Burn Before, After, and While Reading

by Whatsblem the Pro

3 out of 4 BARmag staffers have human faces -- Photo: BARmag

3 out of 4 BARmag staffers have human faces

While some might assume that we’re rivals, here at Burners.me we regard the staff of BURN AFTER READING MAGAZINE as a great bunch of people who put out some excellent writing on the subject of Burning Man. We’re pleased to have them as colleagues, and happy to see them thrive.

BARmag co-founder Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee graciously agreed to do an interview with our own Whatsblem the Pro.

Whatsblem the Pro:

What do you tell people when they ask you what BARmag is?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

BARmag – or Burn After Reading Magazine – is a burner art and culture mag. We cover burner stuff all around the world, from Afrikaburn to the Temple of Christchurch in New Zealand. We post articles on the web year-round. Aside from our website we have a print magazine at Burning Man.

Whatsblem the Pro:

You co-founded BARmag, right?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

Yes. Doug Crissman, our art director, and myself started the magazine in the winter of 2011. I was doing volunteer work at another magazine during that time and it made me realize that we could easily be doing our own art mag. Doug was a part of another art magazine in college, called Deek. He did a lot of design for that and even helped to run it for a couple years post-grad until the magazine eventually folded. When I brought up the idea of the magazine he was immediately on board, although I’m not sure if he realized I was actually serious about it. Two months later BARmag was up and running on the web.

Aside from the two of us, we have roughly thirty to thirty-five volunteers who do a lot of the articles and design. The coolest part is that our volunteers are literally spread all over the globe. 

Whatsblem the Pro:

What are BARmag‘s goals?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

I think the ultimate goal for BARmag is that we find a way to be fully self sufficient. No kickstarters and constantly begging for donations. Just an awesome magazine each year on the Playa showcasing the amazing art all these people bring to the desert. If we grew to be a quarterly magazine and I could pay my staff and we could give a grant to Burning Man literary art each year that would be my dream world.

Whatsblem the Pro:

Can anyone write for BARmag?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

Yup! We are radically inclusive. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll just take every article though. We like to keep our magazine focused on Burning Man art and culture specifically. We also don’t take any fiction or poetry. But we are happy to work with everyone and the more volunteers the merrier!

Whatsblem the Pro:

What does BARmag do on the playa during Burning Man?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

Raised by Wolves, Dressed by Ringling Bros.

Raised by Wolves, Dressed by Ringling Bros.

Our cafe is part of the frontage of Raised By Wolves which is my home camp. Some magazine members camp with us but many of them have their own camps all over playa. Luckily my friends at Raised By Wolves are totally into running our cafe and helping to gift the magazine. Their support really makes our magazine that much more special. I’m really grateful for all of them and for all of the magazine staff that continue to make this project happen.

Whatsblem the Pro:

Assuming an article isn’t something you reject automatically, like fiction or poetry, what is it that you look for in a piece of writing that might be appropriate for BARmag?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

The art and culture thing is a big criteria. As long as an article encompasses that wether its a review of a burner party or a fabulous Burning Man packing list if it highlights the art and gives back to our culture then it goes in the mag.

Whatsblem the Pro:

How did you find your way to Burning Man, and how has it changed your life year-round? How has it influenced you as a writer and editor?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

I stumbled onto Burning Man accidentally. In July 2010 I moved into a new house in Philly and my two roommates were going to the Burn. They invited me to a couple Burning Man parties – PEX Magic Garden and Disorient Boom Boat. I was totally blown away. These were my people! They loved crazy art and costumes as much as I did! Not only that but they created the worlds I dreamed up as a kid! I helped do set up for Magic Garden as well as set up and strike for Boom Boat. I was immediately hooked. That August my roomie, Tristen and I drove my car full of people and stuff from Philadelphia to Black Rock City. Last year Tristen and I got engaged at Kostume Kult on Playa.

