Going somewhere without knowing has to be one of the most rewarding ways of travel. Not only are you stepping into an area you are unfamiliar with, but you are going blind. People would say this is a dangerous way to travel, it can present questions that are unanswerable and anxiety that is misplaced, but I prefer to see it as a new color palette. You may be walking into the dark but when you finally see color, it is that much more beautiful and vivid.
Tuesday - August 19th, 2014
My last weekend in Boston was surly an interesting one. Finishing college, helping my brother Isaac move to Yale for graduate school, deinstalling my installation, moving out of my own apartment, learning how to ride a motorcycle, packing for Burning Man, and saying goodbye to some of the best friends I have ever made. I finished packing up my same red backpackers bag that has gone with me throughout my many years of travel and my mothers before me. Even through all the wear and tear it is still by far the most comfortable and practical bag I have ever worn. Perhaps this is not only due to its design but also to its memory.
I took my last ride to Logan airport and after waiting for a delayed plane took off over what once was my home. I met this guy while boarding, his name was Daniel, he overheard me talking to a friend on the phone about Burning Man and that started a conversation of our own. He lives in Tahoe and owns a restaurant. He was going on the same flights as me and was also going to Burning Man, just a few days later.
After landing in Chicago, I sat down for a beer with Daniel and Ni followed after. She was on a different flight but we have the same one to Reno. Daniel gave us some good advice for Burning Man and offered to give us a ride to the Walmart in Reno so that we could get supplies and perhaps find a ride there out to the playa. We happily accepted as we sipped our $10 Boston Lager that didn’t taste nearly as fresh as the one I had my last night in Allston. After yet another delayed flight into Reno we finally arrived, well arrival is relative, but we at least landed in the correct state. Daniel led us to his friend’s car and we made our way to Walmart.
Upon arrival we see a huge art car that consisted of a large white school bus or should I say wool bus, which was written on the front and back, with pink light emanating from the windows and door, oh and there was a pink slide attached to the back that supposable went into the butt of the sheep after that art car was fully put together, can’t forget that little detail. Daniel remarks, laughing, “Well it looks like you found your ride!”. We pile our stuff out front of Walmart and say our see you laters to Daniel and his friend, swapping camp locations and information.
Ni and I decide that we must go talk to the owners of this intriguing bus. Ni watches the bags, as it is quite the task to carry to all across the parking lot, and I head on over to this monstrous illuminated vehicle. A few heads poke out of the top windows of the car to greet me, I make myself comfortable and step into the bus. The whole interior is pink with vinyl seats and a multitude of sized and shaped disco balls arrange on the ceiling. At the head of the car behind the drivers seat sits a large 4 ft high mesh heart packed with similar disco balls. The space is quite limited as they had all their supplies and gear packed floor to ceiling.
Inside the Wool Bus
The bus had a concoction of smells; I couldn’t quite place my nose on what it was. I would get whiffs of musty age unsuccessfully masked by some cheap store bought air freshener, lathered over the scent of vinyl and what could have been burnt plastic or maybe just layers of mixed human sweat. There were 6 of them in total, mostly dressed in black with tall leather boots and holes in places normally not. I started by explaining our situation and the installation, Micro that we are working on at the playa, I asked if they might have room for the two of us and two bikes. They seemed somewhat intrigued but hesitant about the lift. After talking amongst themselves and debating about space, then they accepted. Acceptance was followed by them telling me we had 10 minutes to get what we needed before we had to leave.
In a flurry of excitement and shock I ran back to Ni, told her the news while grabbing our stuff to drop off back at the bus. “Oh shit!” Ni exclaims as we scramble to get all of our stuff together. After throwing our bags in the van we run into Walmart. Bikes first! What how are they only $75… Food next. Peanut butter, caprisun, fruit gummies…trail mix… Oatmeal bars… Umm what else what else… Beef jerky! Ok ok register time! Scan scan scan scan pay! Back to the bus. Good they haven’t left yet.
