I like to think of Burning Man as a family reunion. The Burn marks a time when we, being a colorful and vibrant family, come together to create a space for both celebration and reflection. If we’re lucky, we make the annual trek out to Black Rock City and re-emerge dust-soaked, full of new ideas, new relationships, our perspective shifted. We return to the default world only to start mentally preparing ourselves to return to Black Rock City next year.
So what happens when friends and family can’t make it back to our desert home for the Burn? How do they stimulate new ideas, new relationships, and personal growth?
Though technology has made it possible for thousands of wayward Burners to experience the Nevada event through simulcast, there is something that happens out in the dust that is hard to really feel anywhere else. Or so I thought.
Returning home, I began to talk with friends of mine about their off-playa experiences. Through these conversations, I started to realize that some of the more meaningful stories about the 2010 Burn that I was hearing didn’t happen out in the Nevada desert. The stories I loved the most were about the magic moments that happened when our wayward Burner friends came together to create a sense of home during the Burning Man event in cities all over the world.
This year, our beloved Bex Workman, who has participated heavily in Burning Man for over a decade was unable to make it to Nevada for the first time in 14 years.
Now living in London with her new husband Tom, Bex reports, “I admit that I kinda freaked out and started talking about Burning Man non-stop. The more I freaked, the more I talked to people, the more I learned that my fellow community members here in London were going through the same thing and weren’t going to the playa either.”
It was out of this communal longing to be back in Black Rock City that the first ever Balsa Blighty, a mini Burn in London, was born. Inspired by the Balsa Man annual mini burn in San Francisco, the London Burners gave this alternative Burn event a British twist.
Bex writes: “With a few posts to the London Burner lists and a few Facebook follow ups, the word went out but we had no idea how many would turn up. In the end… we were over fifty participants strong, about 1/1000th of the size of Black Rock City! On the night of the Burn we gathered in a remote and burn-friendly location to come together to celebrate, commiserate and share stories and feelings of Burning Man.
“There were at least thirteen mini art installations, some representing London, some Nowhere, some Burning Man and some nothing in particular but were fantastic in their detail and small scale.
“The mini Gladys fire truck paid each installation a visit and shot off her fire cannons, the mini Nowhere Omnibus made the rounds as prompt and on schedule as ever. As dusk approached participants grew anxious and there was a buzz in the air. Suddenly Gladys drove into Mini Ben, the main effigy, and that was it. From there the rest of the mini installations took turns and went up in flames.
“The whole affair took less than forty minutes. When it was all said and done. A most efficient team of MOOPERS literally swept the line and all ash and MOOP was scooped up into about two small dust bins and packed away.
Quietly, in single file, participants left the grounds and regrouped at a local warehouse and danced and celebrated the night away. Final Stats: 1/1000th of the size of Black Rock City, over fifty participants, over thirteen burns, zero incidents and zero trace.”
Though the London Burners didn’t make it to Black Rock City, Balsa Blighty gave them an opportunity to gather together and to share in a communal moment. Bex writes, “The first ever Balsa Blighty was more than a success. For some… it was our BURN. And that… means everything in the world.” Thousands of miles from Nevada, Bex and her friends in London still felt a sense of connectedness and of inspiration that we have come to find so integral to our Burning Man experiences.
Through more conversations with Burner friends who didn’t make the trek to Black Rock City, I came to find out that the London Burners weren’t the only far-flung group to create their first mini communal Burn. Led by our Regional Contacts Makibee and Toitoi, a group of Japanese Burners held a Balsa Man on Zushi Beach, about an hour outside of Tokyo.
Makibee says that she and her husband Mike wanted to find a way to bring friends together and to create a sense of community despite not being able to travel to Nevada this year. The couple also took their inspiration from Balsa Man in San Francisco and began holding work parties at their Tokyo apartment to create mini art pieces for the Zushi Beach Burn.
On the day of their Balsa Man Japan, thirty friends transported their art pieces (ranging from art cars, to mini hot dog stands, to a mini procession of lamplighters), and enjoyed a day-long celebration on the beach. Culminating with the burn of their Mini Man—whose heart, like the Black Rock City Man’s heart, was signed by the mini Man Crew—the Japanese Balsa Man event was a way for the Japanese Burners to celebrate their creativity and to experience the joy of gathering together as a community.