It changed my life by teaching me that art is something you can create RIGHT NOW! It’s inspired me to take my big ideas and actually make them happen! As a writer and editor it taught me that I didn’t need the validation of others to make things. I could create things for myself and if others enjoyed them then that was a total bonus.

You can help keep BARmag running on and off the playa by donating to their Kickstarter campaign.

The Rise of the Creative Class: NadaDada Motel Does it Again

by Whatsblem the Pro

Art by Killbuck

Art by Killbuck

There are a lot of ways to burn, and when you start talking about what makes someone a burner or not a burner, chances are good that you’re about to say something foolish. One thing that does tend to hold true, though, is that part of being a burner is being comfortable with ad-hocracy, and being motivated to make things.

As our culture penetrates the mainstream, outbursts of grassroots art that bring our values from the Man to Main Street are inevitable.

This weekend in Reno, the loose and unled affiliation of artists known as NadaDada Motel got together for their seventh year, to unleash a weird and wonderful fireball of creativity on midtown. They usually do their thing in June, but NadaDada is growing! This year the group mustered a second February event, dubbed “Nada Gras.”

The premise is simple: “Get a room, make a show.”

The artists, led by nobody, find an arts-friendly local motel, rent a bunch of rooms for the weekend, and turn their individual rooms into art galleries, happenings, life-slice exhibits. . . even a shoe store for fetishists. Bands show up. Poi spinners dance in the parking lot. It offers artists a low bar for entry into the typically snooty high-dollar world of gallery showings, and sets it all like a jewel in that most American of Americana environments: the cheap motel.

Art by John Molezzo

Art by John Molezzo

Nobody’s in charge, although NadaDada does have a mayor (former Reno mayoral candidate Erik Holland). The artists all promote the show, and some more than others take it upon themselves to do things like scout out motels and talk to the press. There’s no NadaDada LLC, no actual organization, and no real heirarchy, but there’s a casual recognition of who has been showing up and doing things – a sort of friendly, ever-shifting pecking order – and the group seems comfortable with being represented by whomever among those people feels qualified.

Neon artist and Jub Jub veteran Jeff Johnson started the NadaDada Motel shows, and cannily abdicated his position as the group’s leader long before it had a chance to gel into anything official. As an unled ad-hocracy, the event has survived as a yearly show, now expanding to twice-yearly with the addition of Nada Gras in 2013.

Obviously, the setting and amenities are very shoestring and humble; these are artists on the DIY, promoting themselves without the help of the big money arts scene that so often lamentably passes over the local talent in favor of dang furriners from out of town. You wouldn’t think that anyone in New York would take notice of a small grassroots art show way out West in tiny Reno, but no less a light than the New York Times gave NadaDada a shot in the arm in 2009 with this glowing report:

“Venice has its Bienale. Basel, Switzerland, has its Art Basel. And Reno has the NadaDada Motel, a jubilantly unpretentious art event. . .”

I spoke with Chad Sorg and Ad Stein, two of the artists and disorganizers of NadaDada Motel. Chad is a Reno painter and writer who appeared in the documentary film Event Horizon – Burning Man, Burning Reno. Ad (pronounced ‘Ade’ as in ‘lemonade’) is a local writer and teacher.

Chad Sorg and Ad Stein - Photos by Vincent Cascio

Chad Sorg and Ad Stein – Photos by Vincent Cascio

Whatsblem the Pro
So are you two in charge of this thing, or what?

Ad Stein
No! This is a different kind of art show. There’s no organization, for one thing. Nada. No heirarchy, I should say, and that makes it more affordable to non-yuppies!

Whatsblem the Pro
Ha! The price you pay may not be money!

Chad Sorg
Exactly.

Whatsblem the Pro
How did this thing get started? Was it inspired by Burning Man?

Chad Sorg
Well, our event was founded by Jeff Johnson. It was just six people at first, most or all of us were burners or at least familiar with Burning Man. Some of the philosophy from Burning Man has definitely filtered into our event. . . that anarchic spirit.

