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After a week swimming through the psychedelic, sleep-deprived art-brawl of Burning Man, I've come away with one crisp thought:
The playa is what you make of it: Blank canvas, survival camping, party crawl, artistic disaster area, personality crisis, free spiritual orgy - whatever.
Everyone (including probably more than 10,000 Angelenos) brings their own desires, needs and phobias to this blasted alkali lakebed in northeastern Nevada for a week of noise and raw creativity.
And everyone gets back something they never expected: revelation,
disappointment, delight, crabs, clarity, shitfaced hangover,
blistering sunburn, deep inspiration and creative rejuvenation ...
Stilt-walkers parade enters Center Camp.
Outside of Los Angeles itself, Burning Man is pretty much the most intoxicating artistic environment on the planet, IMHO - and it blooms in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
You can walk around swaddled entirely in glittering blue lycra, green fur, plastic armor or absolutely nothing - bare-ass naked but for a pair of good shoes. And you'll get caught up in the same 50-mile-an-hour dust storm with the rest of the freaks and geeks, like we did on Wednesday afternoon.
Wednesday's dust storm blots out the sun.
You can mix your psychotropics with your fine brandy, your Pop-Tarts with your Gatorade, your patchouli with the constant filmy buildup of playa dust on your sun-baked skin.
But Darwin rules: so long as you take care of your fine self in the heavy weather and hot, hot heat, you'll survive to crawl out of your tent or RV the next morning, throw on some more crazy clothes and stroll out to be completely tickled or pissed anew.
This year's theme is Hope and Fear, the Future: So it's fitting that whatever emotions you bring to the playa wind up being magnified by the experience:
If you showed up disliking filth, then the Port-a-Potties and constant press of crazy-quilt bodies in Center Camp would drive you over the brink.
If you came loving video games and fire, you probably spent a lot of time crammed into the line for Dance Dance Immolation, waiting to don an asbestos suit and play a pirate version of DDR that blasted you and the other mis-stepping losers with gouts of flame.
I heard that when some local firefighters jumped into the suit, the DDI operators cranked the game difficulty up to Hardest just so the guys could get a good torching. Apparently the firefighters loved it.
Uchronia soars up from the desert in a tangle of two-by-fours.
Some nights it was wonderful enough to cruise around all day with my lovely wife, kids and extended family - exploring camps, stopping for stickers or music or chai, then roaming the playa most of the night goggling at art cars and full-blown extravaganzas like Dr. Megavolt before crashing in our tent.
I'd always plug in the shortwave right before bed, tuning around to Radio Free Burning Man, Burning Man Independent Radio and a half-dozen other cool playa stations, drifting off to the sound of great DJs (and wicked jesters) playing some of the best music I've ever heard.
It was a good Burn this year.
It usually is for me: I come with no more hope than to survive, be amused and show my family a good time, no greater goal than to try out some silly minor artistic concept on a non-judgmental crowd just for the sheer joy of doing something different.
I never caught anything from a Port-a-Potty that a good shower wouldn't cure, never suffered an injury (knock wood) worse than sunburn or "playa hands."
So I had fun. If you were there, toss in a comment below - was it a good Burn for you?
You'll find many pictures below, and later today, I'll post some videos below that.
ART BED - Mobile sculpture, roving party, kinetic orgy, call it what
"Emotional Baggage" - a suitcase-based installation of thematic ephemera found at Center Camp.
Two kids spent a good 20 minutes rolling this stitched-together mass of Winnie-the-Pooh snuggleables around Center Camp one morning, announcing loudly, "Ball of Pooh, ball of Pooh for sale!"
Starry Bamboo Mandala is a 55-foot-tall tower / geometry exercise by Gerard Minakawa.
Braver souls had their friends hoist them up to the hemp-rope bindings about eight feet off the ground. This gave them the foothold they needed to climb all the way to the top.
Blue roller - dig the color-coordinated glitter outfit and metalflake paint job on the faux- Segway.
The Burning Man Bookmobile is a free library, carrying everything from kid lit to erotica. No library card needed, no fines or fees, donations are accepted.
Mystery booth, on the south side of Center Camp. No idea what its purpose was, but the video montages were pretty interesting.
This stationary sculpture was mounted on a full-length articulated city bus: a sculpture of a plane crash at the Capitol Dome - gas jets around the rim of the dome added visual punch.
The Conexus Cathedral offered a pan-denominational play space. Here's a bit more from the Conexus Village grant proposal.
A Cheshire Cat roams the playa.
Uchronia - a massive wood installation - looms out of the dust Sunday morning, just hours before it was burned with spectacular results.
The Uchronians are a troupe of industrious Belgians who built spent two weeks building the huge sculpture/building/nightclub out of 150 kilometers of two-by-fours.
Uchronia was built one board at a time by volunteers, who worked quickly with forklifts, nail guns and what looked to be 8-foot-long two-by-fours.
By the time it was finished, the building stood 15 meters high, 30 meters wide and 60 meters long. See video below for a glimpse of the nighttime vibe.
Dust billows through the structure.
A dragon-dragonfly combination mounted high atop an art car that was "drawn" by a tethered, glowing seahorse.
A huge dust devil blows past Kidsville, where we were camping. This was just a harbinger of the big wind storm that blasted through camp for about two hours Wednesday afternoon. There's video of the storm below.
Inside the Entheon dome, artist Alex Grey's explorations of psychedelia hung beneath a 60-foot geodesic canopy, printed on filmy scrims as chill music played. At various points during the week, the Entheon Village (some 250 strong) hosted seminars on LSD, exhibits of art by the likes of Luke Brown and round-the-clock treatment for "psychedelic emergencies."
"Eyes Wide Open" offered a long, moody walk down an aisle lined with combat boots, to a huge pile of "civilian" shoes.
At the end, funereal music surrounded a lectern on which sat a thick book with the faces and names of U.S. casualties of the Iraq War, and their dates and causes of death.
Venus Eyetrap is a kinetic/inflatable sculpture by Pete Hamilton and Luke Egan. In a high wind (which was often) it looked pretty menacing - in a day-glo-cartoon sort of way.
This year's theme is Hope and Fear, the Future: The "Pavilion of the Future" served as the foundation for the Man, and an open-air gallery for art installations.
One installation was a sort of twisted, heavily illustrated game of LIFE.
Click the images to get a better look at the illustrations. I couldn't tell whether these were all by the same person or by a group of artists. Any info would be most welcome.
Some drawings look like talented doodles, others like magazine illustrations, and still others like tattoo flash.
Center Camp displayed some historical artifacts, including this thrashed little trailer, which served as the "gate" outpost for Burning Man 1996 back before there was much in the way of streets, a Black Rock City Department of Public Works or anything much resembling order. I covered the festival for the L.A. Times and remember the directions to camp were pretty vague: Drive off the main road at the gate. Head due north across the playa for 10 miles, then turn due west. Make sure to bring a compass. If you're even 2 degrees off you could wind up lost out in the middle of the desert.
Eye of God - constructed almost entirely out of CDs.
Statues of welded steel and iron guard Center Camp, representing Hope and Fear.
A little iron dragon hovers near the Death Guild camp.
The "I.T. is Michael Christian's observation tower and paean to "War of the Worlds."
See more photos and videos at lavoice.org/article2183.html.