Welcome to Black Rock City

In the sprawling State of Nevada, there’s an ancient dry-lake bed in the middle of the Black Rock Desert, and for most of the year, it’s as empty as the Grand Canyon. But every year, a tribe of artists and expressionists transform the quiet plain into a sprawling Mad Max-esque city.

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Photo courtesy of Kyle Harmon via Flickr.com

Prior to arriving in Black Rock City, every visitor has to complete a very long journey to the remote spot. It’s a two-and-half-hour drive from Reno, the closest major city, and many come all the way from Europe and beyond. Upon arriving at Burning Man, everyone will be forced to get out of their car and accept a hug from a scantily dressed man. True story!

The 10 Principles of Burning Man

The reason a visitor would even consider accepting an embrace from a man wearing hot pants, makeup (or perhaps a mask), and sweating under the desert sun, is to shake off the drive, snap you out of reality, and into something far more simple.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Tickets to the most recent Burning Man (Aug. 25 to Sept. 2, 2019) cost $500. The theme for the event was “Metamorphosis,” which was a collective effort toward transformation. To achieve such a state, attendees had to adhere to the long-held tradition of the “10 Principles of Burning Man.” Within these principles is the heart of this wild adventure.

Radical inclusion

“The default world” is the world outside of burning man, and “Metamorphosis” turned all of those who attend on to some individualistic, or group form of expression. One of our Burning Man people here, in hot pants and a cowboy hat with boots, is posing in front of what appears to be a parade of witches headed for burning at the stake.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Can destruction be a form of art? We’ll leave that question to Graham Greene, but for now, we can see that there is no fear our hot pants-clad cowboy, as the barriers of social norms and the power of ego are let go, and everyone accepts everyone for who they are what they transformed into.

Gifting

The second Principle of Burning Man is the lovely human practice of gift-giving. Anyone who experienced the Metamorphosis, or any of the events after 2004, which was when they were written, can tell you that gifting is how the exchange of goods and services work at Burning Man.

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Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson via Flickr.com

There are only two things you can buy at Burning Man: Ice and coffee. But there are stands everywhere, like one in 2008, that had tens of thousands of Barbie Dolls. The gift this expressionist gave was the thrill of killing the Barbie doll in any way possible. Sound insane? Go back to the default world!

Decommodification

Burning Man is not your typical arts festival, and we’re not talking Pollack or Picasso. It’s more in the vein of Bansky, as each form of art is another form of expression. Take this “gas station” here, which looks much like the ones from the default world, except that it’s named “Awful’s.”

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Gasoline is a commodity, perhaps the world’s most coveted, but in Black Rock City the black gold is not accepted. There is one glaring contradiction though, as the only two things that can be bought are indeed commodities, but you try and recover from a hangover in the desert without an iced coffee!

Radical self-reliance

If you were under the impression that grown men in hot pants were only at the entrance of Burning Man, you are sorely mistaken (and we haven’t even gotten to the tutus). But a man who can stand and rollerblade like the one below, bearing most of himself, you can be sure he’s exercising radical self-reliance.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

In order to find oneself, one must navigate the torrid waters of Burning Man, and become someone different than the self that exists in the default world. In order to express oneself, they need to find something that burns inside of them and screams to get out. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Men lead lives of quiet desperation,” but he never visited Burning Man.

Radical self-expression

Now that our attendees have the ability to thrive as they’re being who they want to be, the next step is taking it to the next level with how one presents themselves to the world, just like this pair of “Burning Man-ians” below (we told you to be ready for tutus, but forgot to tell you about the tattoos … or pasties).

Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

We’ve analyzed this guy’s clothing choices to death, but he gets style points for the golden cleats and cane. She gets style points for being very sexy and not being afraid to show it to the world. Now, one must note, that tutus are so prevalent, that the two folks walking in the background have them on too.

Communal Effort

Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the structure in the photograph below. It takes some artists’ days to construct their pieces of art and expression, and this massive one certainly took a great deal of time to finalize.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Pieces of art like this are meant to be interactive, and it probably looks very different inside this wall. It’s a structure that certainly was not built by one person, as it must’ve taken an army. But that’s the spirit that emanates at Burning Man, as they form Black Rock City, and create their own society … for one week.

Civic Responsibility

At Burning Man, given that the currency is gifting, people have a responsibility to share. There is no said value on anything, and giving a gift doesn’t necessarily mean that you get a gift in return. However, this young man is embracing the spirit of giving and is welcoming all customers.

Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Our bartender extraordinaire is well equipped to give, and it appears that he has put together a quite fine set up fr mixing some martinis. This guy must’ve been extremely popular at Burning Man, but we think he’s a little suspect, as clearly he has over-served the lady passed out behind him.