Whatsblem the Pro
Is there a set of principles you operate on, like Burning Man?

Chad Sorg
Just one: “Get a room, Make a Show.”
Otherwise, no. . . although I do have to give honorable mention to “Leave No Trace.” That’s a biggie that doesn’t always get followed, and I wish it would.

Whatsblem the Pro
And obviously nothing about NadaDada is trademarked or copyrighted as a brand.

Chad Sorg
Nope.

Ad Stein
I went to Burning Man once upon a time, when it was free during it’s last few days when people could get in and not get caught in a herd of buffalo cars. In other words, I went before the wealthy yuppies took over, and it was a nice experience. I learned strangers can be completely great, coordinated together, and make something beautiful.
Then CAPITALism happened. Capital. Caps lock, I like to call it. Tickets got snatched up and resold like real estate. Fortunately, this cannot happen to Nada Dada. We have kept it open and free to the public.

Chad Sorg
From the very start, we–

Ad Stein
We, meaning participants.

Chad Sorg
Yes.
We’ve been conscious of no hierachy. It’s been a huge benefit, as ownership has been spread around and people have understood that it’s theirs.

Whatsblem the Pro
So there’s nobody to shove up against the wall when the praetorians show up?

Chad Sorg
Ha ha. . . I think I told you about the tax man. They came around and were trying to sweat me to collect everyone’s tax ID numbers for them. I said “I’m not in charge. Why me?”
They were trying to get us to do their jobs for them, so we told them to go and do it themselves. They left us alone after that. I’ve worked to promote NadaDada pretty hard over the years, but I’m not the only one. It doesn’t make me the guy in charge.

Ad Stein
“I am not in charge!” It works so well when people use authority as a scapegoat. So basically when anyone has tried to appoint me or hold me to something, I say the same thing! There is no hierarchy. I am not in charge. Go ask the next guy! This forces responsibility from everyone in a way.

Whatsblem the Pro
Beautiful.

Killbuck's Alice in Nadaland installation

Killbuck’s Alice in Nadaland installation

Chad Sorg
Our first year was 2007. That was just six of us, and from there it became over 350 artists and performers, so far.

Ad Stein
The burners I knew loved all the New Age astral-bright colors in my painting. One night during our first NadaDada show, at midnight, Sorg and I were about to go to bed when a crowd of Burners showed up, all dressed up! One of them was made up like the Devil, it was great. . . and man, the party got lit on fire! Remember the guy in the rainbow suspenders? He fit right in with my room’s color scheme.

Chad Sorg
Ad and a couple others started the spinoff event this year, Nada Gras. Seven rooms filled so far for that event.

Ad Stein
Yes, we started Nada Gras, but I keep saying that I swear to god I did not start Nada Gras! I just started the idea thread on Facebook. It ended up with a hundred comments and a full event! Then people tried to pick holes and find flaws, asking me things like “Who is responsible?!? Whose event is this?” and I would say, NOT ME! NOT IT! NOT IT! But OK, some people think I started Nada Gras. If so, it flowed through me, not from me. Like how grass grows.

Chad Sorg
Nada Grass!

Ad Stein
Nada Gras is everone’s event and we all started it.

Chad Sorg
I was against the idea, personally.

Ad Stein
It was the universe’s event before I started the Nada Gras thread in the NadaDada group last year!

Chad Sorg
I had been of the mindset that another event in Reno would only water down the June event. I really want to spread the movement to other cities. . . but it’s hard. We tried in Vegas, but they were not receptive there. It takes a budget. Maybe after our book comes out.

Ad Stein
He is focused, determined, wants to make it happen. It seems to happen and grow on its own, from what I saw of it in Reno, and when we tried to get it started in Vegas. . . well, sometimes I feel like it takes a certain formula, like an Einstein thing. Nada has a formula. I have observed and collected data. Something was missing.

