What if my art project is a loaded gun?

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter My Art Project

It was Tuesday in the desert.  The hottest part of the afternoon.  I was sitting on my favorite couch in BMIR when a woman I’d never met before came in and asked for the Rockstar Librarian Guide.

“Box,” I told her.

“What?” she asked.

“Box,” I said again.  This was a little game we played:  when someone asked for the Rockstar Librarian Guide, sometimes we’d just keep saying “Box” over and over, until they realized it was in the box they’d already passed on the way in.

She got it fast.  Satisfied, she looked around and realized that there was no shadier spot to be found anywhere on the playa.

“Hey,” she asked.  “Can I sit down?”

“Sure,” I said.  She took her tool kit off from around her waist and sat down next to me.

I don’t remember her name now, but we got to talking.  She’s 23.  Third year on the playa.  I asked her what she’d seen so far, and she rattled off a list of art projects.  I asked her what she wanted to see, and she rattled off another list.  Mostly things I’d heard of.

“But what I really want to do,” she said, “is meet the poet.”

“The … poet?”

“Yeah.  There’s this amazing poet.”

That was interesting … but … “I have no idea.  I’ve never heard of that.”

She nodded.  “Some of my camp mates met him.  Nobody knows where he is.  I hope I can find him.  I’m looking.”

“Well, good luck.”

We kept talking.  Burning Man stuff:  how do you like the Man standing on a UFO?  What do you think of the theme?  Goddamn there’s a lot of cops around. That kind of thing.

Eventually Ken Griswa, the Mad Artist in Residence at BMIR, came over and wanted me to sing somebody a song.  For … some reason.  I can’t remember now and I might not really have known then.  It can be hard to tell with Ken.

“Sure,” I said, opening up my bag and pulling out a book in which I had a list of songs.  It was part of an art project I’d brought to Burning Man.  “Let’s see if I can find an appropriate one …”

“Wait …” the woman next to me gaped.  “YOU’RE THE POET!”

Ken and I stared at her.  I blinked.  “I … I don’t think I am.”

“No, you are!” she said.  “You’ve got the book!  And it has two sides!  And you have to make choices, and then you get a song or a story that tells your future!”

I blinked again.  “Oh,” I said.  “Oh. Well, yeah.  That is me.”

“OH MY GOD!” She almost jumped out of her seat.  Shouted “YOU’RE A LEGEND IN MY CAMP!”

“Nice,” Ken said to my absolutely baffled stare.  “Nice.”

So … I brought an art project to the playa this year.  For the first time ever.  An intimate, one-to-one, experience that I shared with fewer than 20 people all week.  I’d thought it was going well … but this was the first that I realized something really interesting might be happening.  That it was taking on a life of its own.  I was thrilled.

But it was also early in the week.  By the end of the burn I was having severe ethical concerns about the experience I was putting people through.   Instead of offering it to people, I only made it available to those who specifically asked.  And even then I hesitated.  By that point it had brought several participants to tears and anguish.

“My art project,” I told friends familiar with the situation, “is a loaded gun.  Is that okay?”

We know that an engineer who knowingly builds a structure that can hurt people is morally culpable.  As is someone who deliberately offers contaminated food.  But what about an artist who realizes that his work … by creating a powerfully aesthetic experience … is potentially causing emotional trauma?  Does he have anything to answer for?

It’s not a question I’d thought about going in, because I really didn’t think anybody would actually be … moved.  But it’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about since.

The set-up for the piece is simple … so simple that I’m a little embarrassed to tell you that it’s the best I could come up with.  It’s not really original either:  when I told Chicken John what it was, he said “Oh yeah, I’ve done that kind of thing before.”

But here goes.

I would offer someone a gift.  An aesthetic experience.  “This,” I would tell them, “will be a piece of oracular playa magic, wherein we will combine two powerful forces to identify your true inner nature, and a part of your destiny.

One of these forces is playa serendipity:  the way in which seemingly random events here come together to create profound synchronicity, unveiling meaningful encounters out of impossible chance.  The other will be the deep insights afforded by art – by art’s power to unveil what is hidden, and by the fact that … as Oscar Wilde said … ‘life imitates art.’  Together this playa synchronicity and the insight of art will reveal to us an aspect of your true nature and a part of your destiny.

