Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Transformations - Part 3

Art is the way to the absolute and to the essence of human life. The aim of art is not the one-sided promotion of spirit, soul and senses, but the opening of all human capacities – thought, feeling, will – to the life rhythm of the world of nature. So will the voiceless voice be heard and the self be brought into harmony with it.
--Bruce Lee

"ONE, TWO...."

The roar of several hundred people rang behind me. Within moments, a pile of slacked rope appeared at my feet as I pulled with all my might. There were too many of us, and soon enough the force upon the effigy was ludicrous. We rolled a life-size replica of the Trojan horse 200 feet (66 m) through the "Gates of Troy" in 20 seconds, only to be quickly obstructed by armor-clad Trojan warriors frantically attempting to halt further advancement. The effigy didn’t stopped rolling when we stopped pulling, and with exceptionally rounded wheels we had no idea when it would stop. No one intended to flatten a pulling participant with wheels 6 feet (2m) tall! This didn’t occur, thankfully. Celebration followed our surprisingly effortless feat. Each one of these experiences strengthened my connection to the city of Black Rock and its people. Together, we were a passionate fire of expression fanned by such liberating foundational rules. But then there were the actual flames on the Playa.

At Burning Man, there are major art installations that are constructed to represent the participating regions of the United States. These regional effigies are an artistic donation to the festival, which are burned before the Man himself. Thousands gather around each effigy, and for me it had to be the one I had just pulled. I sat cross-legged at the edge of the safety zone; a front row seat to what would surely be an insane pyrotechnics show. I soon learned this decision was not the best one. Twenty archers encircled the effigy with fire arrows notched. When the signal sounded the quivers volleyed, igniting the horse within minutes. Fireworks exploded out of every inch of the horse for longer than any show I had seen before, eventually engulfing the horse in flames.

My skin felt like a baked potato. My eyes fought to glaze in protection against a searing wave of heat. It only got more intense. I closed my eyes to listen and endure this increasingly uncomfortable temperature. People whooped and cheered, the flames continued to roar in response. I was dripping from head to toe in sweat which immediately evaporated in the 1,200 °C (2,200 °F) waves of flame blasting out from the effigy interior. Eventually, I couldn't stand it anymore. No need to get first degree burns from the raging heat wave of an inflamed Trojan horse!

Photographer - Janet Lackey


As each day passed, knotted ends of my mind unwound. Expressive thought and movement ignited to the poly-rhythm of speaker towers, the buzz of a thousand conversations, the clamor of hundred passing bikes, the thumping of a mutant vehicle sound system. My consciousness expanded and intertwined, completely lost of structure and sequence. It was elation at its finest, as time had no meaning to the immensity and significance of expression in the now. This was Thursday, and the days that followed suit. There is no way to remember it all in order, as order never mattered in the moment it occurred. Therefore, my recollection of Burning Man past Thursday’s Trojan horse burn is a complete mess, and is probably better told as a collection of the most memorable gatherings.

Mutant Vehicles

Out in the Playa, there were musical performances of all kinds. Renowned DJs or not, each camp was at full volume, all the time. Even though all areas of performance were most common amongst the city, there was a place to celebrate in the dark abyss of the empty playa. Mutant vehicles were a completely mobile entertainment complex. Often they combined forces in a circular caravan filled with hundreds of people that collected while exploring the outer Playa. We spent hours at these kinds of parties, climbing aboard mobile structures of all kinds and dancing amongst people from all over the city. Finding these celebrations was one of my favorite things to do.

Fire Circles

Many people in my camp were fire dancers, which meant that we often collectively pursued these gatherings on the Playa, or made our own wherever we pleased. But 10:30 and Esplanade always yielded great opportunities to meet other performers while spinning next to the largest sound systems. One evening, we attended a musical group’s performance (Infected Mushroom) in this very spot. Dozens of other performers had the same intention, so as we arrived it was easy to spot our destination: a glowing ball of orange light and cheers of many observers. This was my first taste of the vastly diverse realm of fire performers, proving that Long Beach was a fleeting glimpse of this newfound world within dance.

Some were attention seekers; massive muscled men erotically wiggled their bodies and clumsily spun their fire props while attracted women writhed all over them. The contrary happened as well, where women mesmerized an audience by concentrating more on how sexy their bodies looked. Other performers flung themselves in every direction, coming dangerously close to collision with another performer. For me, this meant they could only stand being the center of everyone’s attention, which rarely worked. Then there were the tech spinners; stone solid faces of concentration, technically pushing the limits of their prop manipulation. For me, these movements were impressive, but I wondered if a regular observer could understand the significance. But then there were those just having a good time, lost in their flow. The smiles on their faces and the sporadic movements of their bodies entertained me the most, as I could see how happy this talent made them as well as those watching.

