Burning Man

Every Labor Day weekend, hundreds of mostly Bay Area people travel to the Black Rock Desert in Northwest Nevada. They set up camp upon an alkali playa and erect a giant huiman figure. The next three days are devoted to ritual, art, and celebration. On nightfall of the third day, the man is slowly lowered to the ground and instilled with fuel. Participants then re-erect the figure to its full four-story height, and in a climax of music, drumming, and pyrotechnics, dance around the Burning Man as he explodes in flames.

Heat waves shimmer off the hardpan alkali flat, and a fine white dust swirls on the wind. Thunderheads gather over the distant mountains that ring the plain, but the sky above you is a deep cloudless blue. Behind you is your camp, a Rube Goldberg mix of vans, tents, and RVs arrayed in a great circle. Scattered across the plain you see other artifacts less easily explained: a giant fiberglass dog head, an enormous, vaguely phallic mud tower. One of your friends has a radio tuned to a local pirate station; like the daily newspaper folded in your pocket, it will exist only for a few short days and then disappear, like some exotic desert mushroom. You press an icy bottle to your forehead, savoring the cold, and look up. There above you, tall as a four story building, stands the strangely graceful figure known as the Burning Man.

Spontaneous activity is central to the Burning Man experience. If you choose to start something - be it as simple as a card game or as involved as a dada theater piece - someone is bound to join you. Like to dress up in costumes? Fine - bring 'em. Clothes too confining? No problem. However you choose to express yourself- you're encouraged to do so in an environment where distinctions like "professional" and "amateur", "audience" and "spectator" become meaningless, even absurd.

One by one, the slim neon tubes illuminating its huge limbs wink out, and carefully concealed explosives add their staccato thunder to the wild rhythm of many drums. Finally, consumed by fire, it collapses to the desert floor, where the wreckage burns long into the night, a bonfire out of some wild primordial dream.

Burning Man is one of the last places on earth where people from all walks of life , all social strata, and all points of the compass can come together and share a common and primal experience, surviving as a group in a challenging environment, creating a temporary culture of their own design, and sharing one of the most elemental experiences of our species, the awexomew mystery of fire. And, on top of that, it's also one hell of a party.

For more information:

Burning Man Project, P.O. Box 420572, San Francisco, CA 94142-0052
(415) 985-7471


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Quicktime Movies

Clouds: Time lapse of clouds behind Burning Man (635k)
Lighting afire: The culminating ritual of burning the effigy (1233k)
Fireworks: Time lapse of post-ritual pyrotechnics (252k)
Back Stage sf/Telecircus