Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Burning Man - A Look back at the Man.....

Burning Man 2012
A look back at the journey and the dust....

                  This year’s official theme at Burning Man was Fertility 2.0, which managed to actually freak out the crazies of Black Rock City in a fun new way…kids!! Don’t be surprised to see a small-scale baby boom take place nine months from now, when many of the fertile ladies of the playa start having cosmically-conceived bundles of joy. The theme gave us city streets named for flowers, art cars shaped like sperm, and workshops focused on creative fertility of the soul.
                  We saw the fertility theme all over  this year, but it paled in comparison to a secret theme that seemed to be subconsciously on everyone’s mind: Sharks. This year was definitely Shark Week everywhere on the playa. It started before we even left Denver, at a costume shop by my house. Seeda found a shark-eating-a-person costume, and thankfully snatched it up. Otherwise, our whole RV of pirates would have been defenseless against the giant flame-throwing octopus and the even larger shark art car. We stopped at the Great Salt Flats in Utah, (also known as the “Bath-Salt Flats” among zombie communities) to do some sharking and pirating among vacationing Mormons. They seemed to get it, but refused to participate or help even when Seeda the Shark ate Big Jim the Sea Captain’s leg by the dumpster.
                  We reattached the leg and continued on to Nevada. The closer you get to the playa, the stronger the vibes get. We were giddy. There’s not really any other way to say it. We were laughing and romping and playing the didgeridoo the whole way. A blown tire in the middle of nowhere barely even slowed us down. The last bump in the road we faced was the obligatory Wal-Mart run in Reno. It sucks that so many of us burners have to rely on the ultimate evil corporation to supply our survival out at Burning Man, but dammit, we are poor! Well, most of us. I heard Bill Gates had a camp this year…
                  We arrived at the gates late Sunday night. It was windy and the air was heavy with dust. I had been sleeping, but the second I woke and realized where we were, it was like a shot of pure adrenaline. I jumped out of the RV and ran to will call, going crazy with the thought of holding my ticket in my hand. Twenty minutes later, tickets in hand, we entered the gates of Black Rock City.
                  Comparing the world of Burning Man to the real world is a pointless and impossible activity. It is sufficient to say that living on Black Rock Desert is kind of like living on the Moon, but with better lighting and parties. New York City sleeps a hell of a lot more than Black Rock. Your needs and wants change drastically here. In default world you worry about having money for gas, getting to work on time, or washing your car. On the playa, you don’t worry. You react. You move with the tides of energy and let them sweep you across the flat, alien surface of the dust, interacting with some of the most beautiful people on Earth. Hyperbole? No. Reality.

                  This year was phenomenal in terms of art installations. We came across new ones every time we ventured out into deep playa. They ranged from the strange, as in a fish tank full of fertility tests (jars of pee) to which you were encouraged to contribute, and a giant head and arm grasping a metallic fish rising from the ground, to the beautiful, with huge wooden geometric eggs, and multi-surface 360⁰ mirrors reflecting images of art cars and hoop spinners as they passed by. We visited Alex Grey’s dome, filled with art by both him and other visionary contemporary artists. My friend Opal sat in on a workshop there, and got the chance to draw alongside Alex, as models posed in impossible acro-yoga positions for incredible amounts of time.
The best theme camp for me had to be Sacred Spaces. It was a masterpiece of resonance and beauty, and we stumbled into it on the first morning after being up all night. Gratefully we entered the network of domes and discovered room upon room of altars, each designed around a different theme and color scheme. It was the perfect place to relax and unwind after a mad night of adventures. I returned as often as I could, though I unfortunately missed the many workshops they hosted, on topics such as sacred sexuality and unleashing your creativity.

The sound camps were all on top of their games this year, and it was a serious struggle to choose where to be at any given time, because everyone was throwing down. Constantly. I was beyond stoked to call Basscouch my home. Jeff Bailie, Noah Groundscore and the rest of the crew made something truly incredible there. It was by far the best community experience I’ve had in three years on the playa, because not only did they have insanely sick music pouring from massive speakers 24-7, but also a extremely well-planned camp structure and a group of the coolest people ever. Coloradoans know how to throw a party. But one cannot go to Burning Man and stay in camp all day, no matter how rad it may be. Lucky for us, we were within walking distance of Osiris (a giant, flame-spewing pyramid of party), Opulent Temple (a Burning Man staple for many years, where some of the biggest names play), and a sweet little spot called the Tsunami of Bass Experience. I surfed on the waves of sound there for a long time, and earned a “rebirth into a new life of bass” certificate. It was a big deal.
The other side of the playa had some bad dust-dune issues, which made us not as keen to venture over, but of course we had to check out Root Society. They had returned after a one-year hiatus with a monstrously huge, curved video wall, designed by VJ Infinight. This massive structure was visible across the playa, and it was a serious feast for the senses as beams of light and heavy bass vibrations surrounded dusty party people. We caught some sick sets at camps down the way from Root, and I was really impressed by the amount of effort put forth by every camp I saw. There really wasn’t a slacker group in the bunch, because everything looked beautiful and sounded amazing. This year definitely seemed to go all out from day one.
The day the Man burns is both hugely exciting and bittersweet, because you know that it is almost over for another year. There isn’t much to say about the actual burn. It is the kind of thing you have to see to really get. If you missed it, YouTube videos are a start, but nothing will ever be really as powerful as seeing such a giant structure absolutely explode into flame as thousands upon thousands of energized, magical creatures focus their collective vision upon it. Sometimes words fail in the face of such a huge and fleeting occurrence, one that hardly even seems possible in the real world.
The best secret surprise this year had to be Burn Wall Street. We all watched the man go down, and were ready to head out and party around the city, when we realized that there was still an ENTIRE CITY BLOCK of SKYSCRAPERS to burn! The huge complex of multi-story buildings had names like Goldman-Sucks and Merrill Lynched and the Bank of Un-America, and they surrounded a mock-up of the Stock Exchange topped with a gigantic evil frog-bat. That shit went down hard. By far the most aggro-burn I’ve ever seen, Burn Wall Street was an anarchistic rage-fest against the parts of default-world that Burning Man culture rejects. Money. Power. Greed. Selfishness. We burned that city block and said, “Look at us. We don’t need you.”

Luckily for everyone, the rage didn’t last long, and once the evil frog-bat was reduced to ashes, we all went back to our lovingly conscious selves. The healing was completed on the last day, as we watched the moving spectacle that is the temple burn. For those that have not been, the temple at the top center of the city’s circle is where community members leave relics of their lives that hold the deepest meanings. Many of the inscriptions are for those who have died. Others are for broken friendships and relationships, personal struggles and triumphs, and reflections of lessons learned by a community like no other on earth. This burn is silent and highly emotional for many. The thousands that had gathered in a collective scream the night before now gathered in a moment of silence, as towering whirlwinds of smoke and flame consumed the mementos and pictures of things and people that are gone.
Every year at Burning Man is a challenge and a triumph. The laughs last longer and the tears seem to flow from a deeper place when you’re in the dust. The people and the place and the energy have created a new culture that I am deeply grateful to be a part of. I look forward to decompressing in Denver with my beautiful Black Rock City friends. But nothing here in this world can really do it for me after the playa. Thank you, Burning Man.  

A Look Back at Burning Man 2012
By Jessica Hendricks
Photos by: Kt Biaz

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