Originally published on August 14, 2022 | Reposted with permission from the author
Roxane Jessi is an intrepid world traveler who spent the last few years participating in Burning Man Regional Events around the globe, from Blazing Swan and Burning Japan to Fuego Austral and Midburn — an odyssey chronicled in her soon-to-be-released book, Once Upon a Time in the Dust. This is the second in Roxane’s Journal series sharing the sights, sounds and connections from Regional Burns that took place around the world in 2022.
Last year — for the second year in a row — most of us sat at home and experienced Black Rock City (BRC) and its Regionals through a screen, or via a headset as an avatar. I remember the rather unceremonious burning of a miniature Man built by one of my Burner friends beamed into my living room from the other side of the world. We half-heartedly cheered from our respective video chat windows, reminisced about playa times, before closing our laptops shut and going to bed feeling nostalgic and deflated. These were strange times indeed.
But after this extended pause it was time to return “Home.” And I don’t mean the BRC playa. Home extends all around the world. The Regionals led the charge with burns taking place globally long before the “big Burn” in summer 2022. Rather than weakening the movement, the enforced hiatus of the past two years has done the opposite; finally reunited, we burned all the brighter. A shift also took place — when we were unable to travel yet thirsty for community — the Regionals on our doorstep grew in importance. The BRC pilgrimage no longer has the same pull in our “new normal” world.
I was fortunate to step back onto the burn wagon closer to home and experience three incredible Regional events this year, including Nowhere — my “local” Regional — taking place in my backyard in Spain, The Borderland in Sweden, and Midburn in Israel. These experiences could not be more diverse, or more enriching, each bringing their own cultural twist to the Burning Man Principles.
It felt fitting to restart my burn adventures locally in Nowhere. The event takes place in the blazing heat of the Spanish Monegros desert in early July. And what better setting to relight the fire. It is a steampunk themed playground that has all the energy and allure of earlier BRC editions, when things — and participants — were rougher and wilder ’round the edges. Here I marveled at apocalyptic-looking art pieces spewing fire, engaged in all forms of snark, and even had an awe-inspiring impromptu waltz with death (courtesy of a stranger dressed as a Star Wars-esque grim reaper).
Next up was another European burn, the Nordic Borderland. It is held in late July, nestled in a cool forested valley, blanketed in mist at night. With its roots in the Live Action Role Play (LARP-ing) community, it feels like a week-long experiment in immersive theater. Its participants are straight out of a Nordic version of Lord of the Rings. I lost myself to its quirky woodland paths, danced at fairytale-inspired sound stages and participated in a dizzying array of weird and wonderful events. A special mention goes to the snail racing competition at the hilariously named lakeside Tropical Goth Tiki Bar.
After a return to the BRC playa, the Middle-Eastern dust beckoned. Midburn welcomed its citizens back to Israel’s mystical Negev Desert in October, gold sand spilling like tidal waves over tall sand dunes. Dunes that we explored wrapped in thick scarves like desert-hardy pilgrims, while Bedouin villages lay sleepily in the distance. The event is almost exclusively Israeli with only a small contingent of international participants and feels otherworldly, its camps emblazoned with signs in cryptic Hebrew characters. I lost and found myself in unforgettable scenes, was caught in a Hebrew sound bath, enchanted by a turban-topped fortune teller, eyes misty with emotion at a Shabbat ceremony telling a timeless tale.
While the setting of these events was as different as chalk and cheese, they made me fall completely head over heels in love with the wider Regional Network again. Just before the pandemic hit, I launched myself on a world tour of Regional Events, which took me on a rollercoaster ride across five continents over the course of a year. From the pampas of Argentina, the Tankwa of South Africa, Israel’s Negev, the Monegros of Spain, Northern Nevada’s Black Rock City, and Burning Japan, to Western Australia’s outback. I had set myself a mission: to get to the heart of a movement that seeks to create community in a disconnected world. And what I discovered is this: we need the Burn more than ever. We need its playgrounds, its unbridled spaces for creation, imagination, connection — and yes, its tough love.
We have so few spaces and rituals left where we can come together for celebration and shared healing. The pandemic years showed us the worrying patterns that emerge when we do away with these completely. But after a fall we rise again. To build the cities we dream up. The Regionals I attended this year had an energy and drive that proved how strongly we have bounced back. There was more art at Nowhere this year, and more interactive installations at Midburn.
Meanwhile, The Borderlands has now established itself on permanent land bought by the community. Other Regional Events are also seeking permanent homes — including AfrikaBurn, which acquired land this year. It seems as if the next step for the culture is to establish a relationship with a more permanent place while respecting the ephemerality of the event. The new AfrikaBurn base is allowing it to have a more enduring and considerate support for the local Twanka desert community, which they help through various charitable initiatives. They are also organizing EcoTrips for people to come and restore the ecologically depleted land. Their hope is for this example in sustainability to move out horizontally into the world.
Beyond the events mentioned, there have been new exciting additions to the Regional Network in faraway places. A Moroccan Burn, Nam Burn in Namibia, and a whole host of micro-burns have mushroomed whilst the world sheltered in place. For instance, in Sweden they have kept going throughout as gatherings of up to 50 people were permitted. Speaking with a Swedish-based Burner with a thick accent and even thicker ginger beard, he confided that the movement provided an essential outlet for him to keep some sense of community. He is not alone in this.
Although I attended the BRC Burn this year and reconnected for the sixth time to the playa that stole my heart back in 2015, the experience reinforced that the Regionals are the future of the movement. The pilgrimage to BRC is long and the conditions punishing, although that is arguably part of its appeal and transformative power. But beyond the hardship, everything is undeniably BIG and overpowering at BRC — the art superstructures, the camps, the lights, the outfits — which starts to feel superfluous when the real essence of “Home” is found in human connection. It can therefore exist in equal measure in a field of 500 people as it can in an otherworldly white dusty canvas where 80,000 gather to build a city of dreams.
The Regional Network allows us to strip away excess and get back to the basics and essence of the Principles, and how these positively impact our local communities around the world. Indeed, there is a growing contingent of Burners who have never stepped onto the BRC playa, yet fiercely identify with their local events.
Cover image of Nowhere 2022 (Photo by @katia.namaste)