their transitions, and it is burned at the end of the festival in a tradition of releasing them by the immolation of the temple.”

Contribute here.

Paha’oha’o by Kahai Tate

The Volcano

Sacrifice yourself in a giant volcano slide. You are a virgin no more. And this fire god approves when you hurl your flesh into the fire.

“The Hawaiian translation of Paha’oha’o is transformation,” as described by Indiegogo. “Transform into something more beautiful or elevated. In Hawaii, eruptions are viewed as beneficial, as acts of creation, and Hawaiians often see their lives mirrored in the level of volcanic activity.”

Get involved.

The Celestial Mechanica by Jessica Welz

Celestial Mechanica2

In our minds it’s the Dark Crystal meets Playa in this universal installation. Celestial Mechanica  will allow its participants to travel to a whimsical world that is our own world. You have not seen our world in this way and you will be amazed. It is a kinetic mechanical representation of our own solar system. By just walking a few steps one can travel great expanses and explore this amazing place; you are the spaceship.


Pulse and Bloom by Shilo Shiv Suleman, Saba Ghole, and Rohan Dixit

Pulse And Bloom

Synchronize your heartbeat with up to 25 other burners with a mechanical reactive lotus flower garden.

Pulse and Bloom is an interactive art installation that visualizes the heartbeats of participants with the hope of syncing human heartbeats in a rhythmic pattern,” says the artists. “Composed of 25 mechanical lotuses arranged in a circular matrix shape with LED lights embedded inside each lotus, Pulse and Bloom is activated when individual participants physically interact with a lotus. Each lotus is equipped with a pulse sensor that, when pressed by a participant, translates their heartbeat into flashing LED lights within the lotus. As more people begin to interact with the different lotuses, visualizing their heartbeats in flashing lights, we will begin to see the effects of each person’s heartbeat on the other and the effect of meditative synchronicity unfold.”

Hayam Sun Temple by Josh Haywood

Temple Of The Sun

sun temple for Burners and sun worshippers—sometimes the beauty is in the details.

As Josh describes it: “‘Hayam’: a filigree temple of light and shelter, a spiritual retreat resting lightly on the Playa, a tiny tessellated palace named for love and open to the sky, a miniature caravanserai to welcome the weary traveller.

The Hayam embodies the spirit of Islamic geometry: intricately interwoven patterns and repeating themes that speak of infinity. Geometry is the language of the universe; in the very small the infinite can be found.”

Hybycozo by Serge Beaulieu and Yelena Filipchuk


Beautiful, golden, laser-cut 3D shapes will form in the desert sands of Burning Man. In the artists’ words: “Much like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, these sculpture are meant to provide a map and a definitive set of instructions for interacting with a reality as subjective as plans to destroy the earth to build a hyperspace bypass may seem. We hope each Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone will amaze and inspire all beings that it comes into contact with it.” We have a feeling they will.

Donate here. 

Coup de Foudre Musical Lightning by Matt Faulkner and David Brown

The Tesla Coil

Stuff we love: giant Tesla coils and lightning bolts you can dance under. Enough said.

Here’s how Matt Faulkner describes the work: “Coup de Foudre is a large-scale electrical art piece for Burning Man 2014. Drawing on recent Tesla coil innovations, Coup de Foudre will produce large (10 foot) arcs of lightning that can be modulated to produce sound and respond to music. An idiom for love at first sight that translates literally to bolt of lightning, Coup de Foudre seeks to evoke awe for beautiful and dangerous forces.”

Support this project.

The Vulvatron by the Clitterati

The Vulvatron is a mobile art piece designed by a group of female artists in San Francisco.

“The Vulvatron is an interactive, immersive environment that celebrates the female experience in us all. Through an immersive multi-media experience, the Vulvatron explores the feminine identity and acts as an advocate for feminist issues. The project’s form is inspired by the often politicized and stigmatized vulva. There are two 20’ tall projection screens in the shape of labia. Our video artists will project images on these that are evocative of the feminine – human forms, elements, abstract geometric shapes, and so on. In addition, people will be able to stimulate the lighting effects of the Clitoris by touching sensors located within the installation.”