I have here a book,” I would continue, showing them the book … really more of a white binder … “and this book has two sides.”  I would show them each side:  one cover bore the words “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”;  the other had the words “Rejoice and be Free!”

“But of course,” I would go on, spinning the binder in my hands “they are once and the same book.  Which aspect you encounter in your quest of discovery will depend upon the choices you make.  Are you ready?”

Everybody but one said yes at this point.

By the end of their choices, they would end up with a randomly selected song (one of 141 I had memorized) or story (one of about 100 original pieces of mostly flash fiction I had in the binder) that I would perform for them … with the understanding that within the words of this song or story were the clues to their true nature and destiny.

That’s it.  Pretty simple.  Not reinventing the wheel.

Mostly this worked very well – far better than I ever could have imagined, actually, as the incident in BMIR suggests.

But then there were other times.

The trouble, I soon realized, is that the actual content of the project – the “art” part – was in no way designed to leave the participant with a particular experience.  The songs were just the songs I knew I could sing well acapella – the stories just a collection pieces I’d written and published other places.  I didn’t curate it and think “these pieces will make the recipient feel this way,” I just grabbed it, put it in, and headed off to Burning Man.  The game wasn’t rigged so that they’d leave feeling good … or even just so that they wouldn’t feel horrible … about what they’d “learned.”  Instead, any experience could result.

And sometimes did.

My first inkling came at an outdoor bar at 2 in the morning when a trio of young men who’d seen me walk the bartender through this (in gratitude for his home brews) came up and said they wanted to play.  I said they’d have to do this one at a time, and one of them volunteered.

The story he picked got enough incidental details right that his friends kept saying “oh, man, that’s you!” over and over as I read.  But the central character of the story was a sailor who’d been paralyzed from the waist down in an accident and was struggling to retain his humanity in his new life.  And I could see, even in this dim light, the blood drain from his face as the recipient of my “gift” listened to the story.

By the time it was finished, he looked so anguished, so despondent, that I almost broke character.  I desperately wanted to tell him, “You know this is just bullshit, right?”

But I didn’t.  I stayed true to the premise.  I said “Of course, the truth you learn could be figurative.  It doesn’t have to be literal at all.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “Figurative.”  And ran off into the night.

One of his friends hesitated, then dashed off after him.

“Shit,” I thought.  “What have I done?”

But I didn’t have long to think about it, because his other friend was still there.  “It’s my turn,” he said, even after watching all that.

The worst moment, however, the lowest of the low, came Thursday afternoon (I think) when a guy in the camp next to mine came running up to me on the Esplanade, a girl I’d never met in tow.

“Hey Caveat!” he said.  “Can you do the thing for her!  She’s got to see this!”

“Sure,” I said, and we found a space under someone’s shade structure to give it a try.

He wanted her to choose a song – he was big on my singing – but she wanted a story.  And the story she ended up with …

… I realized, to my horror, thinking, Fuck, how did I ever put this in here?

… was a meditation on the nature of free will and fate, as examined through the life of a man who killed himself shortly after his girlfriend dumped him.

By the time I reached the middle, tears were streaming down her face.  By the time I reached the end she was sobbing.  It became apparent, in the conversation that followed, that something like this had happened to her in life.

And here I’d just ripped it open.  Because … because I have this art project, you see.  Which, when I put it that way, doesn’t sound like a very good reason at all.

It was clear at that point that, precisely because my art project was effective as art, it was also a loaded gun – and participating in it was a form of Russian Roulette.  The results really could be anything, including devastating.

Is that okay?

I’ve always said “yes” in principle.  My very first post on this blog was a reminder that Burning Man is not benign:  that it works precisely because it brings up the entirety of the human condition, including the frightening and lonely and devastating parts.  To try to limit its emotional range to happy and sanguine is to reduce it to naked Disneyland.

Indeed, one could say that for my project to have potentially devastating consequences was nothing more than truth in advertising.  I mean, the book I showed them had “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” on one cover, for god sake.  Nowhere in my patter was the promise of a happy ending.