I look back at this experience and realize that it was mostly my own interpretation of these dancers. Maybe the big guys or the sexy girls weren’t trying to attract. Maybe the flailing dancers weren’t trying to collide with others and be the center of attention. Maybe they were all just trying to flow, and I had misjudged them. Regardless of anyone’s real intensions, it was what Burning Man was all about: radically inclusive atmosphere. With these thoughts in mind, I realize I was no different when I saw the stage turn dark, temporarily absent of any spinner and a crowd waiting for the emergence of another.

I leaped into the circle, death star wicks thoroughly soaked and ablaze as bright as fireworks. The crowd erupted at the sight of the significantly larger fireballs flying and massive tails of flame snaking about my body. The heat encircled me in a sphere as hot as the mid-day desert sun. A cascade of sweat dripped across every inch of my skin. The extreme temperature, the roaring fire from my props, and the eruption of their cheers all intertwined as an explosive surge that pushed me to the limits of my physical self as I leapt and spun in every direction about the crowd, landing each move in sync to the blast of Infected Mushroom.  I have never felt such an intense connection to a crowd while performing.

Playa Events and Workshops

When you drive through the gates of Burning Man, you are given an event guide. It is several hundred pages long, filled with events organized by date and time from Monday to Sunday all across the Playa. Here are a few notable selections I have acquired from the online archive (if you are interested in learning more about the events, check out the archive yourself)

Language eXchange - Need to practice a language? Wanna improve an accent? Learn some new words? Want to share your own language? We are international Burners from the CouchSurfing community that speak Spanish, French, Italian, Hebrew, German, piglatin, Portuguese, Russian, Dutch, etc. Stop by and see who is around lounging on our Mutant Sofa and chat it up!

The 48 Hour Film Project - Make a short film and have it premiered, all while on the playa! If you have a team and equipment, start at your leisure and follow the instructions on posters found at PlayaInfo and Videogasm (in Snowflake Village). If you want to get people for your team or join a team, come to Videogasm Tuesday at 3pm. These teams of filmmakers will then go off to write, shoot, edit, and score short films--from scratch, in 48 hours, on the playa!

Morning Coffee Enema 8 - self explanatory.

Welding Service - Welding repair for mutant vehicles and other contraptions.

Human Carcass Wash - Wash and be Washed... Be part of an interactive washing experience. The highly regarded and much anticipated... Human Carcass Wash!!! Get involved with some of your closest Playa friends and some new friends in trading your old Playa Dust in for a clean body ready to be dusted once again. This event honors your stated boundaries of where you do want to be touched or washed.

Snack Food Glory Hole - Kneel down and open your mouth for a snacky surprise! 70% delicious, 90% interesting, 100% food, guaranteed.

Moon the Man! - Monday night will be a New Moon, so lets show the man your Full Moon at Midnight. Afterparty at the trash fence with Chocolate Moon Cocktails!

Rite of Nasal Passage - Dust getting your nose down? Come by for some nasal relief with our multiple sinus neti pots.

Jewish Motherly Advice - Lisa Schroeder of the Children of Chaos will be hosting her Jewish Mother booth again this year, dispensing advice and nurturing for all. “The Jewish Mother You Never Had” will be available daily and Mom's hours will be posted in front of the camp.

Chainsawmargarita Happy Hour - Roaring chainsaws and margaritas at the same time! What could be better? (I wish I had attended this one)

The Saraswati Speaker Series - Leaders of the psychedelic and civil liberties communities offer their thoughts on the evolution of consciousness, self-expression and cognitive liberty.

Bedouin Oil Bath - Clean and moisturize your skin with simple oils and a scraper - done the Bedouin Way.

Bicycle Jousting - again, self-explanatory.

Naked Ass Volleyball! - ASS not what Burning Man can do for you, but what your ASS can do for Burning Man! Come play volleyball in an ass friendly zone.

The Earth Harp

Photographer - Rich Van Every

Designed by William Close, the Earth Harp is the largest stringed instrument in the world. When William first designed it, the wires spanned 1000ft long over a canyon, resonating the Earth itself with the vibration of each movement. He brought the design to the Playa, allowing for all of us to experience this resonation in and around the Temple of Transition. His hands gently glided out and away towards the temple as our bodies and the Temple of Transition shook to the sound of the strings. On he played as hundreds watched.

I looked about my friends, those who I had only met a few months before. Knowing that we had all endured and enjoyed this experience to its fullest gave me a greater sense of confidence in humanity, in the idea that even though we are constantly on the move with our personal lives, it doesn’t take long to bond on deep levels through life changing experiences such as this. Arms across each other’s shoulders, tears gently rolling and aching smiles glued, we would never forget the moments we had from Monday to Saturday at Furry Guerilla Warfare and beyond: our first burn. And it was Saturday night.