Chad Sorg
It belongs to the community. . . so it would have belonged to Vegas, but they were not in need of it.

Unicorn therapy in Rebecca Fox's Psych Ward - Photo by Becki Anne Pearson

Unicorn therapy in Rebecca Fox’s Psych Ward – Photo by Becki Anne Pearson

Ad Stein
It requires a few things, in my personal opinion: a large group of local artists who feel under-represented, yet talented; a publicity specialist or “social brain” person; motel rooms; a local cultural preference for events; a city need for events and tourists, and people who don’t give up when the seed appears to not be blooming. Sometimes it only blooms at the last minute, when not watched. Oh, and a fireball in the middle.

Chad Sorg
Yeah, you need a fireball in the middle who calls it their own.
The art scene in Vegas is pretty strong, so they weren’t really paying attention to NadaDada. No hard feelings. We’re all about creating a way for artists to give gallery showings of their work on an artist’s budget, and they apparently don’t need that right now. I’m going to keep working on spreading it elsewhere, but for now it’s all about building a deeper foundation here in Reno.

Ad Stein
We need more cooperative local motels. . . maybe some of whom are connected to the social media gurus and events scenes.

Chad Sorg
I’d like to see NadaDada really take off, truly on its own. I’d like to see motels filled all over Reno. . .and with people REALLY taking the reins of their own little tribes all over.

Ad Stein
Right! Then one day when people start charging fifty dollars for tickets, we will know it’s the end. Other people will scalp those fifty dollar tickets for five hundred a pop, and NadaDada will be full of yuppies and expensive Aerostars.

Chad Sorg
Anyhoo.

Ad Stein

Let’s take Nada to the playa. At least we don’t have to rent rooms out there. Do it in teepees.

Whatsblem the Pro
The Playa Motel?

Chad Sorg
Someone DID actually suggest that we do a camp out there. This was a few years ago. It’s my belief that the Playa doesn’t need us, though. This is a thing for art communities in cities like ours. It wouldn’t work in San Francisco. It would never take off in New York City. I mean, why would it?

Ad Stein
Never say never. . . but yeah.

Chad Sorg
But in cities like Minneapolis and Denver, they need this, and you can pull it off.

Mr. Jellyfish's GEORGIE BOY was a NadaDada installation before it hit the playa

Mr. Jellyfish’s GEORGIE BOY was a NadaDada installation before it hit the playa

Whatsblem the Pro
Tell me about the first NadaDada Motel.

Chad Sorg
Back then it was at Hotel El Cortez. We had like 30 rooms or so. It was more intimate, but there were also events all over town that year. Many artists were involved outside the hotel. The rooms. . . let’s see. There was one for Planned Parenthood, giving out rubbers. Another was putting on a play. They had a barn built INSIDE a hotel room. Ducks watching TV. . . so nice, that one. I fishbowled in mine. I was behind glass. It was my VERY FIRST fishbowl stunt. I lived behind glass, drew, smoked cigarettes, drank beer.
What else? There was a room dealing with guns. Trelaine, whose come into her own, showed in the bathroom of another artist’s room. She does dead things, bones, skulls and weirdness. . . her attention to detail is pretty on! I’m so proud of her. She hadn’t ever called herself an ‘artist’ until we inspired her to come ‘out’.
It was called Dada Motel that first year. Jeff named it. The thing is, we’ve always had traditional art and never did intend to dictate a particular artistic style, so ‘Dada’ wasn’t such a good fit.
Erik Holland was there that first year. I asked him to be our DadaMayor, as he had actually run for mayor of Reno and had gotten 25% of the vote. I worked with him to understand that this event is his to use. Since then he has used it as a venue to talk about his political agenda, which is stopping sprawl.

Ad Stein
And I was not there. I became a Nada Dada group lurker in 2008 or 2009 but never did anything. I was a repressed artist who had not touched a brush since I was twenty.

Chad Sorg
Last year was Ad’s first year to be involved with a room.