Leave no Trace

Of course, the entire premise of Burning Man is the giant wooden effigy in the shape of a man. At the climax of the event, on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, the 40-foot high man and the tower on which he stands will burn to the ground while attendees cheer on the destruction.

Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

In many ways, burning the effigy to a crisp is a way of leaving no trace, which is a key principle of Burning Man. The original founders are environmentally friendly, and when everyone left on Sept. 2, 2019, a massive clean up effort turned the area into the barren wasteland that it is.

Participation

The 2019 theme of metamorphosis is actually always present at every Burning Man. For the Burning Man principle of participation, community members “believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation.”

Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

It goes on to say, “We achieve being through doing.” If you really want to step outside yourself, just try wearing things that you wouldn’t normally fashion, and take it a step further by wearing something no one would wear in the default world. Once that’s been achieved, it’s time to get weird, and to be applauded for doing it.

Immediacy

A Roman poet who would’ve fond of Black Rock City once said, “carpe diem,” or “seize the day.” His name was Horace, and while he is long gone we don’t have to force a smile when we think about the fact that he lived in his day, and enjoyed the time he had.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

If this cannot be achieved then community members of Burning Man will not have exercised the Burning Man principle of immediacy. Only in the moment of experience can we truly embrace the individual expression of our innermost desires, and coupled with encouraging others to do the same, the vibe metamorphosizes into nothing but good feelings.

Metamorphosis

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams,” reads Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. “He found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Perhaps that’s Gregor Samsa’s dream, only this time it’s a bird, with the frontal shape of a female body, glowing in lights, and spun on a hamster’s wheel.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

While the dreams of Metamorphosis are seldom realized in the default world, the visions of these dreams have transformed into things that you can see and touch. Not to mention interact with, as the population of Burning Man is as much display of art as they are thrill-seeking party animals.

A night at Burning Man

This is a somewhat far off photo of the main stage at the concert portion of Burning Man. Below the bright, shiny-star at the center is the platform for bands and musical performers to rock the masses of Black Rock City. Lights are synonymous with Electronic Dance Music (EDM), and that was certainly the most prevalent genre of music at Burning Man.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

And even though the lights you see are part of the show, they used to be out of necessity. In 1991, when Burning Man was first held in the desert, lights such as these were used so people could find Black Rock City if they arrived in the dark.

The origins of Burning Man

Burning Man originally was just an annual get together in San Francisco on the summer solstice, until two men by the names of Larry Harvey and Jerry James, came up with the idea of burning an effigy at the end of the event. In 1986, the first wooden “man” was burned, and he stood a mere eight feet tall.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

The next year the “man” doubled in size, and by 1988 it was reported to have been 30 feet tall. But the solstice event was eventually interrupted by police, as Harvey and James didn’t have a permit to burn the 30-foot-tall effigy (not sure there’s a permit for that anyway).

The origins of Black Rock City

Harvey and James went through hell trying to keep their effigy intact before it could be burned. They ended up connecting with a couple of men named Michael Mikel and previously mentioned John Law. Mikel and Law had previously established Zone No. 4 in the Black Rock Desert.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Now, the event that happened in 1990, just before the effigy was introduced to the event, should explain the bohemian, anti-establishment attitude of Burning Man. It was meant to celebrate an Avante-garde art movement with themes of anarchy. Sculptures were gathered in the desert, and performing arts acts for the “Cacophony Society.”

The creation of Black Rock City

In 1991 Harvey and James had their effigy nearly confiscated, then cut into pieces when the place where they left it was suddenly sold. They salvaged the pieces and brought their “sculpture” into the Black Rock Desert at Zone No. 4. It was so big that Law came up with the idea of attaching neon lights to it, so crowds of visitors could find the site.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

In that year, there were no scheduled performances by musicians, and while the area is partitioned off to keep the art and performances away from the living area, they used to be one and the same, and advertising was conducted exclusively by word of mouth.

The first Burning Man

In the beginning, the 10 Principles of Burning Man didn’t exist, and there were only two rules at the time. They were simple, and show the basis of future principles. They were, “Don’t interfere with anyone else’s immediate experience” and “no guns in central camp.” The event grew from a few dozen people in the early 1990s to 8,000 attendees in 1996.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

By that time the whole thing was like a rave meets Mad Max. There were no rules and in that year three people died, including a couple that got ran over by an art car while they were in their tent. The event would require some structure to survive.

Mutant vehicles and art cars

After a year at another site, in 1998 Burning Man returned to Black Rock City for good. Major restrictions were put on driving, including a 5 m.p.h. restriction on-site, and within the permitted area, “A ban on driving, except for approved ‘mutant vehicles’ and service vehicles.”