In fact, I think it worked so well in part because there really was the possibility that anything could emerge as a result of the choices they made.  It’s interesting precisely because it isn’t rigged in anyone’s favor.  To say “we’ll reveal your true nature and your destiny” is a bit of a threatening thing.

But those are theoretical arguments.  Valid, even important, but utterly useless to me when confronted with the real tears of a real person who I had inadvertently hurt.

It seems disingenuous to suggest that, once I know somebody can get hurt, I don’t have moral culpability just because it’s art.  That artists get a free pass on those their work damages.

Except … they kind of do, and they kind of need to, don’t they?  At least sometimes?  I mean, how many people has “Huck Finn” egregiously offended?   “Or The Catcher in the Rye?”  “Or To Kill a Mockingbird?”  “Invisible Man?”  “Lolita?”

Or, perhaps more down to the level at which I was actually operating:  “Captain Underpants?”  Or that one book with the gay penguins?

Unlike engineering or cooking, art that doesn’t retain its capacity to hurt is effectively neutered.  Burning Man has to retain that capacity.  It’s a necessity.

But … but … I don’t think that actually gives the artists involved, myself included, an ethical pass.  It’s easy for necessities to become cover for monstrous acts.

Several friends who I told about these encounters said it was probably all for the best.  That the woman I brought to tears would later go to the temple and cry her heart out and emerged fresh and healed.  It’s a nice hypothetical, one that I hope is true.  But it’s not an excuse.  Just a story.

They’ve also pointed out that art like this is a voluntary experience.  People aren’t victims, they’re “participants.”  True.  They have agency, they made choices.  We may think of people who play Russian Roulette as reckless, but not as innocent.  And this is a good point.  But is it sufficient justification for starting the game in the first place?

I think … I think … that artists should be encouraged to bring projects like the one I did to the playa.  But they should not get defensive if someone calls them to account for it. They should be held accountable.  There’s an important place for the experience of tragedy at Burning Man – but I don’t know if I’ll be bringing my book next year.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man did not arrange to have anyone kidnapped on the playa this year, no matter what you heard.  His opinions are in no way statements of the Burning Man organization. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

45 Comments on “What if my art project is a loaded gun?

  • 24/7 says:

    Caveat, I love you.

    The reality is, we can never know what the results of our actions will be. You found a way to touch lives. And sometimes things can’t be truly healed until they have truly broken.

    I hope you bring this back. And I hope to see you there.

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  • lysenko says:

    Sounds like good art, and it’s good you’re thoughtful about it.

    If it doesn’t weigh to heavily on your heart, you should do it again. It’s a valuable service. WWCJD?

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  • FearLess says:

    Burning man is a catharsis. You go with the knowledge (hopefully) that you might be injured, or killed, or loved, or lost, or stupefied, or filled with overwhelming joy. It’s not Disneyland.

    Like you say, there’s no promise that everything will be just fine in the end. And personally I think that’s important. I don’t want to be shielded from experience. With luck I can choose to stop having an experience if I don’t want to be there, but I also don’t want someone else to decide that it’s too hard for me to bear. I would vote to let me choose to be torn open in a place where I have the time, space and support to come through it whole.

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  • Bob says:

    Fascinating and well within what someone should expect at Burning Man . . to do deep thinking about yourself and your culture. You bring with you all your obsessions and frailties.

    I would bring the book again, but do you span a range of conditions and outcomes? They are not all ‘paralyzed from the waist down’ or ‘commits suicide’, right? If so, maybe a few more twists in plot or happy endings would be in order. . . :-)

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  • Desire'e says:

    Thank you.

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  • Positron says:

    Hey Caveat our camp loved it when you stopped by the bar and quite a few of us asked for stories. It may have been a loaded gun but apparently the Gypsy Steam Circus enjoys a bit of Russian Roulette with well written short stories. I’d suggest bringing your book again but if your concerned of its side effects give a stern warning to those that some stories could be grim or discomforting…actually I think you did give a warning along those lines now that I think about it…meh, bring the book its a good experience and gives people stories to tell :)

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  • Dave says:

    Well, based on just reading your story, I would spin the chamber. (Metaphorically, only!~)

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  • Dustin says:

    More chaos. Good… good

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  • Dom aka "Dom" says:

    Amazing read… and very thought-provoking, thank you for sharing.

