Fire-spitting octopuses and other mythical creatures
THE BURNING MAN FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE WAY OUT IN THE DESERT. IN THE MIDST OF SANDSTORMS, AT TEMPERATURES UP TO FORTY DEGREES BY DAY AND ZERO BY NIGHT. THERE IS NO ELECTRICITY, NO RUNNING WATER, NO CELL PHONE OR INTERNET RECEPTION. AND THIS PLACE IS SUPPOSED TO BE PARADISE?
★ Photography : PlanetVisible
★ Words : Leslie Leuenberger
There is haze on the horizon. Dry sand dust swirling up. The burning heat takes away your breath. The ground underneath your feet, a dry salt lake. There’s nothing there. Nothing except drought. Nothing except never-ending desert. Wasteland. We find ourselves in the nowhere, in the northwest of Nevada. No one would ever come to this place voluntarily. That’s what one would think. As a matter of fact, exactly that is tradition for some and a dream for many. On the last Monday of August, from one day to the other, this monotone landscape changes completely into something else. About 70 000 people build a city of tents, aligned in a circle. There, united in the desert, every year one of the biggest and craziest parties of the world takes place. Burning Man. An alternative festival for artists, idealists, hipsters, eccentrics, party lions and rubbernecks.
For eight days the black rock desert becomes black rock city. A fantasy town full of absurdities. From dimensional psychedelic art installations to hug booths to moving, fire spitting Octopuses and mad-max-cars (art cars as they are called). The visitors themselves become mythical creatures, wearing eye-catching costumes or even better, nothing at all.
“A FANTASY TOWN FULL OF ABSURDITIES. FROM DIMENSIONAL PSYCHEDELIC ART INSTALLATIONS TO HUG BOOTHS TO MOVING, FIRE SPITTING OCTOPUSES AND MAD-MAX-CARS.”
Brave New World
What started in 1986 in a small circle of friends has become – thirty years later – a huge trend. Burning Man is supposed to heal the soul and change lives, say the visitors. No wonder everyone wants to go to the desert. However, to get there is not as easy as it is with other festivals. You need to invest several weeks if not months of preparation, hours in an airplane, car or bus and a lot of money. A regular ticket costs US$ 425, US$ 990 and US$ 1200 for tickets in the presale. Also festival visitors need to bring litters and litters of water and enough food for seven days. Apart from coffee and ice, there is nothing to buy, nothing to sell. Advertisements and commerce is forbidden at Burning Man. Instead, generosity, kindness and acceptance are widespread. Everyone is welcome, everything is being shared, everyone helps everyone. The sense of community is what makes this festival so unique. Sex, drugs and parties are a nice plus. Be whoever you want to be. Do whatever you want to do, as long as you don’t harm others. That’s the guiding principal. Burning Man is an escape from normality. A society and a world made of rainbow cotton candy.
“BURNING MAN IS AN ESCAPE FROM NORMALITY. A SOCIETY AND A WORLD MADE OF RAINBOW COTTON CANDY.”
Trouble in paradise
Black rock city offers its citizens an alternative system. A make-believe-anarchy. Emphasis on make-believe. Of course there is a committee behind the festival. One with strong principals that needs to watch and control the crowds. To their joy the Burning Man Festival is becoming bigger and bigger. There are even plans of making it a permanent place for people to visit. By now even the super rich wish to be part of it. Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page turned Burning Man into a networking event. Cara Delevigne and Katy Perry go there for the Instagram kick. With a private helicopter at one’s disposal it is easy to just fly in for the weekend. For the billionaires there is air-conditioning, gourmet catering and staff. „Betrayal“ the loyal visitors, the so-called burners shout. They are convinced corporate America is poisoning the spirit of the festival. As a matter of fact, last year the first time ever in the history of Burning Man the committee had do deal with vandalism. An unknown group of burners flooded one of the VIP-tents with water and cut the electrical cables. It was meant as a message against the class system, against the gentrification of the desert. And at the same time it was self-betrayal. The question is: Is reality overtaking the utopia?
When the desert burns
And what about the Burning Man? The giant 18-meter wooden sculpture is placed in the centre of the festival area, overlooking the playa. On the sixth day the statue goes up in flames. And the crowd is cheering. The desert burns. It is a spiritual act. Self-purification. A celebration of evanescence. What the burn means interprets each one for themselves.
After eight days the dream is over. Thousands of people pack up their bags, tents and garbage and leave the desert. Back to reality. What stays is the memory of this tiny piece of freedom and the ashes of the Burning Man.