Burning Man 2011: Rites of Passage

A year ago, I was surprised with a trip to the Burning Man (BM) festival. For those unfamiliar with the event, Black Rock City is an ephemeral town that exists for only one week each year created by 50,000+ “Burners” as a celebration for radical art. After a week, the city is completely disassembled and partially burned, leaving the stark, white desert exactly as bare as it had been when the event started.

Burning Man 2011

Despite having an adventurous and open mind, I wasn’t enthusiastic at all.  The idea of spending a week under brutal and inhospitable conditions of the desert and everything else that it involved based my preconception of the event. Besides, going to Burning Man meant huge preparation as the event is based on the concept of self-sufficiency. Attendees are expected to bring along all their own food, water, shelter and any other supplies and gear they need to live in the desert during the week (light and very warm clothes, bikes, tables, chairs, shelter, goggles, dust mask, tons of water, food, etc).

Burning Man 2011

We drove from Vancouver BC and as we got over the hill arriving to Gerlach, the Playa–their name for the desert where Burning Man is held-reveled itself far out in the distance, displaying lasers and shooting flames in the dark sky.  The ambivalence cultivated by the long deserted drive morphed into awe and excitement.  My jaw remained dropped for 2 hours as we made our way to camp. The sight was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Once reaching the gate, a group of strangers welcome you like this was the only place you were ever supposed to be followed by the rituals: roll in the dust, ring the bell, hug, and welcomed “home”.  Everyone is dressed up as straight out of a Mad Max movie and cars shaped like giant fish and boats meander through the streets. RVs, cars, and tents stretch as far as the eye could see and huge scale nightclubs with 30 foot tall dance platforms are packed full of burners being driven around. It felt as though I was in a post-apocalyptic society of hedonists who colonized the moon.

Burning Man 2011

People like myself often think Burning Man is a “hippie music festival with lots of drugs and nudity”. This popular image is not entirely incorrect but really not as obvious as one would think. It’s easy to be irritated by everything that is happening there but there is also so many amazing things to focus on. I attended the most fascinating TedTalk by well renowned Mycologist Paul Stamets and decided to focus my attention on all the amazing things Burning Man has to offer, such as the vast collection of the most brilliant interactive art installations scattered out on the playa desert. That’s what made Burning Man so unique to me.
It is mind boggling to see the amount of time, energy, money and most importantly ingenuity people put into their art cars and art installations.  It makes the art much more powerful and significant than seeing it at a museum and viewed one after another. It was a very holistic way to experience art as it should be. They also projected different feelings and magically morphed depending on the time of the day.
At night is really when Burning Man shines as nearly every building, vehicle, and person is covered in electroluminescent wire or some other form of illumination which gives the impression of being at the bottom of the ocean and surrounded glowing creatures in motion.

Burning Man 2011

Below are my favorites from Burning Man 2011:Rites of Passage

Charon The ferryman of the dead crossing the river Stix: The most amazing piece of art I have ever seen! by Peter Hudson 

Everything about it was well thought out to create the most incredible experience. It is beautiful as a static piece or during the day but becomes utterly eerie in motion at night. Charon is a 34 foot tall 3D stroboscopic zoetrope consisting of 20 animated skeletons. A minimun of 12 people pulling ropes in unison is required to bring life to Charon to produce what can only be described as a mass hallucination. To get the wheel turning, there were ropes attached to pulleys between the supporting legs. Once the wheel reaches the right speed, strobe lights illuminate the 3D sculptures achieving the illusion of motion. The creepy squeaky sound, the bell, the water effect and the skeleton who turns his head to look you right in the eye while mocking makes this a true master piece. When witnessed in person, the effect is absolutely breath taking.

Still photography cannot capture the effect, and even movie clips rarely do it well. This video does a reasonable job of capturing the impression of movement starting about one minute into the video sequence. Pay attention to how the birds move (and hands opposite) on the side of the boat.

The Wet Dream by Warmbaby was an uncanny desert oasis. In the heat of the day it will provide shelter with the gentle audio of falling rain and the occasional thunderstorm. By night the rain effect is enhanced by a visual experience of white LED rope lights, descending from different heights above.

Also one of my favourite is Duane Flatmo’s El Pulpo Mecanico. This steampunk car was beautifully detailed and crafted! It was made out of found and recycled material. The kinetic sculpture has moving arms, eyes and mouths, and shoots flames from its 8 tentacles, making you travel to a fantasy world where science fiction, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction meet.

I was so impressed by this last piece. As its name suggest, it was indeed an Oasis. The Otic Oasis 2.0 is a 38-ft, climbable, honey comb-like structure made of interlocking pieces of wood by the artist Gregg Fleishman. It was designed as a place of tranquility, providing shade and shelter to people, erected in a free of motorized vehicles and amplified music. This exquisite piece of architecture was built out of 15,000 pounds of wood carried by hand in the walk in only area, and built without the use of any nails or glue.

I dreamt of Burning Man in the most litteral sense every night for weeks after being back from the event. Being there was like being in a dream where everything feels right even though nothing makes sense.
Having to make a selection of my “Best Of Burning Man” for this blog post was nearly impossible. There is so much more to share than what is presented here. It’s a sensory overload that can only be experienced to be understood as there is nothing comparable to it. Black Rock City may have vanished after that week, but the memories and experiences will be instilled in me forever.

After sharing some of my favourite art piece, here is one of my favourite moment.


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