Burning Man

Burning Man

Burning Man is an event focused on community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance held annually in the western United States. The name of the event comes from its culminating ceremony: the symbolic burning of a large wooden effigy, referred to as the Man, that occurs on the penultimate night of Burning Man, which is the Saturday evening before Labor Day. The event has been located since 1991 at Black Rock City in northwestern Nevada, a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert about 100 miles (160 km) north-northeast of Reno. As outlined by Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey in 2004, the event is guided by ten principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

The event originated on June 22, 1986, on Baker Beach in San Francisco as a small function organized by Larry Harvey and Jerry Ja...Read more

Burning Man is an event focused on community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance held annually in the western United States. The name of the event comes from its culminating ceremony: the symbolic burning of a large wooden effigy, referred to as the Man, that occurs on the penultimate night of Burning Man, which is the Saturday evening before Labor Day. The event has been located since 1991 at Black Rock City in northwestern Nevada, a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert about 100 miles (160 km) north-northeast of Reno. As outlined by Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey in 2004, the event is guided by ten principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

The event originated on June 22, 1986, on Baker Beach in San Francisco as a small function organized by Larry Harvey and Jerry James, the builders of the first Man. It has since been held annually, spanning the nine days leading up to and including Labor Day. Over the event's history, attendance has generally increased. In 2019, 78,850 people participated in the event. In 2021, the unofficial event had an estimated 20,000 attendees.

NPR said about Burning Man, "Once considered an underground gathering for bohemians and free spirits of all stripes, Burning Man has since evolved into a destination for social media influencers, celebrities and the Silicon Valley elite." At Burning Man, the participants design and build all the art, activities, and events. Artwork at Burning Man includes experimental and interactive sculptures, buildings, performances and art cars, among other media. These contributions are inspired by a theme that is chosen annually by the Burning Man Project. An anonymous attendee once elaborated that "Burning Man is about 'why not' overwhelming 'why'". Participation is a key precept for the community, so there is much controversy in the community over the problem of non-participatory influencers and elite at the event.

Burning Man is organized by the Burning Man Project, a non-profit organization that, in 2013, succeeded Black Rock City LLC, a for-profit limited liability company. Black Rock City LLC was formed in 1999 to represent the event's organizers and is now considered a subsidiary of the non-profit organization. The Burning Man Project endorses multiple smaller regional events guided by the Burning Man principles, both in the United States and internationally. The organization provides the essential infrastructure of Black Rock City and works year-round to bring Burning Man culture to the world through programs such as Burners Without Borders, Black Rock Solar, and Global Arts Grants.

History 1980s
 
Two of the founders of Burning Man: John Law (left) and Michael Mikel (right)

Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice. Sculptor Mary Grauberger, a friend of Larry Harvey's girlfriend, Janet Lohr, held solstice bonfire gatherings on Baker Beach for several years prior to 1986, some of which Harvey attended. When Grauberger stopped organizing it, Harvey "picked up the torch", with Grauberger's permission, and ran with it.[1] He and Jerry James built the first wooden effigy on the afternoon of June 21, 1986, cobbled together using scrap wood, to be torched later that evening. On June 22, 1986 Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco[2][3] and burned an 8 feet (2.4 m) tall wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog. Harvey later described his inspiration for burning these effigies as a spontaneous act of "radical self-expression".[1] In 1987, the Man grew to 15 feet (4.6 m) tall, and by 1988, it had grown to 30 feet (9.1 m).[4][5]

By 1988, Larry Harvey formally named the summer solstice ritual "Burning Man", by titling flyers for the happening as such; to ward off references such as "wicker man", referring to the practice of burning live sacrifices in wicker cages. Harvey has stated that he had not seen the 1973 cult film The Wicker Man until many years after and that it did not inspire the action.[4][6]

1990 to 1996
File:Burning Man 1995.webm Play media
8mm film footage of Burning Man in 1995

In 1990, a separate event was planned by Kevin Evans and John Law on the remote and largely unknown dry lake or playa known as Black Rock Desert, about 110 miles north of Reno, Nevada.[7] Evans conceived it as a dadaist temporary autonomous zone with sculpture to be burned and situationist performance art. He asked John Law, who also had experience on the dry lake and was a defining founder of Cacophony Society, to take on central organizing functions. In the Cacophony Society's newsletter, it was announced as Zone Trip No. 4, A Bad Day at Black Rock (inspired by the 1955 film of the same name).