Similar to what Burners experience leaving Black Rock City, Makibee reports that the group left the beach feeling inspired to create more art and community projects throughout the year and to make Balsa Man an even bigger mini success next year. Also, just as participants in the Nevada Burn create albums and Flickr groups to share photos of the burn, the Japanese Balsa Man participants created a mini photo album to share mini photos from their Burn. For a great blog and more photos from the Balsa Man Japan, visit http://balsaman.org/2010/09/japan-rocks-it-tiny-style/.
South of Japan, in Melbourne, Australia, a group of Australian Burners held their own event in lieu of attending the Nevada gathering. Led by Christian Patton, members of art collective Future Art Research (FAR), the artists behind this year’s Burning Seed effigy, offered to host a dinner for Melbourne Burners at their studio.
King Richard, our Melbourne Regional Contact, reports that despite the cold and wet Winter weather in Melbourne, “we ended up having a lovely evening for about 40 people with food and music in the studio.” A fire outside the studio entrance helped keep the group warm and images of the Burning Seed gathering and of Black Rock City were projected onto a large screen throughout the night.
The Melbourne Burners also tuned into the simulcast to see what their fellow ±Burners were up to out in the Nevada desert. Though they did not watch the Man Burn that night since, with time zone differences, the Man actually burns on Sunday afternoon in Australia.
Despite the oceans and mountains dividing Melbourne and Nevada, the Melbourne Burners felt a strong desire to gather together to celebrate the Burn and to honor the relationships they’ve forged through community art projects like the building of the Burning Seed effigy. We look forward to hearing more about the gatherings at FAR and the work that these artists contribute to the Aussie Burner community. For more information on FAR, visit http://futureartresearch.org/.
A group of Los Angeles Burners also tuned into the simulcast from the playa and, this time, got to experience the Burn “simultaneously” with their friends in Black Rock City. Dale Youngman, the organizer of “No Burner Left Behind,” says that her impetus for creating the event was that “people really wanted to be with family on the night of the Burn.” Taking over the Bay Salon in the LA Arts District, this LA group worked hard to truly create a Black Rock City vibe.
Donning their Burner best in typical LA fashion, the group danced and celebrated the night away. Live painting, art installations, and a Temple at the DJ booth helped to transform the Bay Salon into a true home away from home. Watching the Burn together helped the LA Burners feel connected to their friends out in the Black Rock desert and brought these orphan Burners closer together.
Burning Man is as much a celebration of possibility as it is a space to reflect upon loss and change. Thus, what we experience out in the desert—and at the Burner gatherings that happen across the world—is not only a communal celebration of our lives together, but also a catharsis, a time for letting go of the pain and burdens we’ve carried and clearing the way for new experiences.
While those of us in the Black Rock Desert were preparing for Sunday evening’s Temple of Flux burn, my dearest friends Linda Loca and Greg Worthington of the Fire Grog Studio in Michigan joined with a close group of friends to create a temple of their own. They built an effigy in honor of Linda’s father, Jerry Loftstrom on what would have been his 82nd birthday. In keeping with the spirit of the Temple burn in Black Rock City, the Temple at the “Rakuville Reunion Burn,” named after their Rakuville theme camp at Lakes of Fire, burned brightly, beautifully, and marked a time of catharsis and renewal. The Rakuville crew created their space for reflection and for celebration and did so in a way that deeply honored Jerry Loftstrom and made the crew feel connected to one another and to their friends who were experiencing the Temple Burn out in Nevada.
Though many of us missed seeing some of our closest friends out in the desert this year, these post-Burn conversations I had with these wayward Burners from across the world made me realize that the range of feelings we have out in the desert—from inspiration, to catharsis and to a deep feeling of connectedness with our community—are possible to feel even when we are thousands of miles away from our dusty desert home.
These stories are but a small sampling of gatherings that happened this year in Burner communities worldwide. We’d love to hear your stories about what you and your communities did to celebrate this year’s Burn. Please share your experiences by posting comments to this blog.
Special thanks to Lee Anna Mariglia for being the best Editor-in-Chief I could ask for.