Burn Night

The long awaited moment had come. We all stopped by the camp to find Lucy and Molly, and off we went. Jilly had left early to find her fire conclave, which would soon be performing with 500 others around the Man before he burned. The single largest gathering was already happening as we hit the Esplanade. From every edge of the city, people were pouring out on foot, bikes, or mutant vehicles. Thankfully, I arrived early enough with Lucy to sit down at watch it all convene. The largest and happiest collection of people and vehicles I have ever seen formed before my eyes. The mutant vehicles created an outer perimeter. The music grew louder, the vehicles bounced higher, and the people danced ever more crazy as the moment came closer.

Photographer - Scott London

Again I sat on the edge of the burn perimeter that had been set up to keep people’s faces from melting off. There, the Black Rock Rangers knelt deeply attentive and facing the crowd. They were in place to stop any mindless festival goer from breaking through the boundary and running into the imminent flaming 40-foot inferno (an incident that has occurred several times in past burns). Only one group had been permitted to break this boundary. The Burning Man Fire Conclave was a collection of over 500 talented groups from all over the world who had joined forces to perform as one around the Man. Jilly’s conclave was a fortunate contribution of this performance. Hundreds of drummers joined as well, shaking the ground with their poly-rhythm as flaming props flew in every direction. Eventually their fires died, the conclave retreated and braced for the final burn. The fireworks started sparse but quickly became a raging crescendo of explosions for an entire twenty minutes. It was as if someone had taken the grand finale of every firework show on the Earth and put it all together. Explosions got bigger and brighter, louder and larger, until a final mushroom cloud of screams, cheers, music and flame engulfed the man and his twin pyramids, an ultimate collective sensation from the pyro technicians, 50,000 observers, and myself.

Photographer - Vito Fun

What happened later that evening was more a wash than any other moment of Burning Man. So much energy was surging in all directions. All I can say is that it was one of the greatest evenings of my life, and here is a picture to give you an idea.

Yes, this photo was taken from space.

The Temple Burn

Sunday. We rested most of the afternoon, sometimes awakening to eat or pack. Laughs were shared as stories from the previous evening were temporarily recollected. After the Man burned Saturday night, Sunday was absent of celebration. Evening swiftly came. Out past the ashes of the Man and his pyramid was the Temple, fated for the flames that would officially end Burning Man 2011.

Our camp sat peacefully amongst thousands of others. Some cried, some embraced, some simply watched. No one spoke. Silence was broken as the fire pierced the frail dome tops of each tower. Someone cheered, to my surprise. So many thousands of messages had been inscribed upon those walls, filled with every level of grief, love, suffering, happiness, anger, confusion, acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding. So many connections were created, reinvigorated, or severed. Tens of thousands of minds surged in their inner and exterior connection to this masouleum in such awe that all I could give was silence.

Inscribed moments crumbled away and collapsed. Some fragments swiftly departed, flecks of ash caught within a towering, fiery dust devil. The rest, a gentle snow, a smoldering pile of embers, ultimately a fragment of dust that amongst the Playa.

Temple Burn - Neil Girling

Burning Dan once said, “don’t come home to Burning Man, bring Burning Man home with you.” He found these words posted on a sign while driving towards the entrance gates of the Playa. As Dan reached the entrance, he was greeted (as was I) with a simple greeting: "welcome home." All these words echoed in my mind as I walked back to camp. For many attendees, Burning Man was home away from home. Enduring/enjoying every moment of my 7 days on the Playa, recollecting the words of Dan, and connecting it all back to the simplicity of the entrance staff's greeting helped me to solidify what I had begun to realize just 9 months before. The world is my home, endlessly burdensome, enlightening, entertaining and inspiring all at once. Yet I must show the world the amazing thoughts, feelings, and actions I have to offer without so much hesitation. This is what Burning Man did for me.

With all this in mind, I have words for you. Get out and explore more than you already have! As we release ourselves from our insecurities and open ourselves to what lies beyond them, our home also expands beyond the one little community where we have always belonged. What makes us healthy, happy, understanding, resilient human beings is when we can express and explore ourselves in the midst of burdens, enjoyments, and connections beyond our present comfort zone. It is with these thoughts in mind that I am capable of always taking the next step, that which is always done with uncertainty. You don’t have to travel to the desert for 7 days and dance with hippies and naked people, or fly to the other side of the Earth and live in the middle of Delhi. Just step into the nearest unknown place with an open mind to the values of that new experience. That is plenty enough.