We find a place for our bikes and load onto the bus greeting out newly found friends with open arms. I slump down in the pink vinyl taking my first full breath of the pungent air. We are on our way, and we are on our way in style! An art car! I smile inside as well as out, couldn’t have asked for better transportation. They confirm with us that we have our tickets and early arrival passes and the bus cranks up, ready to go.
The bus stops after driving for what seems like a half hour but was only probably 5 minutes. I recall the bright yellow neon sign that Ni and I saw with hungry eyes while flying above the earth only a hour before and as if fate is our closest friend we pull up to the In and Out burger joint in delight. “A double double please with fries and a coke.” When will I again have a meal like this? Only fate knows.
Down the highway we continue, with the buses top speed at about 50mph we are slow and steady, letting other less colorful vehicles pass us by with their inquisitive eyes. Realizing how tired I am I maneuver myself into comfort as best as possible, set up my legs on one of the storage boxes and attempt to nap. I drift off into a half sleep and awaken only when our bus begins to hit some major bumps, our bus mates tell us we are here, we made it to the playa, I look over at Ni put my hand on her shoulder and we nod with approval and excitement.
Ni in the Wool Bus
The cones on the playa that mark out the entrance and car lanes have been blown over and scattered by the dusty wind. Pylons, that’s what they are calling them, it’s like a game trying to avoid them. Swearing in our massive hunk of a bus to avoid these treacherous road hazards with only blackness surrounding us on this flat mysterious plane of land that we be our home for the next two weeks. I look down at my phone. No signal. No contact. I am now officially in the black. It’s about time.
Approaching the gate we are greeted by a not so friendly gentleman with a top hat and attire decorated with metal chains. It felt more like immigration. As we are lined up outside on the side of the bus. We have our tickets in hand and another man goes in to search the bus, someone told us before that they have to search for people being smuggled in, like I said… Immigration. The man finally gets to me, looks at my low income confirmation ticket and says, “This doesn’t even have a bar code. You can’t get it. You all can’t get in now”, finishing with a sinister laugh. In total shock I look up at the man and then down the line at the faces that seem a bit less friendly now then before. I come to learn that since Ni and I have low income tickets that requires the will call office to receive them and the will call office doesn’t open till noon tomorrow, or should I say later today by now.
We all get back in the bus and decide that we will head back to Gerlach, the closest city to Black Rock City so that they can drop us off at a place called Bruno’s Motel for what’s left of the night. After about a half hour of silent driving we arrive at a row of windows which we guess is the hotel and a gas station. They drop us off there, fill up their tank and make their way back to the gate, without us this time. Ni and I slump down on our bags and get ourselves together again.
We finally get up and start wandering the dark rows of rooms. There are three main buildings, single floor, painted with a layer of dust and siding that has been discolored by the years of Nevada sun. The interior courtyard, if I may call it that, is lined with cars marks with K9 police units on them, I can only guess why that is. Windows are flickering by television light, so there must be someone here right? We pry open the side door since we can’t seem to find the main entrances and walk into the hallway. Quiet passageways with identical doorways mirroring each side, the sound is quite isolated here. Each footstep bounces of the walls perhaps awaking the dogs that lay behind them. After reaching the end of the hallway, there is no sign of a check-in desk or any one monitoring the hotel. I walk outside and check with Ni, nothing.
We sit back down on our bags scoping out the surrounding area for a potential camping spot, I brought my extra tent thankfully. But then a car rolls up, it’s a large truck with a fire engine red trailer attached to the back. A man yells out the window, “Did it happen to you too?” I guess he was referring to the will call ticket situation. We respond with a nod and a laugh. Barack, that was his name, traveling with someone who seemed to be his girlfriend or something, from Israel. The women drops Barack off reluctantly so, and makes her way back to the playa. Barack takes another look around the hotel, not fully believing us that it is empty of a greeter, then finally makes his way back to where we are on the sidewalk of the gas station. Coming to the conclusion that camping is in our future; we begin to walk around the desert area on the other side of the road. With the exception of dust and spikes bushes we find nothing but an abandoned RV.
