Share Your Burning Man Stories With the Burning Stories Research Project

Everyone has a story to tell — especially Burners. Already looking forward to this year’s playa antics? A first-timer? Or do you already consider Black Rock City home? Regardless of your affiliation with Burning Man, Burning Stories project wants to hear your story.

The history of storytelling is the history of fire. For thousands of years, we have sat around it, sharing stories and our perceptions of the world. Black Rock City serves as a blank canvas for unbounded imagination and unrestricted thinking, which makes for great stories around the fire.

In the Burning Stories project, we are interested in hearing your stories, both before and after playa. By conducting academic research on the ways Black Rock City influences the imagination and thinking of its inhabitants, we want to share these stories with new audiences. We also want to utilize visual arts in our project — check out the animation on Burning Stories.

The Aim of Burning Stories

Why support Burning Stories by sharing your expectations before and your stories after your time in Black Rock City? We believe your identity as a Burner is not limited to the time spent on the playa. We’re interested in exploring how the identity displays itself before and after the event: What does a Burner’s life look like in the off-season, and how does it affect the community and society they live in? We seek to explain how involvement in the Burning Man community evolves across time and space, and how this, in turn, affects participants’ own understanding of the collective Burning Man identity. There is a limited understanding of how Burning Man’s immersive experiences transform individuals, let alone whole societies. That’s what we aim to find out with this project. We hope you will find time to answer our expectations survey.

By sharing your story and participating in our research, anonymously or eponymously, you are helping to bring Burning Man into ongoing academic discussions, making the values of Burning Man accessible to a wider audience, and increasing our understanding of why belonging to the Burning Man community might be important. In the later stage of the project, stories will be shared with Burning Man Project to enable storytelling and growth within the community. The project is also about enabling learning between communities.

“For me Burning Stories is a bridge for a better future. Both academic and Burner community have plenty of knowledge and wisdom to create and share and I hope Burning Stories can serve both communities. I also look forward to exploring the role arts can have when disseminating the results of research to a larger audience. This is going to be a very exciting journey into deep playa of academic inquiries,”
— Dr. Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä, Aalto University

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The Story of Burning Stories

Cosmic Egg, 2017

Burning Stories is a spinoff of another Burning Man project, and its roots lie deep within the Aalto University community in Finland. It all began in 2015, when the very first Nordic community of pioneers to Black Rock City created Aalto on Fire. This installation was a pike that had a Finnish traditional instrument, a kantele, inside of it. After that, support from Aalto Design Factory encouraged the community to think bigger. What to do, if everything is possible?

The next co-creation in Black Rock City was Koulu The School in 2016, a low-infrastructure peer-learning platform that offered skill-discovery methods and peer-to-peer teaching. Recently, Finnish Church Aid adopted the initiative, and the platform has been piloted in Nepal and Jordan.

In 2017, the community became inspired by galaxies and created a project called Space on Fire. The project group from Finland traveled to Black Rock City and built a 120m² parametrically designed pavilion called Cosmic Egg with the support from Nordic Borderland community. The egg had a satellite ground station installed on it, which picked up data from space and projected it inside the installation to create an audiovisual experience. Visitors could also send their messages to space, and many ordered vegetarian pizzas from out there. We do not know yet if the pizzas will be delivered to Black Rock City one day, but we certainly hope so. Currently the prototype egg-shaped architectural structure is being used to build a school in Turku, Finland.

Down from right: Farah & Ewald, Up from right: Frank, Jukka-Pekka & Peter

As the Burner community of Aalto University kept growing, the academic interest in the phenomenon got a foothold in the Aalto University School of Business. The Burning Stories project was launched early 2018 with interviews from the Space on Fire team. We are now a team of seven and are excited to hear expectations and stories from the global Burning Man community.

Science and Burning Man

Burning Man has always been an intriguing entity to academic researchers. It is a rare opportunity to be able to study people in such a unique, isolated setting.

There are numerous scientific articles and books about Burning Man. Our academic team is bringing a few new disciplines to this beautiful hodgepodge of scientific approaches to studying Burning Man. If you are interested in the science of Burning Man, there is a brilliant academic database of research available and, of course, our friends at Black Rock City (BRC) Census are doing an amazing and important job collecting unique data. The Census has a fascinating longitudinal database on Black Rock City participants and the evolution of Burning Man. The BRC Census survey comes out right after the event, and we hope you’ll find the time to take part.

What’s Ahead

Like any Burner project, we don’t actually know what’s ahead of us in terms of research results, and that is exactly why this is so exciting. Publishing world-class academic articles will take a while. But fear not, you’ll hear about our work sooner than expected.

Burning Stories will support the community via regular research animations on what’s next. In addition we aim to publish summary reports of our research and share the data to the community with the help of Burning Man Project. We aim to enable co-creation and build a community of scholars, so academics across various disciplines can carry the torch of knowledge and better understand what move the Black Rock City’s inhabitants.

“We’re excited to be partnering with Aalto University on this important research project. Burning Man has always grown organically, one story at a time — this is the most promising effort yet to map that process and see how these powerful collaborative networks take shape.”
— Stuart Mangrum, Education Director, Burning Man Project

We hope you’ll join us by sharing your story, and help the Burner community thrive both home and away.


Top photo by Luc Asbury

About the author: Burning Stories Team

Burning Stories Team

Burning Stories is a research project based at Aalto University in Finland about understanding the Burning Man community, how its participants identify as a part of it, and how a citizen of Black Rock City might influence surrounding society after the event. The team is comprised of Dr. Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä, Dr. Myrto Chliova, Dr. Ewald Kibler, Dr. Farah Kodeih, Dr. Frank Martela, Dr. Virva Salmivaara, and Peter Tapio.

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