Meanwhile, the beach burn was interrupted by the park police for not having a permit. After striking a deal to raise the Man but not to burn it, event organizers disassembled the Man and returned it to the vacant lot where it had been built. Shortly thereafter, the legs and torso of the Man were chain-sawed and the pieces removed when the lot was unexpectedly leased as a parking lot. The Man was reconstructed, led by Dan Miller, Harvey's then-housemate of many years, just in time to take it to Zone Trip No. 4.[8]

Michael Mikel, another active Cacophonist, realized that participants unfamiliar with the environment of the dry lake would be helped by knowledgeable persons to ensure they did not get lost in the deep dry lake and risk dehydration and death. He took the name Danger Ranger and created the Black Rock Rangers. Thus Black Rock City began as a fellowship, organized by Law and Mikel, based on Evans' and Grauberger's ideas, along with Harvey and James' symbolic man. Drawing on experience in the sign business and with light sculpture, John Law prepared custom neon tubes for the Man starting in 1991 so it could be seen as a beacon to aid navigation at night long before there were any planned roads.

In its early years, the community grew by word of mouth alone, all were considered (and generally not invited until they could be expected to be) participants under their contribution to the cacophonous situationist vibe. There were no paid or scheduled performers or artists, no separation between art and life nor art-space and living-space, no rules other than "Don't interfere with anyone else's immediate experience" and "no guns in central camp."

1991 marked the first year that the event had a legal permit, through the BLM (the Bureau of Land Management).[9] 1991 was also the year that art model and fire dancer (and later Burning Man's first art director) Crimson Rose attended the event.[10] 1992 saw the birth of a smaller, intensive (about 20 participants the first year; about 100 in years two and three) near-by event named "Desert Siteworks", conceived and directed by William Binzen and co-produced (in 1993 and '94) with Judy West.[11] The annual, several weeks-long event, was held over summer Solstice at various fertile hot springs surrounding the desert. Participants built art and participated in self-directed performances. Some key organizers of Burning Man were also part of Desert Siteworks (John Law, Michael Mikel) and William Binzen was a friend of Larry Harvey. Hence, the two events saw much cross-pollination of ideas and participants.[12] The Desert Siteworks project ran for three years (1992–1994). 1996 was the first year a formal partnership was created to own the name "Burning Man" and was also the last year that the event was held in the middle of the Black Rock Desert with no fence around it.

Before the event opened to the public in 1996, a worker named Michael Furey was killed in a motorcycle crash[13] while riding from Gerlach, Nevada, to the Burning Man camp in the Black Rock Desert. Harvey insisted that the death had not occurred at Burning Man, since the gates were not yet open. Another couple were run over in their tent by an art car driving to "rave camp", which was at that time distant from the main camp. After the 1996 event, co-founder and partner John Law broke with Burning Man and publicly said the event should not continue.

1997 to 2013
 
The neon-tubed Man at the 1999 event

1997 marked another major pivotal year for the event. The location had to be moved because the permit for Black Rock was denied for the 1997 event. After all, a team conducting land speed trials had a conflicting permit that took precedence. Fly Ranch, with the smaller adjoining Hualapai dry lake-bed, just west of the Black Rock desert, was chosen as the alternate location. This moved Burning Man from Pershing County/federal BLM land into the jurisdiction of Washoe County, which brought a protracted list of permit requirements.[14]

To comply with the new requirements and to manage the increased liability load, the organizers formed Black Rock City LLC, with the assistance of "Biz Babe" Dana Harrison. Will Roger Peterson and Flynn Mauthe created the Department of Public Works (DPW) to build the "city" grid layout (a requirement so that emergency vehicles could be directed to an "address") designed by Rod Garrett, an architect. Rod continued as the city designer until his death, in 2011, at the age of 76. He is also credited with the design of all of the Man bases from 2001 through 2012, the center camp café and first camp.[15] 1998 saw a return to the Black Rock desert, although not to the deep playa, along with a temporary perimeter fence. The event has remained there since.