Whatsblem the Pro
So it was called Dada Motel, but you weren’t restricted to Dadaism. . . hence the addition of ‘nada?’

Chad Sorg
Correct.
If Dada was a reaction to the absurdities of war, chaos, rootless struggle for power and Europe’s futile striving, then perhaps NadaDada should celebrate meaningful diversity, spontaneous organization, non-directed creation, unexpected emergence, sustainable action, endless regeneration, urban renewal, radical abundance, holistic optimism, gestalt, a negation of absurdity, Life.
The name the next year became Nada Motel. . . and then the next year, NadaDada Motel. We had been meeting and taking votes, back then, and it was all voted on over beers. I was not for the name NadaDada, like I was against Nada Gras happening. I’m happy to keep reiterating this story because it underlines the fact that NadaDada didn’t give a shit what I wanted. It was out of my hands. No one’s in charge, and dammit. . . I LOVE that!

Whatsblem the Pro
So how has the event evolved over the years, and what can we expect to see this year that will be new and exciting?

Chad Sorg
We’re a lot more literary these days, is a big one.
What else?
Each year the location changes a bit, usually expanding. This year, with NadaGras, I’m hoping we can establish relationships with Midtown’s motels, and possibly use that area of town for June’s event. Last year the majority of it was at Wildflower Village, a bit out of downtown. That was a very nice location and gave a mellow feel to the event, which some folks were not happy about.

Whatsblem the Pro
Do you think those people were more interested in some kind of guerrilla art operation? Like, they’d prefer to baffle the motel owners rather than present their shows in a venue that ‘gets’ them?

Ad Stein
De. Ja. VU.

Chad Sorg
Y’know. . . you state it pretty well, Whatsblem. Yes, that’s exactly it.
Let’s see, what else is new with us?
I’m working to see to it that more artists can work with each other within rooms. Money’s tight all around, and maybe we can help coordinate things so that more people can double up on rooms and do micro shows, of sorts.

Ad Stein
NadaGras seems to have accidentally obtained a performing arts theme. The Mental room, the TSA room.

Chad Sorg
As far as writing, it’d be nice to see people reading to crowds. . . like have some ridiculously hot chicks in skimpies reading.

Probings and pat-downs in the TSA Room. Photo by Vincent Cascio

Probings and pat-downs in the TSA Room. Photo by Vincent Cascio

Whatsblem the Pro
Can you give some advice, maybe some recommended steps, to people wanting to spread the NadaDada gospel in their own cities?

Chad Sorg
Yes. I advise people to buy me a plane ticket and let me come and tell them all about it in person.
No, but seriously: there will be a book out this year, and maybe I’ll include a list of steps to take and some advice on starting your own NadaDada. That’s a good idea. Workin’ on it right now.

Whatsblem the Pro
How can people here in Reno get involved, and what should a first-timer expect as a participant? Like, as an artist, what is my experience going to be like when I show up with my art, ready to get a room and make a show?

Ad Stein
You just said it. . . it’s as simple as that: get a room, make a show.
Some do really well by coordination, collaboration, communication. Get on Facebook and join the NadaDada group, where you can collaborate with the other artists there to be in on the shows, motels, dates, times, meetings, etc.
There’s also a NadaDada Motel fan page, so if you’re not an artist but you want to keep abreast of what we’re doing, you can go there.

Whatsblem the Pro
What do you think of what they’re doing over at that thrift store on 5th?

Ad Stein
I love it. I think it represents a movement toward a greater appreciation for art. Like, the plays they produce happen in the back of a thrift store; the rich are welcome, but it gives people a context where they don’t have to be rich to appreciate art. We’re like them! We don’t want art to be just for the rich or proper or posh anymore! Reno is the city for that.

Chad Sorg
It’s true. Artists are not on high, they’re low. They’re dirty. All that white cube gallery bullshit. . . it’s out. It’s fake theatre, entertainment for the rich. This is the rise of the Creative Class.