    It almost reminds me of when my friends and I decided to go to Bonnaroo the year after my first Burn. We felt like it would be fun to order a bunch of fortune cookies with home-made fortunes in them and hand them out to people on the paths. Now, these were incredibly benign fortunes, they were quite literally just re-worked lyrics from some of the headliners (Ex. for Radiohead: “Tomorrow you will wake up sucking a lemon.. a lem…. a lem… a lem… a lemon”.. things such as this). The occasionally visceral reactions from some people completely caught me off guard. We had a couple people even say things like “Hell no, keep those cookies away from me, I read one yesterday and it completely fucked up my night”. Sometimes there is just no way of telling how a person will react, thanks for doing something so simple yet cool.

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  • Syd says:

    It’s an interesting question: is the artist, of whatever stripe in whatever medium, responsible when synchronicity strikes a blow? Would it have been any different if you were a painter and created a canvas that left some people joyful and others profoundly disturbed? And I don’t have an answer.

    I’ve never been to Burning Man. But if I make it, I hope to cross paths with you–and your book.

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  • Dream-A says:

    There does not seem to be any controlling the experience of the experiencer of art. Someone crying at the hands of an art project (such as yours) can be a beautiful thing. Emotional “trauma” seems to be a necessary part of growth and the experience of the richness of life itself. The concept of culpability seems to imagine a unilateral effect, and I think gives your art project an imbalanced amount of credit (which I don’t mean in a value judgment way). Just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, so may be tragedy or any other emotional, conceptual, or physical experience. If someone would blame you and your art project for devastation, I would argue that they have likely misunderstood themselves and your project. I think it’s a beautiful idea, and I hope to experience your art project one day, no matter how I perceive it and express my response. Thank you for sharing.

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  • Whim says:

    Unequivocally acceptable. Tear their souls apart.

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  • Jeeves says:

    In 2011 I performed an autobiographical reading and photography piece at the temple for some friends. One or two nearby strangers listened in. One was clearly hit over the head by what I was sharing. When I was done he fell apart. We created a space for him to share his far more traumatic and remarkable tale. We let him become the focal point, gave him love, affirmation, connection. Somehow it all worked. I got way more out of the whole experience than I was bargaining for, which I guess happened to you too. I guess if art is a loaded gun the artist can take responsibility to stay present as a witness to those who get wounded.

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  • lysenko says:

    This short video by Chicken John is highly relevant to this discussion, and a good blueprint for future activities…


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  • Sugarlarry says:

    Really enjoyed this post, and would love to have experienced your piece. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Burn, so it’s easy for the whole thing to seem like it’s just about sculpture and lights and costumes, and forget how important these interactions are to the experience.

    You say it’s just “bullshit” and you’re probably right, but part of this project relies on playa synchronicity, which at least in my experience, is a very real, and slightly alarming thing when you encounter it. Especially if you’re all rational and don’t believe in that sort of thing. Probably more so if you do, and if you happen to hit on a story that rings true.

    I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong here. There were warnings on your book and on the ticket even. Your name is Caveat for crying out loud. Hopefully these people were ok, and that the experience was a positive transformative one, but Burning Man isn’t all smiles and sunshine. I think that video from a few years ago where everybody dos a little line from “Oh The Place You’ll Go” has lead people to believe that Burning Man is like living in an iPod ad whereas it’s frequently terrifying.

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  • Joyous says:

    Caveat, what a wonderful read, as always. Thank you for sharing. And what a splendid story. I am wishing I had heard of “The Poet” and came seeking my story or song from you. I absolutely love your idea & no matter what, I bet your art was pure magic. I wish I had shared in it.

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  • Gideon says:

    I think the art had as big of an impact on the creator as it did on the people you shared it with. Thank you for creating this. The big question in my mind is – Could you ever do this again? Would you be able to pick songs and stories at random again, or would you keep thinking about the impact this story would have? Or that song’s lyrics – how could that be interpreted? Would you end up with the same type of mix of content, or would you curate it down to nothing?

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  • Denis says:

    Thank you for helping to relive the many epiphanies I experienced at Home.

    Please do go on.

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  • Thay Singh says:

    No second guessing. No second chances. You did the right thing and bore your own scars from it. Be well fellow shaman.

