Describing Burning Man -
A Week of Radical Self Expression
Man 2014 was my 15th Burn. Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who
has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular
color looks like to someone who is blind. To truly understand this event, one
Burning Man is an experiment in temporary community and an exercise in radical
self-reliance. The people who attend Burning Man are no mere "attendees," but
rather participants in every sense of the word: they create the city, the
interaction, the art, the performance and ultimately the "experience."
The event takes place in Black Rock Desert, Nevada (18-Hour drive from Phx). The
Black Rock Desert is a thoroughly flat, prehistoric lakebed, composed of hardpan
alkali, called “The Playa”, ringed by majestic mountains. You must take with you
everything you need to survive for the event, and all things that remain you
must cart out. Leave No Trace.
At its base, Burning Man is an art festival. Art comes in many forms, and so
little of it is hanging in galleries. You may not see any traditional paintings,
songs, or theatrical performances, but Burning Man does indeed have a lot of
art. Art pops up there in many ways as art cars, painted bodies, eclectic
sculptures, outlandish performances, and all types of creative endeavors. It's
very hard not to get involved in some sort of artistic venture while you're
there. Even if you don't come prepared for it, you might get your face or body
painted, involve yourself in the creating your own camp infrastructure, or dance
a new way. Ever changing, expanding and evolving art abounds.
It's hard to describe the community of Black Rock City. There are only two
places to spend money: the central camp volunteer espresso bar, and CampArtica
where you can buy ice. Acceptance of ideas and actions are rampant in the
community. The social mores against things like public nudity, interaction with
strangers, or self-expression do not exist in Black Rock City. This gives people
the freedom to be or become whatever they desire.
All week long there are events to view and to participate in. Since most camps
are open, and many even provide interactive art or public services, a real sense
of open sharing begins to infest even the most closed person. Water, gifts, art,
services and just about everything is regularly and often openly shared at
nearly any camp.
The weather on the Playa can be abominable. With temps in the high 90's, for us
Desert Folk no problem, but for those from cooler climates, the heat and not
drinking enough water proved to be quite challenging. At least once a day &
sometimes for hours on end whiteout sandstorms made dust masks and goggles an
There is Music, Music, and Music everywhere. All kinds of music, Techno, Funk,
Jazz, Punk, Disco, Drumming & Rock & Roll, places to party at any time of the
day or night. Even during the worst of the dust storms there were people
blasting Techno music in complete defiance of the potential peril they or their
equipment were in.
Yes, many people tend to go nude. Myself, I went nude, wore various costumes;
articles of clothing that I would not normally wear, and felt free and at peace
with myself, and the community around me. Though I did undergo what I call
'Nakedness Inundation Therapy.' I saw so many naked people that nudity lost its
special meaning. By the end of the event I was thirsting for clothed bodies
simply for the allure of it.
For some, getting naked and being with nature is spirituality enough. Some find
spirituality in music as they dance and some find it in the hearts and minds of
others. The open acceptance of Black Rock allows for nearly any pursuit of
On Saturday night “The Man” made of wood, which stands 50 feet tall is set
ablaze in a frenzy of activity. Originally, the burning of the man was a
tradition of the old religions held in midsummer. This theme echoed across many
cultures as the burning of the wicker man, the release of the past and a
preparation to reap the benefits of months of labor.
In a more modern context, the burning of The Man has a more colloquial symbolism
for some people. "The Man" represents those entities in our society that oppress
us and prevent every city from being like Black Rock. For me, "The Burn" is the
ultimate Bon Fire, which has no beginning or end. Before "The Man" burns
fireworks are ablaze in a fury of activity as everyone awaits the climax of the
week. "The Man" begins to burn slowly then is engulfed in flames and with it
goes all self-doubt.
I had some intensely spiritual moments on the Playa. When I found myself dancing
with others while “The Man” burned, I began releasing my ties to the past; my
heart and mind were freed. I am absolutely bursting with energy from within, and
I have more peace in my soul than I ever knew I could have. My self-confidence
is at an all-time high and I feel as unstoppable as I did as a teenager.
Burning Man is an experience that has transformed my life. It has brought me new
ways of thinking, new friends from all over the globe of which to share a common
vision, that together we can build a community, share together, live together &
we will be back again, next year in Black Rock City.