The RV and the insides; Ni And Barak
The inside of the vehicle is quite confusing, the interior is torn apart and rusted but on the bed there are fresh newly developed photos, mostly of scenery and nature but nonetheless new and untouched. And in the back there are countless notebooks or diaries someone left. We leave them as is, feeling as if we are intruding on someone or something that is precious. Above our heads is really what became precious to us. The roof of the RV. Upon climbing the rickety ladder to the top of this fractured RV, we are presented with a face full of stars, more bright and brilliant that I have seem in as long as I can remember. That night I fell asleep to shooting stars.
Wednesday - August 20th, 2014
View from the top of the RV where I slept
The sleep was wonderful, I woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the adventure ahead. After a while of sitting around we made our way back to the curb by the gas station. Barack’s left with the women from the night before and Ni and I waited for a ride. Truck after van after bus passed us by with no sign of stopping even for my hitchhikers thumb. A motor home pulled up to the gas station, a women in a bright yellow dress stepped out and passed us by. The inside of her car looked like an explosion of color and interestingly designed tapestries, like a hippy van from the 70s or something. She must be going to Burning Man. I looked at Ni and then went over to the women introducing myself and then asked for a ride. She agreed! We threw our stuff in through the window and piled in being sure not to step on any of her squash or melons that littered the floor. Justin was her name or should I say, Justincredible, her playa name, this will be her 20th burn, even though she would like to say her 42nd because she used to come here as a baby with her family. Justin was such a wild woman, full of spirit and spunk and a contagious smile framed by her thick rimmed cat eye shaped glasses and long curly brown hair. She was happy to drive us in, telling us stories of her past burns and giving advice based on experience.
Ni and I inside Jusincredible’s car
This time the drive in was much different. All you could see for endless miles was desert outlined by tall gray and yellow shaded mountains looming high above you head, it almost reminds me of Pakistan. We shut the windows when we arrived to the playa prevent dust from infiltrating our space, although it will soon be inevitable. I took about an hour and a half of waiting to get through will call and another say hour to get through the entrance line, this time we were not lined up outside the vehicle and the man only peered inside the van for a minute to check for sneaky visitors. Normally if it’s your first burn you have to go through a christening, where you roll in the dust and ring a gong, I wanted to be part of this and so did Ni but at Justin’s request for a clean vehicle, we passed. I suppose we will have to take care of that later.
Justin showed us around the playa a bit explaining the numbering system; it’s arranged like a clock with the man in the middle, the temple at 12 and the entrance at 6. We drove up the main drag confronting the half built man with awe and excitement. His tall wooden structure and wide legs spread so far people look like ants underneath, what a magnificent construction it is. Camp Contact, the place where Ni and I were set to camp was at 8:15 and E. After a bit of driving down paths so unfamiliar to me, passing structures just beginning, people organizing, strategizing and bicycles zipping by we are finally home. Logan came running out to greet us, she said she heard my laugh and immediately stopped doing her yoga routine in what is called the “chill dome”, an air conditioned dome area with rugs and pillows inside.
It was so great to see her. So much planning had gone into this trip and now we are finally here together! She filled us in on the events that we had missed, such as our tent flying down the playa. Thankfully Logan was able to catch it and someone else had an extra tent pole to replace the one that had broken. At this point it was only the beginning of the camp build process so much of the structures still needed to be constructed. First things first, we needed to get our bikes which were still on the wool bus we had taken the night before. While discussing the happens of the past few days with Logan we made our way over the long stretch of desert attempting to understand the explanation of the layout which was hard to conceptualize now due to the lack of inhabitants that would normally separate the road from the camping areas, this will change soon, and more rapidly then I would had imagined. The playa was set up like a horseshoe, and separated by time, I mean not literally time but as if the ground were a clock and the camps were the passing hours. 8, 8:30, 9, 10, ect.. I have been told 10 and 2 is where most of the sound camps reside. I’m sure I will be spending much of my time that those hours. The others at the camp were very welcoming, I noticed right off the bat that is was definitely an older crowd and they had a tendency to hug for a longer than normal time, I suppose that what comes with a camp that goes by the name of Camp Contact. It was also around this time that I heard about what is called a playa name, it is something you are other given on the playa or make up yourself. Logan already had one, Salt, she wasn’t sure why she was given that though, kinda cool one I thought. She will end up having near countless playa names by the end of this. Jelly, Donut, Jelly Donut, Snoop Dog, …. (that’s silence) and well…a lot more.
