Dust Is the Great Equalizer

We’re more than halfway through Burning Man 2017, and we don’t know how that happened. In some ways it feels like the event should be over by now, because every day is two or three days long.

The skies are hazy with dust and smoke, temperatures have been ungodly hot, and we’re astonished we haven’t yet been hit with an hours-long whiteout. (Knock on wood.) The streets are so full of pulverized playa, they look like snow-covered New England lanes waiting for the snow plow.

Marian had her annual collaborators’ meetup, and Burners and friends pretty much from around the world came to say hello, what’s up, what are you doing? Incredibly, there are more than 200 regional Burning Man groups from all over the planet, and it was powerful to see so many represented in one space.

Theresa Duncan, Burning Man’s head of philanthropic engagement, encouraged everyone to stay active, keep networking and keep engaging the world. And Marian reminded everyone of the promise and possibility represented by the organization’s recent purchase of Fly Ranch

We stayed engaged for as long as we could; Charlie Dolman had promised to kick us out if we showed up at the gathering, but a big brown cloud of dust did the job for him. We’ve been mostly blessed with gentle conditions, excepting the unrelenting heat, but this mini-brownout packed a wallop.

In a matter of moments, the chic crowd was powder-puffed head-to-toe with fine white playa dust. It was very egalitarian, as the desert spares no one.

Here are some more pics from the gala:


David Best isn’t building the Temple this year, and that qualifies as news, in that he’s built most of them, and in fact invented the very concept of having a Temple on the playa. We think it must be a very different experience for him, attending Burning Man without being at the center of one of its key components. The methods of construction have also changed dramatically since he began doing his thing here. “The difference is like when they came out here to race cars in the ‘50s,” he said. “Now they’ve got all this equipment and all this speed. … We were dealing with flat tires and carrying things and lifting things. … Man, it’s changed.”

The Communications team held its annual “press availability” for some central figures in the Burning Man organization, and a fair number of bleary-eyed scribes made their way to the Everywhere ARTery Pavilion to have a meet and greet.

“The two events that are growing the fastest are in Israel and South Afrrica,” Larry Harvey is own self said. “I don’t think anyone would have predicted that in a whiteboard session.”

Harvey also spoke at length about David Best’s project in Northern Ireland, which sought to provide a bridge between Catholics and Protestants there, perhaps to share their common grief over the troubles. More than 50,000 people participated, both Protestant and Catholic, and “these were people who were fighting about nearly everything you can think of,” Harvey said. The effort was “something that Burning Man is destined to bring to the entire world,” and Best was able to do things that only an outsider could do. “He’s a genius at that sort of thing,” Harvey said.

It’s not much of a stretch to think that we could use a bit of healing in our political climate, as well. We’d like to think that any confrontational group that tried to make its presence felt here would be laughed out of the city. Belittlement is the insincerest form of flattery, after all.

The issue is one that we’ll leave to the philosophical wing of the organization to chew over, when radical inclusion and radical self-expression bump up against communal effort and maybe civic responsibility. “The only reason this works, this individual liberty, is that it’s so communitarian. And libertarians don’t even know what that is.”

Harvey recalled a camp years ago that had to be removed from Black Rock City, after its members started heckling all of their neighbors with bullhorns. “We had to have the Rangers guarding them,” Harvey said. There were verbal threats “that went beyond the law,” and that was that, out they went.

Stuart Mangrum had a succinct take on the matter: “We give everybody the benefit of the doubt, even if they don’t deserve it. … Sometimes people prove through their actions that they don’t deserve it.” He said his wife famously made buttons one year that said, “Radical Inclusion doesn’t mean I can’t punch you” if you’re an asshole. … If the Nazis came here, he said, “We’d place them next to the Black Lives Matter camp.”

