creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Sunday, September 8, 2013

BURNING MAN 2013 Cargo Cult: Part 1 - Virgin No More

These fabulous feet enjoying this year's Burning Man alien/UFO related theme!
At long last, 20 years in the making, I attended my first Burn and am a Burn virgin no more! Now I see what the hoopla is all about.

It truly is a remarkable and hard to describe event, involving among other things, hundreds of official art sculptures and thousands of art occurrences/happenings/events co-created by the over 60,000 people who set up camp for a week in the middle of a harsh, barren, dusty landscape. A magical wild city pops up like Brigadoon for a short period of time, then vanishes leaving no trace behind for the rest of the year. During its brief time it is a non-stop city that pulsates with life 24/7, containing everything from the sacred to the profane. People ride around in decorated bikes and strange art cars spew fire or glow with lights, many of them thumping along to the pulse of a DJ playing music and gathering the masses to follow and dance alongside. Various workshops are held all week long and the main economy for the week is gifting - so once you buy your ticket in (and bring along everything you need to survive a week) then everything you experience is free.

The week culminates in the burning of some of the sculptures from Thursday through Sunday night, reminding us all about the ephemeral nature of our lives. For me, watching sculptures burn is both a heart-wrenching and breath-taking experience. More on this aspect in another blog.

Feeling the smile of a first Burn
I still find it hard to believe I have known about Burning Man since 1993, when I did some research about the origins of rave culture and alternative art scenes for a speech & rhetoric class presentation. Incidentally according to my research, some of it comes from the legacy of good ol' Woodstock and Woodstock like events in Great Britain - where traveling bands of a music and arts scene would just  take over a meadow or farm pasture and camp out doing performances until they were kicked off the land - eventually making their way to into abandoned warehouses or applying for venues.

As a performance artist in Los Angeles, I have hovered around some of the Burner culture and friends who go for years, but never found the right moment for actually attending. I appreciated the Burn from afar, knowing that in some way my life was filled with similar experiences, but without really knowing what a true Burning Man experience was. All that changed when some new friends encouraged me persistently to attend. My Labor Day was uncharacteristically open, so I figured the time had come at long last to dive in. It was both what I expected and beyond what I expected. One cannot truly grasp the full scope of the event until they are there. I took to it fairly easily, as the spirit and aspects of it are all familiar terrain for me, but I still found myself in awe by its staggering and beautiful magnitude.

The Sunny Mooners camp tower and sign at sunset - designed by Gregory Frye
I attended with a new theme camp group called The Sunny Mooners. I wanted to create something for each member of our 10 person group, but knew I didn't have a ton of time, so decided that making some camp themed bandanas would be great, as I heard they were essential garb to have handy for the heat and dust. Winds frequently kick up the dust and a mask and goggles are needed in such times. While in Iowa over the summer, I bought some material from my aunt's quilt shop in the small town where I grew up (the beautiful Inspirations Quilts). I found two different batik fabrics, one that looked like abstract suns and one abstract moons. I sewed the two lovely fabrics together using four different colors of thread, did some trim work, and viola - we had our Sunny Mooner bandanas! I loved seeing the various members proudly wearing their swag out on the Playa (the desert stretch of land where the art sculptures are), and it felt good to immediately be part of the gifting spirit of Burning Man - which happens to be the theme of another blog...

Passing out the stack of bandanas
Batik fabrics suggesting our theme camp

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