Driving to Nevada we travelled through San Francisco to Reno and then to Nevada, passing through a beautiful undulating City framed by the famous Golden Gate Bridge with Alcatraz in the distance, to the deep green forests and mountains and then to the wild expanse of the Nevada desert. This is an unforgiving, formidable place surrounded by mountains with sand storms, sand tornados and geysers. Everything is white – dust covered, hot during the day and cold during the night.
Black Rock is a temporary City and home to 70,000 people over 10 days each year. It is extraordinary. Built in two months and then dismantled leaving no trace – it has its own airport, state of the art hospital, jail, sheriffs and hundreds of camps – each with their own identity.
People travel in this vast space on personalised bicycles. The city map is based on the clock. We were in First Camp at 6 O’ Clock and on our time line, The Burning Man and behind it The Temple and The Playa – the place where impossible and absurd often, works of art rise out of the desert. It is a surreal space reminding me of the landscapes of Salvador Dali. Dust fills the area now and again, so you cannot even see your own hand, then clears to reveal yet another strange and beautiful art work : a stack of cars with a caravan on the top complete with crows nest, people climbing to the top, balancing in the most precarious way; a polar bear standing helpless and in the wrong environment – a warning of the future; old, thin wrinkled people emerging out of a black chrysalis; a wooden house raised up standing on chicken feet.
At night The Playa transforms into a spectacle of light – more beautiful and magical than Blackpool! Giant neon lit metal wheels journey across the landscape, boats float past, more bikes, this time with lighting, video mapping, a tiny lit cupcake whizzes around us.
What is extraordinary is how the most comical, absurd, unfinished or community produced art works exist alongside the most extraordinary breath- taking sculptures produced by professional artists from all over the world. This space celebrates it all and poses the question – What if we valued everything on this spectrum? – range, quality, engagement, art vibrancy community. This curation is brave and seeks to take artists and communities on a journey to the most extraordinary achievements.
The Temple is still unfinished after day 5 – will it ever be finished? Huge wooden constructions lie around cluttering the space and creating chaos, still to be attached to the main structure. I have seen the drawings and if finished it will be mind-blowingly beautiful and an awesome burn. It’s a real feat of construction and there is such Burning Man community support. The artists, architects and engineers and a huge team of dedicated and now exhausted volunteers have taken a risk to achieve the most incredible beauty. The general view is that regardless of completion, this Temple is a success.
That’s Burning Man – a positive world, full of kindness and support where there is no need to have money to spend. People barter, share and respect each other and the world. There is much philosophical debate around the meal tables – it’s an alternative world with culture at its heart and mediation as opposed to fighting or bitter argument. I cannot fully understand the commitment and the numbers of people who come every year to volunteer often doing the most boring jobs – why? I think – because it offers a real alternative to the world we all live in and it’s a compelling alternative. Probably if I delved deeper I would find many paradoxes and inconsistencies – but why would I want to do this – it would spoil my experience and break the magic of my time there.
Finally, I am most impressed with Burning Man Without Borders – the work the company do throughout the world with refugees, migrants and communities. Providing simple and obvious solutions to people with no voice – a 3D Printer to a community enabling them to manufacture their own cheap solutions to irrigation, providing tools to help people build their own homes and communities.
I take away the image of Temple – a space where people come together and share grief, pain and joy before it is burnt –a child gifting pineapple slices, the human endeavour to build it which will last in my memory forever.
Jane Hytch CEO Imagineer
Images Amelia Kosminsky.