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  • Peter Pan says:

    Brilliant! You ARE a poet. Bring your book next year and the next and the next. And, leave your mind in the default world.

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  • Sara Bond says:

    Emotional roulette indeed. How beautiful. As a first year burner, I knew going into this the possible physical and emotional stresses and joys I could experience. The levels and hoes and my reactions would, of course, be my lessons, my in depth understanding of myself vs. self vs. friends vs. lover vs. desert vs. the city vs. past vs. expectations, etc.

    Going into the experience of burning man, I feel that all burners know they will be forced to look into something they may not want to, maybe are really excited to perceive, etc.

    Your stories and songs were probably very much like the stories and songs we find in default world. They are universal. A story about a boy whose best friend is a dog and the dog passes because of the boy’s mistake – anyone can find a recognition of self inside the story. And if not exactly, a piece of it could trigger something they weren’t even thinking of experiencing in burning man, something buried.

    The moment we choose to take the journey to burning man, through it and spit ourselves back out of it, we are undeniably accepting the fact that we are physically and mentally preparing for the adventure, living the adventure and then mourning the adventure. Very similar to Frodo at the end of The Lord of the rings trilogy when he realizes that after all he has been through, he cannot live I’m hobbition – I digress.

    As a writer myself, you have inspired me with your idea. Not to follow in suit or do something similar, but allowed my mind to open moreso to my own experience. Whether or not you choose to do this next year, is absolutely up to you. But what I think you are missing here, you weren’t just the poet for these people, but for yourself. And by playing Russian roulette with people’s emotions, you the master or presenter, were, too affected – that your art, your artistic statement, what you experienced while witnessing others’ experience of your art, is your emotional Russian roulette.

    And that, Caveat, is a pretty damn unique burning man experience.

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  • Sara Bond says:

    Was there something wording with my comment?

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  • Sandi Kovach-Long says:

    I actually think I heard something about this…it struck a vague memory chord or something…maybe someone who experienced a song/story was talking about it? Like any game where people “pick” their future or personality type or ? sometimes it seems like a greater truth is working behind the scenes. Your reaction to the emotion (to me) determines whether you are to be commended or condemned. Obviously you were not immune to the suffering of others…which is very different than if you deliberately were going to draw tears/blood and relished the intensity of the response. Without follow-up you won’t know if those events were pivotal moments that actually changed someone’s heart/path or if it was simply too tired too dehydrated overwhelm. And time will tell if this becomes a pivotal experience for you, ricocheting you into another direction. Thank you for sharing…and my vote is to keep on DOING

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  • Sandi Kovach-Long says:

    This isn’t necessarily to be posted. It would be nice to be able to subscribe…I’ve read your writing before and enjoy your insights. Of course a little discipline on my part to keep checking would work but the lazy way out is signing-up for alerts/updates

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  • G says:

    @Sandi Kovach-Long
    A possibly off base response to your “subscribe” inquiry, but here goes. This might be what you are looking for? Click on Caveats’s name here and you can read his entries back to 2011.

    @all contributors on this thread. Thanks for the clarity. Personally I was dumbfounded and inconclusive about any possible response, my mind was all over the map on this.

    Burning Man is an ordeal, that is why I go. This year someone in my camp stated that he avoids the Temple because of the mood/vibe there. While there this year, a woman in the outer corridor broke out in the most baleful, loud, wailing mournful 5 minutes of crying I think I have ever witnessed. It was so hard to take. In retrospect, I think it was the sound of healing. Somehow, after reading the comments above, I embrace that experience and am more at peace with it. Thanks all!

    Caveat, now I will forever wonder if you happened to have that book with you when you strolled past and begged a hello from us under the Greeter’s shade structure at 6&D.