Beware the clowns

Notes: Highway 447 between Empire and Nixon, Burning Man’s main ingress and egress route, was reopened Thursday morning after being shut for many hours due to a wildfire in the area. It was a hardship for those trying to get to or leave the playa, and it was also unsettling for those of us already here to think that we were so isolated from the rest of the world. … Harvey has heard some criticism of the design of the Man base, in that the Man is enclosed in a structure for the first time. “Oh, they say, Jack in the Box, Jack in the Box,” he said. “And my answer is, ‘Some Jack, some box.’” … He also said that Flash was mightily impressed, as well. “He was speechless,” Harvey said. “For once, he confronted a bigger presence than himself! He lost his voice” … Flash’s partner, Dana Albany, has brought one of our favorite works to the playa this year, Tara Mechani, “A figurative sculptural installation that fuses representational aspects of the female Buddha, Tara, with future characteristics of the female robot in a contemporary way.” It is beautiful and amazing. …

Tara Mechanica



Another of our favorites is LaynaJoy Rivas and Eva Reiska’s “Sysimetsä”, a memorial for those affected by the fires that destroyed Lake County, as well as for a beloved art space by the name of Ravens Landing back in 2015.

The voice behind “Stepping Forward”

There’s also Stepping Forward, by Spain’s Miguel Angel Martin Bordera, a 20-something foot tall marionette who strides around the playa with the help of particpants who tug on lines to move her arms and legs. … And then there is campmate Frankie’s series of portraits that he’s creating on playa. He takes pictures of our crew, and then when he goes in the PortaPotty, he creates his own renderings. The project is brilliantly entitled: “Shitfaced.”

Here are some more pics:

Hot off the presses, the Black Rock Beacon rolls on

Senator drew Nevada’s counties into his art piece, and from memory placed each of their county seats in their correct location. He can also name them, if you’d like him to. He can do the same with California’s county seats, as well.


Frankie, out of the PortaPotty
Stuart Mangrum

The Monaco came for a visit.
Eleanor Preger has some rad shoes





About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

9 Comments on “Dust Is the Great Equalizer

  • Will Chase says:

    You’re really saving me the trouble of making the drive to BRC this year, John — though I may just surprise you. Thanks for the pics!

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  • Dennis Hinkamp says:

    Dust. I hate dust.

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  • Shagquita says:

    That there dust got in my vagina last year shit wasn’t nice.

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  • Chrispy says:

    Most favorite klown on most favorite ship. Excellent, Mr. Curley.

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  • Catie Magee says:

    Tell the Senator that I expect the county seats for Massachusetts, Texas, Oregon, and Virginia memorized when next we meet. And thanks for always bringing the magic to those of watching At home. Much love.

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  • Jessica Wilson says:

    Wow, this is white privilege (racism) in action, indicative of how little Burning Man culture and leadership understand the very real threats people of color experience on a daily basis to their safety: “…If the Nazis came here… We’d place them next to the Black Lives Matter camp.” That is dangerous. It’s entitled as fuck to “in the name of Burning Man” even joke about a decision like that. White supremacy and its associated violence is not something to experiment and toy with, the people in the BLM camp are not things to be moved about as part of this white pseudo-intellectual game irreflective of reality. Why do we say Black Lives Matter in the first place? Because white supremacy is killing, injuring, and traumatizing black folks on the daily. Because white supremacy and white culture sees black bodies and lives as things to be owned and controlled. That mindset is in Stuart’s “idea,” as well as the assumption being made that a white man will be the one to direct and/or solve a situation black people are most affected by. And to do so by putting black people at risk. For real, y’all should check in with the BLM camp before you do something so stupid and cruel, if it gets to that. If Black Lives Matter to you, consider the ways in which ideas and comments like this uphold racism, consider the ways in which you aid white supremacy and act as its foot soldiers (whether consciously or not), consider that the phrase Black Lives Matter, in its fullness, contains a historical and intellectual radicalism with it that Burning Man is painfully distant and removed from.

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    • whatever says:

      I think the comment was metaphor. The idea being that the community would shut those Nazi f***ers right down.

      Ultimately, that’s what has to happen, right? We all have to pull together, marginalize and shame those evil morons into changing :)

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  • Katharine says:

    John! You saved me with directions and bringing me into the party for shelter during the massive dust storm on Tuesday? Wednesday? Whatever day, I always love reading your blog and so fun to be saved by you! Katharine

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