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Desert madness in a temporary city

Desert madness in a temporary city

Burning Man

Every year, tens of thousands of people gather in the Nevada Black Rock Desert to create a temporary city. And one week later it vanishes from the face of the earth. Welcome to Burning Man.

‘Burn the Man!’
© Scott London

Unique experience

Is Burning Man an art festival? A temporary city? A social experiment? Or just a bunch of hippies in the Black Rock Desert? It’s anybody’s guess. Even after 30 years, this celebration in the American state of Nevada is impossible to pigeonhole. But one thing is clear: Burning Man is completely unique. There is no event on earth that unites self expression and community spirit into such a roaring creative mixture.

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A man made of demolition wood

In the summer of 1986, two friends from San Francisco had the spontaneous idea of building a Man out of demolition wood. Little did they know they were laying the foundation for an iconic event. When they burned the wooden figure on the beach it drew a big crowd and people flocked from everywhere to join the party. A tradition was born and in 1990 this burning fire spread to the Nevada desert.

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The Ten Principles

In the vastness of the Black Rock Desert, Burning Man was able to expand explosively. What started with a handful of participants and a 2.5-metre-high Man has grown into Black Rock City: a pop-up city with more than 65,000 residents and 40-metre-high bonfires. The city's philosophy is summed up in The Ten Principles. Money is considered wicked, for example, so brotherly love and generous gifts keep the city afloat. But participation, a sense of community, self–expression and an independent spirit are also highly valued.

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No judgement

First-time visitors who arrive at the Black Rock Desert during that one week at the end of summer may feel like they have landed on another planet. The decor is desolate: a stark desert plain as far as the eye can see. And then there are the eclectic outfits of tens of thousands of ‘burners’. Nobody judges at Burning Man. That is certainly reflected in the outrageous costumes, ranging from a panda suit with a feather headdress to a faux-fur bikini with an astronaut’s helmet. Most 'inhabitants' opt to wear as little as possible. Anything goes in Black Rock City.

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Creative madness

Although Burning Man is much more than an creative gathering, art and culture – in the broadest sense of the word – do make up the event’s DNA. Of course there are the towering sculptures that will be set ablaze at the end of the week, including a wooden temple where visitors can leave their most intimate confessions. 

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Performance art is another popular component. ‘Burners’ can attend a proliferation of workshops and performances – from silly to serious – such as laughter yoga, knife-throwing, DIY fashion shows, hugging sessions and dodge ball with a burning projectile. Looking for music? No problem. Black Rock City keeps the tunes going 24 hours a day. Any time, any place you may come across a crowd of dancing techno fans or get bowled over by a disco bike packed with speakers.

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Fiery finish

Everything ultimately leads up to the inevitable end of the week: the burning of the Wicker Man. According to tradition, the enormous man that has guarded the festival terrain for seven days will be set on fire on the final night – until nothing remains and Burning Man has come to an end. Every visitor also adheres to the strict ‘leave-no-trace’ policy, so at the end of the week there is absolutely nothing left of the experimental city. Black Rock City? Where is that?

KLM

iFly Magazine

July 2016

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