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  • The synchronicity began when the project was first conceived. though you think you chose your songs and stories randomly, randomness does not really exsist in these experiments (by the very reason that you, yourself, chose the stories and tunes). Then, you applied ‘art’ to the project and went bravely forward.
    You experienced what psychologic counselors do every day. It is not your words, but the recipients relation to same. Those tears and that anguish are not BAD things. As others have posted, it’s in the nature of these things to open people to the experience.
    OK, maybe give your participants a caveat (pun intended) “you might experience an INTENSE emotional response” but wtf its BM fer chrissakes. Plus you told ’em to Abandon All Hope. What more can you do?
    These psychologic experiments have been run by pros in the field for many decades. There is literature on it. In your experience it was ‘Art’ but in other venues it would be ‘therapy’. You ‘hit a nerve’. But what do I know? I’m a gynecologist fer chrissakes. (bit o’ psychlogy in my field to!)
    Artists crave this immediacy.

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  • Corvus says:

    Art is defined in terms of mimesis, that is, an expression, or communication of emotion, or other values. In fact some artists claim if it doesn’t evoke a reaction in you, it isn’t art. The reaction is not always positive (Piss Christ, anyone?) but it will always involve what the viewers (listeners, whatever) bring with them. This is true in spades with burner art where interaction is far more prevalent if not the norm.

    So, yes, an engineer who builds a bridge that collapses is culpable of causing harm, but if someone climbs a railing to jump to their death? — not so much. Keep bringing your book.

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  • Kaylee says:

    You know this is just bullshit, right?”
    Just because you (may want to) think that doesn’t make it true. Playa serendipity is a very real, unpredictable force. I think your participants had meaningful and sometimes very painful experiences because they made a choice to believe playa serendipity would give them something meaningful. You did your due dilligence by warning them with the cover that it would not always be flowers and sunshine. If you’re still uncomfortable with it perhaps include a more explicit warning at the beginning that the experience could get painful, and participants are free to stop if they don’t like it.
    If I built a physical piece of interactive art (char wash, dance dance immolation, teeter-totter of death, etc) and warned participants that it might be dangerous and they still choose to participate and wound up injured it wouldn’t be my fault because they were aware of the danger and I wasn’t actively trying to hurt them. Personally I like the idea of your project and would have loved to participate. Please continue bringing it.

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  • Truly says:


    Those folks needed those experiences to help them become more whole.

    You helped them, *bigtime*.

    Good work!

    Love, Truly…<3

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  • Cheese Simon says:


    You really do provide some of the best writings about Burning Man experiences, long may it continue. What you did was fine (in terms of responsibility). It might be less so if you didn’t care about what happened to people after the readings. It’s no different to horoscopes, except that you do your “readings” face to face. Do it enough with enough people and you’ll get experiences that produce “negative” emotion. But the quotes there are important, because it’s not a negative emotion – just one that produces a particular emotion in you. I think those words on the back of the Burning Man ticket very much apply to our mental state as much as the physical one – Burning Man is clearly advertised as not being Utopia, Disneyland or similar and there’s a risk of all sorts of things happening to you, mentally and physically. You can’t have an environment like Burning Man that only produces moments of joy and rapture – and as long as people are open to new experiences and learning about themselves, they’ll be fine.
    I’m producing a big physical art project next year that hopefully won’t be benign at all. Will be interesting to see what people make of it…

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  • Kay O. Sweaver says:

    Bravo Caveat! Bravo!

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  • Bare says:

    How I wish I had crossed paths with You. perhaps my time is not yet… Playadipity that’s what I call it IIT is what it is, what its meant to be…. YOU are the keeper of the keys that unlocks locked doors, Where we all store something, a d you found the way to hand someone, anyone perhaps all of us the right key at the right place in time to unlock that door….. I see it as a genuine gift; Thank you for bringing your gift and I hope MY time will come in 2014, I will come Looking, seeking… I’ll even ask. Bob where you are if that’s what it takes…. If Playadipity has its way..

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  • Dustin (not the one above) says:

    Read. Give them a hug. Move on.

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  • Well done. It was an incredible project! I hope you’ll bring it back. xo

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  • Ian Hopper says:

    I have to agree with FearLess. There are no guarantees at B.M. I think what you did was beautiful… and painful. Without pain, what do we have to measure out joy with? I give a thumbs up to bringing your project back!

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  • Dr.Realz says:

    Awesome Caveat!