As the population of Black Rock City grew, and more restrictions were added by the BLM, and changes were made in how people were invited to the event (notably the addition of publicized online ticket sales to all comers), further rules were established concerning its survival. Some critics of the later phase of the event cite the imposition of these rules as impinging on the original freedoms and principles, diminishing the scope of the experience unacceptably, while many newer attendees find the increased level of activity more than balances out the changes.

A grid street structure.[16] A speed limit of 5 mph (8 km/h).[17] A ban on driving, except for approved "mutant vehicles" and service vehicles.[18] Safety standards on mutant vehicles.[17] Burning of any art must be done on an approved burn platform.[19] A ban on fireworks.[20] A ban on animals.[21]

Another notable restriction to attendees is the 9.2-mile (14.8  km) long[22] temporary plastic fence that surrounds the event and defines the pentagon of land used by the event on the southern edge of the Black Rock dry lake.[23] This 4-foot (1.2-meter) high barrier is known as the "trash fence" because its initial use was to catch wind-blown debris that might escape from campsites during the event. Since 2002, the area beyond this fence has not been accessible to Burning Man participants during the week of the event.[24]

One visitor who was accidentally burned at the 2005 event unsuccessfully sued Black Rock City LLC in San Francisco County Superior Court. On June 30, 2009, the California Court of Appeal for the First District upheld the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Black Rock City LLC on the basis that people who deliberately walk towards The Man after it is ignited assume the risk of getting burned by such an hazardous object.[25]

2013 to 2019
 
"Love (Alexander Milov sculpture)" featured at Burning Man 2015, Black Rock Desert, United States (Unsplash)

In December 2013,[26] Black Rock City LLC was made a subsidiary of a new non-profit entity known as the Burning Man Project, though this was a controversial move among the founders.[27]

On September 3, 2017,[28] a 41-year-old man, Aaron Joel Mitchell, fought his way past a safety cordon of volunteers and firefighters and threw himself into the flames of the Man. Mitchell died the next day due to cardiac arrest, bodily shock, and third-degree burns to 98% of his body. While a reputable member of the DPW claims this was the result of a dare to run through the flames, his death was ruled a suicide.[29][30][31][32]

2020 to 2021
 
2021 Man Built of Drones

On April 10, 2020, the Burning Man Project announced that Burning Man was canceled for 2020[33] due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making 2020 the first year Burning Man would not happen since its inception. They then decided to offer ticket refunds despite the tickets being sold explicitly as non-refundable.[34]

On September 7, 2020, an estimated 1,000 Burners celebrated on San Francisco's Ocean Beach. San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted about the event, "This was reckless and selfish. You aren't celebrating, but are putting people's lives and our progress at risk. No one is immune from spreading the virus."[35] Several thousand also showed up in the Black Rock desert for an unofficial event and some described it as a return to the "old days".[36][37]

The 2021 event was canceled on April 27, 2021 due to the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite progress on vaccination, organizers stated that "uncertainties that need to be resolved are impossible to resolve in the time we have."[38] On May 14, 2021, the Burning Man Project released tickets on their website for online events slated between August 22 and September 7.[39]

The unofficial event was larger than 2020 with an estimated 20,000 attending. It was loosely coordinated by a variety of groups including Black Rock Plan B and Rogue Burn. The Bureau of Land Management implemented restrictions including no structures other than shade structures and no fires other than campfires. There was a massive illuminated Drone display outlining the Man instead of the burning of a Man effigy.[40]