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Photo Katie Bollman

“Mutant vehicles” were eventually considered art cars, and while vehicles from Mad Max would be fitting for this environment, people have taken the art for their cars to the extreme. To make sure the vehicles are up to code, and creative enough for Burning Man, organizers created the DMV, or “Department of Mutant Vehicles.”

Creating Black Rock City

Prior to the arrival of tens of thousands of people, a gathering of organizers and volunteers set up a perimeter trash fence (it was originally called a “trash fence” because it was supposed to catch garbage debris that the wind blew away) that 8-and-a-half miles in circumference.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

The process takes about two days to complete, and once that is done the crew goes to work on the Esplanade. This is the main area where folks can find the only commodities sold at Burning Man (coffee and ice). It’s about a mile in circumference and is next to the center of the whole event, which is where the Burning Man effigy goes.

Burning Man grows up

The height of the Burning Man effigy has varied over the years, but from 1989 to the present day the “man” is generally roughly 40-feet-tall. In 1991, when the first Burning Man tickets were sold, they sold for $15. In 2019, which was the most recent event, tickets sold for $425 (plus fees).

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Themes for the concert didn’t start until 1996, and in that year the theme was “Inferno,” in a reference to the journey of Dante in Dante’s Inferno. In that year 10 out of 16 permit rules were violated, and three people died. For this reason, 1997 was the only Burning Man since 1986 to take place outside of Black Rock City.

Burning Man by day

If you take a closer look at the photo below, you’ll notice that it’s the same stage that was lit up like Christmas when it was rocking out at night. At this angle, it almost looks like a pirate ship, except the front-man for whatever group that’s playing is bearing his chest for the crowd, to “woohoo’s” or “boos” we can’t say for sure.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Given that Burning Man takes place in a desert in the summer, attendees can expect temperatures to rise above 90 degrees. That’s enough to kill a buzz and the fact that planners recommend that everyone who attends drink one-and-a-half gallons of water a day.

Themes of Burning Man

In 2003 there were nine police citations to attendees who broke the law, and the following year there were a staggering 217 citations. Not like the law really applies inside Black Rock City, so it takes some real rowdiness to get in that kind of trouble.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

In 2005 the trouble largely stemmed from the “man” himself. The theme that year was “Psyche: The Conscious, Subconscious and Unconscious.” A funhouse was built in the base of the “man,” and it enabled people inside to actually rotate the “man.” This caused mass confusion, as typically people use the orientation of the man to navigate.

Mariposita

This sculpture is titled Mariposita, which means “little butterfly” in Spanish. Mariposita is a perfect sculpture for the 2019 Burning Man theme, as it is an ode to the metamorphosis of a butterfly, emerging from a cocoon to live a new, enlightened life.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

To the butterfly, the process of renewal is painstaking and most definitely work, thus, Mariposita is having a tough time emerging from her cocoon. The sculpture is meant to elicit feelings of life and death, beginnings and ends, and most of all, rebirth. Does anyone hear lyrics from The Doors in their heads? “Break on through to the other side!”

Wings of Glory

This sculpture is titled Wings of Glory, and it was created by Adrian Landon and “the” Dusty Sparks, who are out of New York City. The sculpture is a giant Pegasus, and it a large flying collection of carefully crafted and shaped metal pieces.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

The feeling that sculpture is trying to convey is pretty obvious, as how cool would it be to be on top of the Pegasus, or even be the Pegasus ourselves, and soar through the air like a horse galloping on the plain. Too bad we didn’t get to see this one at night, as it’s about to be lit up like grandpa during a football game.

Trippy

Whatever mind-bending substances that people consume while in the confines of Black Rock City, the art and sculpture work will certainly test the mind, asking questions such as, “what’s real, and what’s fake?” Well, this Bizzaro world sculpture really tests that notion, as our man seems to float away, only to anchored by an assortment of balloons.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

Perhaps the “upside down,” is more appropriate than Bizzaro world, but either way, this is truly a creative marvel of a sculpture and a fun idea to boot. You can see for yourself the scale of the sculpture, and perhaps this man is soaring just as high as the Burning Man.

What is art?

Of course, art is an expression, and the people who attend Burning Man are the medium for which emotions and feelings are conveyed. The folks in the below photograph look serious, or perhaps they’re just trying to make us feel scared or anxious.

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Photo courtesy of Katie Bollman

A face peeling is nothing to laugh about, but perhaps this selfie should show us that anyone should expect anything just around the corner at the craziest event held in the United States all years. Burning Man 2019 blew the roof off the Black Rock Desert and burst into the sky like wildfire. Perhaps now that you’ve had a peak you’ll look for yourself, and see what you transform into.