    Don’t beat yourself up too much as you pointed out it is all about intent. It is clear your intent was not to harm. Your goal was, at least in part, was to make fun of how serious people take thing on the playa(or as you called it bullshit). The playa has one upped you seems the joke is on you. She is a marry prankster that playa.
    “You are the art!”
    -Dr. Realz

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  • Bike slingshot (2012) guy says:

    In 2012 myself and a friend built the “bicycle slingshot” out on the playa. It was a heavy-duty bungee rope tied taught between two large posts, 50ft apart, facing towards the man. The bungee was clearly marked with flags (and removed at dusk), the posts had strobe lights on them to prevent nighttime collisions.

    There was no explanation, and we like to think none was required; You positioned yourself on your bike, had some friends pull back the bungee as far as you dared; when released you+bike were catapulted towards the man. It didn’t look that scary to spectators but it had the potential to be rather exhilarating (or mellow) depending on bungee tension.

    It’d be fair to say this was a “safety third” art piece; we endeavored to ensure that nobody could accidentally hurt themselves _unless_ they chose to participate, at which point there was a clear and very obvious possibility of bike and rider parting ways, possibly at speed (the most common mistake was simply not steering in a straight line)

    Many people enjoyed it and zoomed off whooping, some people wiped out (occasionally quite spectacularly) but dusted themselves off and laughed. I don’t know of any more serious injuries but I can’t guarantee someone didn’t break something.

    Our slogan was “No hidden danger”.

    As a long-time burner, I remember several pieces of potentially dangerous art fondly; Mark Griffin’s “The Ladder” from 2005 is probably my favorite – a 108ft ladder climbing vertically from the playa surface, reaching seemingly forever up into the heavens.
    It had no guards, no barbed wire, padlocks or “CLIMBING PROHIBITED” signs, and absolutely no safety net. Nor did it need further explanation.

    The view when climbing it was astonishing – heightened by the visceral sense that if you let go, you’d very probably not be having a nice day.

    It crystallized one of the core things I adore about BM;
    “Here is some art, with very obvious risk and reward. Enjoy it as you will.”

    Burning Man is a festival for grown-ups of all ages, it offers a deeper range of emotions and experiences than can be obtained elsewhere.

    Always I laugh, occasionally I’ve cried; and that’s why I always leave feeling so enriched.

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  • Aqua says:

    Thank you for that beautiful piece about a brilliant project.

    In my reading of it, you were holding up a warped mirror of an artistic nature; When people looked into that mirror, they were confronted with reflections of parts of themselves, as well as with warped reflections they did not recognize.

    Biology has it that the part of an experience that causes the strongest sensation gets the most attention. Those parts that did not resonate with people would be ignored. With pain intrinsically being one of the strongest sensations, it is logical that those aspects of themselves that people are most sensitive about will get most of the attention. This could bring hidden injury to light, causing great grief, and creating an opportunity for healing later on.

    I would never blame the maker of a mirror for what I see in that mirror, nor do I think anyone else should be justified in doing so, even in a more sheltered place than Black Rock City.

    I would even argue that performance art that doesn’t make anyone cry is merely entertainment.

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  • lizyann says:

    I really like the way you talk about things-straightforwardly, and acknowledging issues, but without taking shit from people.

    And this is going to sound completely like a come on (which I suppose it is) but are you in NY and are you going to the thing on the 25th?

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  • Caveat
    This reminds me of the thing you wrote about fucking with people on the playa, but doing with love, about one of the unwritten rules of Burning Man is that it has something to screw with everyone, to rip someone from their comfort zone while also launching them — kicking and screaming if necessary — into a giddy euphoria like they never experienced elsewhere.
    It’s crazy how something that seemed so benign on the surface can be so profound, what a wonderful idea.
    I really hope you have the book in oh 14 and I hope our paths cross.

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  • Kenju says:

    Even despite the bad that can come, I’m sure you’ve brought just as much good and joy to others. I myself have not been to Playa yet, but I know that when and if I do, I’ll want to try my luck with a story or song from you even knowing full well what may come out of it.

    In order for people to truly grow and expand as people they have to be able to face the bad and get past it, as well as the good, and with how my luck goes I’m sure an experience with you and your book when and if our paths cross.

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  • usefully says:

    The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a 30
    foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My
    apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views.
    I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

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  • Barrett says:

    Finally i quit my regular job, now i earn decent money on-line you should
    try too, just type in google – blackhand roulette system

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