Help make it happen.

For more incredible projects and ways to support them, check out the full list of 2014 Burning Man Honorarium Art Installations

Burning Man: Back to the Future

by Whatsblem the Pro

Or you can just sit there forever in your Rules-Royce, sucker

Or you can just sit there forever in your Rules-Royce, sucker

Whether the topic is children on the playa, cops on the playa, feathers on the playa, or just rules in general on the playa, burners are going to argue bitterly and at great length about it. Any time these topics are raised in any burner forum online, the conversation draws hundreds of comments, many of them aggressive to the point of abuse. It’s as though the desert fosters endless dispute in spite of all the groovy talk about togetherness and family and unity of purpose.

How can we resolve these seemingly unresolvable disagreements?

Consider the original reasons for going out to the Black Rock Desert in the first place; it was largely because the remoteness and harshness of the place made it a good place for a Temporary Autonomous Zone. It was a place where you could get your dog good and drunk and let him drive your car across the playa at 120MPH while you leaned out the passenger window, peppering the drive-by shooting range with buckshot. . . and there was nobody who could tell you with any authority that anything about that was wrong.

Ever since Larry Harvey and his gang co-opted that freedom by putting a fence around it and selling tickets, you aren’t even allowed to bring your dog, much less get him drunk. The speed limit is 5MPH, and firearms are frowned upon. . . because as everyone will tell you if you happen to lament those bygone days, the event is just too big for it to be practical to not have any rules. While that’s probably very true, it’s also true that without the fence and the tickets the event may very well have remained small enough for it to be OK. . . but I digress.

When the festivities on Baker Beach grew too large to avoid unwanted attention from the police, it became clear that San Francisco was no place for a Temporary Autonomous Zone of any size, as it would not and could not be tolerated by the locals. . . so, thanks to the Cacophony Society, a TAZ capable of supporting Burning Man as it existed in those days was established in the Black Rock Desert. Now Black Rock City itself is so big that the locals there balk at the idea of having no rules. . . so instead of discarding the best thing about the event in its early days, why aren’t we establishing a new TAZ to serve the needs of the woolier, more freedom-loving denizens of Black Rock City?

The obvious answer, of course, is that no matter what Larry Harvey or Marian Goodell say in speeches and press releases, Black Rock City LLC is a corporate business entity that exists for the purpose of making money, not for fostering anything too radical in the way of culture, and that purpose is inimical to the very idea of autonomy. The Disneyfication of the playa marches ever onward in the name of profits, and public relations problems are dealt with in the corporate way: by paying people off and covering things up. For example, I speculate that rape kits are not available at Burning Man, not because the environment is too harsh or the chain of custody being too difficult to maintain; but because having rape kits on the playa would mean that far more rapes at Burning Man would be reported, instead of shrugged off and forgotten about. Many rape victims would rather stay at Burning Man and quietly put the rape behind them than spend the rest of the burn in a Reno hospital talking to cops and doctors. In short, maybe we don’t have rape kits out there because it would hurt the corporate brand that the Org owns and profits from.

The profit motive is what brought us to this, and the profit motive has swollen the numbers of people attending to the point that most of them no longer have much in common with the free spirits that came to share their visions with each other in the early days of the event. At this late date, any proposal that suggests Burning Man might return to its origins of envelope-pushing freedom is immediately shouted down as unreasonable and unrealistic.

Imagine, though, a designated area on the playa – for waiver-signing adults only – with no rules. A place near enough to BRC to get to easily, but far enough away that gunfire isn’t a problem. A controlled-access TAZ. An anarchy park, within the confines of Burning Man. A place with no cops, no rules, and no limits.

Black Rock City can grow and grow, and so can the rules and the Disneyland-like aspects and the mandated safety and the numbers of children and the vast hordes of finger-pointers and burnier-than-thou shamers. . . and we’ll still have (we’ll once again have) a place to be ourselves, completely unfettered by anyone’s rules or expectations.

Comments are encouraged.