Burning Man: Milestones On Mars
Inspiration, motivation, catalyzation; whatever flavor of propulsion you seek, Black Rock City is the place to find it.
For the last 6 of 7 years we’ve committed to making the pilgrimage to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and Burning Man. The temporary desert city constructed atop an alkaline playa so hostile that many would characterize it only as “insufferable.” It’s in this dusty and chaotic cauldron that life’s forgotten delights, spontaneity, serendipity, impermanence, all burn their brightest to show you what you’re missing, or perhaps just what you needed to rediscover. Like always this was a year where we were tested. Stamina. Patience. Clarity. Change. It was the year for us to fully grasp how these annual experiences in the desert have evolved and how our parallel paths have been forever inscribed. It’s this notion that I wanted to reflect on and scribble about, an unimaginable odyssey culminating in the acceptance of the inevitable: Change.
It’s true we were seeking yet another catalyst, a clear signal on how to march onward in continued pursuit of our passions and dreams.
Like years before we’d hedged our bets on Burning Man to provide the rocket fuel needed for our creative blast off to continue. After all, this annual pilgrimage had done more than just “worked".” Erin’s Eldorado General Store would not exist today were it not for her first solo soul searching years in 2012 & 2013. My photography practice wouldn’t have evolved into a career had I not mused Burning Man in 2015 & 2016 to sharpen my storytelling skills. Our lifestyle and livelihoods wouldn’t exist in their current forms had we not embraced the cataclysmic experiences, lessons, and messages granted to us from previous playa years. So with these teachings fueling our new intentions, we biked, danced, explored, and most importantly committed to the experience and its challenges, whatever they may have been.
In understanding the evolution, art was the barometer.
2018 saw the playa laced with insane LED driven art, more than we’d ever seen and much of it fully functional early in the week (rare in years past and a sign that budgets have likely ballooned as well.) It was definitely clear that it was a programmers paradise, an absolute direct influence from nearby Silicon Valley; both minds and pocketbooks. Burning Man has always been rooted in reflecting San Francisco culture, and as the tech industry swallows up the West Coast, San Francisco’s binary message reigned supreme and was on dominant display. Art of all shapes, sizes, colors, and intentions still found their way to the playa, but it felt as if some of the larger pieces, those often hand built or spewing fire were missing. Less were the giant “landmark” structures of previous years like the Black Rock Lighthouse, The Catacombs, or The Church Trap. Absent was the interactivity and soul woven into those types of pieces. Folk art felt lost, or perhaps just drowned out in the sea of projection mapped screens and software sequenced light shows. The art was evolving BIG TIME and often in mind-blowing fashion, but there was no ignoring this progression further into the digital realm. Maybe it was just me?
For the first time Burning Man felt like a mirror of contemporary “default” society instead of reflecting the efforts of an intended society.
With WiFi widespread, technology of the modern world had come home to roost, penetrating the seemingly impermeable container of Black Rock City. For years this change has been leaking in like a silky and silent gas, but I sensed a point of marked change. A true road-marker signifying the early stages of a new trajectory. As the side effects of technology seep into one of the last places immune to and un-bastardized by them, we couldn’t further ignore the generational shift we all were amidst. I:Robot wasn’t just the theme, it was the new reality. Accepting this truth meant more than just reevaluating the experience we’d all come to know intimately. It meant we had to take a deep look at how we got here before we could move forward any further. It was the message we’d sought, despite not asking for it.
For us to continue believing that this place was just to be experienced “on repeat” was foolish. Upon reflecting we realized that our early (and perhaps most formative) years of 12’, 13’, 14’ were forged from participating in the tail end of an era; a marker in time where we discovered new music, art, community, and learned that the people behind it all were our tribe. We had found them, they had just been assembling in Black Rock City years before we had, leaving us to experience their pinnacle moments and achievements. It was that group of artists, musicians, and organizers that shaped our inspiration and creativity. They were the ones who created the (largely West Coast) events and gatherings that introduced me to Burning Man. It was a nuclear fusion of time, place, and people not just creating their dreams, but sharing them to inspire further. It was culture.
Those early messages we took with us, applied them in the default world, and it’s what kept us returning to this dusty place of inception in hopes to stoke the fire bigger and bigger each round. Recounting the dwindling of this group of people and their creations was strange at first, but it just reinforced the notion that Burning Man is the catalyst to improve the default world. It was on this alien playa planet that they unleashed their best, but then moved past its borders to continue their missions. And just like a previous generation of burners shaped us, this new faction of participants and creators will continue to shape and influence the new era being ushered in.
Humans are funny, I find that we often go to immense lengths to search and seek for truths that we perhaps already know. Yet another pilgrimage to Black Rock City only confirmed this notion, and hopefully cemented it into our subconscious for continued use. The discoveries made here are meant to be shared, fostered, and applied in every day life. That’s always been the magic and message of this place, the reminder we needed but ironically already knew.