That night I slept well, perhaps not as well as the last night on abandoned RV but well enough, I was exhausted. The playa floor is a hard surface one with many cracks and bumps and almost no cushion. But with a straight back and tired body it fit me well. I awoke to the sound of a banging pot and a cold sun, it may be the desert but I have learned that in the night and at early morning it is quite chilly. Chocolate banana pancakes were for breakfast, really? I was not expecting such a delicious morning meal, but I was also not expecting the tasks ahead both in their magnitude and in their difficulty, the meals would prove themselves to be quite a necessity. That night we went out for a bit on our bikes and were given a gift by a man who made a lion rasta art car, the head of the art car had hundreds of plasma cut burning men removed from it to create the look of the lion, the man gave us one of the scrap men that was made into a necklace. We have worn them ever since.
Ni, Logan and I’s tent AKA The Cave
Thursday to Saturday- August 21th to 23rd, 2014
Over the next three days we worked to set up the camp, making the shade structure, the real kitchen space which was 10 times the size of the temporary one, the steam bath, showers, domes, dance floor? Yes, a dance floor and a wooden one nonetheless. This camp is a big one with well over 100 people a part of it. I took part on two major projects, the building of the four main shade tents which was actually a system of 5 poles and a rope or bridal setup between them that held four separate tents about 80ft in the air. And the building of the 60 ft pentashoot, more easily described as a circus type tent above what will be the dance floor. For both, I learned about the Egyptian way of measuring, which is the use of cut string and strategically placed metal poles. And I was also taught the correct way to use a sledgehammer, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Feet spread, hammer in hand, swing over top while moving you hands together as in comes down and with all your body weight and power slam the top of the spike, repeat. With this you get into a rhythm, you sweat and you burn. After a while all your muscles feel as if they are about to of fall off, but you keep going, keep that metal on metal clang sounding until the pole is deep down into the hard, dry, soil of the playa.
Setting up Camp
The soil is an interesting thing in itself, when you look out upon the golden tan that covers the floor it seems like perhaps you may be walking on top of a large prehistoric animal, it’s scales making up the surface of which you step and with your shifting weight breaking and separating, shedding into different pieces. It’s scales arranged like blood vessels or nerve endings, smaller and larger at parts, but equally as important and as sensitive to touch as that which resides in my own body.
I not sure how I am writing all of this and I hope you can follow me, sometimes it’s first person, sometimes third and sometimes In between. You have probably figured out by now that I am not writing it on the day it happened, except for the sledgehammer thing; that did just happened actually. Right now it is Saturday, the day before the gates open for normal arrive. The landscape of the playa has changed dramatically day by day. The amount of work and effort put into the creation of this temporary city is unbelievable. I have been fortunate enough to be able to witness this change for my first experience at burning man, I am so grateful. The thanks for that goes to Team Micro for bringing me onto help within installation. It has been such a privilege to be part of the changing landscape by way of an art installation. What a gift to bring to the playa.
From day two I spent time setting up within the team, running wire, climbing the truss and working with electrical boxes, testing and repairing the spheres that hold the electronics. Kiori and Aaron are the main artists of the project, and they are so wonderful to work with, along with the rest of the team. We work and we laugh. Ni, Logan are perhaps the best camping buddies I have ever had. Everyone must think we are drunk all the time because of how much we laugh together. Sitting in our “porch” outside of our tent cracking up about how we need a welcome mat to invite people into our home, trying to decide on what material to use and what our address on the playa is. I’m sure whatever I write here will not come close to explaining how hilarious some on the situations we have been in were so I will just trust that you believe it to be true.