^ a b (Doherty, Brian (July 2006). This Is Burning Man. Benbella Books. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-932100-86-0.) ^ "StJ's Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 22, 2014. Retrieved September 5, 2010. ^ Morehead, John W. (2009). "Burning Man Festival in Alternative Interpretive Analysis". Sacred Tribes Journal. 4 (1): 19–41. ISSN 1941-8167. Retrieved October 25, 2018. ^ a b "Burning Man 1986–1990 – The Early Years". ^ Cite error: The named reference :1 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Doherty, Brian (September 3, 2007). This Is Burning Man. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316028929 – via Google Books. ^ "Bad Day at Black Rock (Cacophony Society Zone Trip #4)". Laughingsquid.com. January 18, 2007. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ "What is Burning Man?: Early Years". Burning Man. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ "BURNING MAN RECEIVES FIVE-YEAR PERMIT". BLM News. United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. June 8, 2006. Archived from the original on September 23, 2006. ^ "Meet the Woman Who Brought Fire Dancing to Burning Man". Everfest. Retrieved March 9, 2018. ^ (Doherty, Brian (July 2006). This Is Burning Man. Benbella Books. ISBN 978-1-932100-86-0. Retrieved June 13, 2014.) ^ Olivier, Bonin (March 2009). "Dust & Illusions. Documentary on 30 Years of Burning Man history". Archived from the original on May 31, 2017. Retrieved July 9, 2020. William Binzen was extensively interviewed for the film, with cross-references from Burning Man organizations' co-founders. ^ Doherty, Brian (July 2006). This Is Burning Man. Benbella Books. ISBN 978-1-932100-86-0. Retrieved October 21, 2018. ^ (Doherty, Brian (July 2006). This Is Burning Man. BenBella Books. p. 124. ISBN 978-1-932100-86-0.) ^ Andrew Dalton (August 29, 2011). "Burning Man Architect Rod Garrett Dies at Age 76". SFist. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ "Preparation – 2007 BRC MAP". Burning Man. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ a b "On The Playa: Playa Vehicles: DMV". Burning Man. Archived from the original on September 3, 2007. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ "On The Playa". Burning Man. Archived from the original on July 29, 2007. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ "Playa Protection and Burn Scar Prevention". Burning Man. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ "Preparation: Law Enforcement at". Burning Man. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ "The Pet Unfriendly". Burning Man. Retrieved June 22, 2012. ^ "2017 AfterBurn". Burning Man Journal. Retrieved July 9, 2018. ^ "The Origin Story of the BRC Trash Fence". Burning Man Journal. Retrieved July 9, 2018. ^ "Federal Register Volume 67, Number 139 (Friday, July 19, 2002)". Gpo.gov. Retrieved March 31, 2012. ^ Beninati v. Black Rock City, LLC, 175 Cal. App. 4th 650 (2009). ^ "Burning Man Transitions to Non-Profit Organization". Burning Man Journal. Retrieved May 25, 2020. ^ Steven, Jones (April 5, 2011). "Man on the Move". San Francisco Guardian. ^ "Burning Man Festival: One Man Dead, Another in Critical Condition". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 1, 2018. ^ "Burning Man Burns a Man to Death - was a Dare not Suicide". YouTube. Retrieved October 31, 2018. ^ "Burning Man death details emerge; family, friends still wonder why". Reno Gazette Journal. Retrieved March 1, 2018. ^ "Burning Man victim was 'in high spirits', grieving mum says". NewsComAu. Retrieved March 1, 2018. ^ Purtill, James (September 4, 2017). "Burning Man eyewitness describes horrific festival death". triple j. Retrieved March 1, 2018. ^ "The Burning Man Multiverse in 2020". Burning Man Journal. April 10, 2020. Retrieved November 10, 2020. ^ "Are my 2020 Black Rock City tickets refundable?". Burning Man. Retrieved May 25, 2020. ^ Holcombe, Madeline (September 7, 2020) "A 1,000-person gathering to celebrate Burning Man culture put people's lives at risk, San Francisco mayor says." CNN.com ^ Cite error: The named reference Forbes2020 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ "Not Burning Man 2020: Burners at scaled-down gathering say It feels like the old days". September 5, 2020. ^ "Burning Man's 2021 festival cancelled due to COVID-19". DJMag.com. April 28, 2021. Retrieved April 29, 2021. ^ "After another cancelled year in the desert, Burning Man plans for a virtual event". TechCrunch. Retrieved May 14, 2021. ^ Cite error: The named reference RGJ2021a was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
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