My favorite people; Logan and Ni
Micro all set up
My first real night ride exploration out on the playa was much different then the one this night. A desolate darkness, lit only by your headlamp and perhaps a few spotty lights outlining what is to become a future structure of art or some living space. With each passing day this alien planet continues to be invaded by those as spectacular as it. This ride was different, passing multicolor fish three stories high, giant octopus shooting fire, men and women with attire like something cross between futuristic cyborgs and self dressed 5 year olds, glowing with lights of all types and faces of all shapes. The gates haven’t even opened, what could tomorrow possibly be like? More soon.
Lights of the Playa
Sunday - August 24th, 2014
Sunday and the gates have been breached. The long line that has been waiting for hours, days or perhaps even since the last burn are slowly let back into their home. For us Sunday morning would be the relatively speaking, a quiet day. We woke up later than usual and helped with some of the final camp infrastructure setup, finishing the pentashoot, domes and lightning the trip hazards such as the ropes and wires used to tie down the tents. Now let me take a second to explain this installation that I am assisting with before I tell you about the rest of the evening.
Micro is an interactive sound and light installation that examines the world within, the intricate nature of that which is unseen or in other words, microscopic. The piece consists of around 200 translucent spheres hanging from the top of an 8by12by 8 foot metal framed structure. Each sphere holds a single arduino, speaker, RGB led and accelerometer, when you touch the sphere you are rewarded with a sound and the lighting of the led. Since Tuesday the team has been setting it up on the playa, assembling the structure, arranging the spheres, running wire and connecting the electrical system. Ni and I worked on mostly electrical aspects of the project when we got there. One main purpose of the installation was for it to be a space for dance.
Micro at night
Kiori is a dancer and Aaron is the technical expert of the project both are the artistic visionaries, and to my surprise they are a married couple. I say surprise because Kiori is this soft spoken Japanese women, with a beautiful flawless face and gorgeous bald head and Aaron is this goofy, sort of nerdy American man with short brown hair and a sappy smile. Both incredible people. But actually after getting to know them I totally understand how they work, they are such a cute couple, and normally I don’t say that kind of thing. One other thing to note is that they meditate together every day for at least two hours, very impressive, I’ve see it, it’s real. Ok, back to the installation.
The plan is that there will be dance performances within the installation in which the dancer interact with this microscopic world. One thing we will come to learn is this world we have built is a fragile one, needing much attention and protection. Sunday night we had our first run in with this. We had a schedule now, shifts at 6am, 7pm, 11pm and 2am, with tasks such as checking the spheres for problems, filling up the generator with gas, writing down major problems to be addressed in the morning. The power to the piece would only run from 7pm- 6am, can’t really see the lights during the day. When Ni, Logan and I went to see the installation at 11 it was turning on and off every few minutes, I ran over to the generator and thankfully saw the red oil light blink a few times before it shut off completely. Now we were left with at completely dark hunk of metal in the middle of one of the busiest areas of the playa, very dangerous. It is a requirement for all installations to be well lit so that the traveling art cars and bicycles can see it and not cause an accident; Aaron said that last year someone ran over their generator, maybe that explains why it is malfunctioning now. We stood in the dark debating on what to do, we didn’t have more gas, or a walky talky to contact Aaron or Kiori and we didn’t have more lights.
We decided that Logan would go back to camp and Ni and I would wait at the installation for a bit because Aaron did mention he might stop by tonight, wouldn’t want to miss him. After waiting for a half hour, we figured Logan must have gotten the message relayed and we headed Campoline, we planned on meeting back up there with Logan. Campoline is a camp that has a bunch of trampolines and a bar thus the name. Another thing to note is that everything at burning man is free; you never pay for anything except of course your ticket and camp dues if you are part of one. With that said, all alcohol is free you just need to have a cup so they can fill it, amazing I know. There is also a ton of events and lessons throughout the week, everything from plaster sculpting to running the perimeter of black rock city to pleasure techniques for the experimental couples, anything your heart desires it is here and waiting and free! There are also fun free food events, which I will talk about later.
After waiting at Campoline for a few drinks and no Logan, Ni and I set off on an adventure. The amount of installation art that exists at Burning Man is mind blowing. Looking out onto the playa is like observing a massive exploded outdoor art collection, each piece separated by complete darkness but surrounded by light. The majority of the evening was spent walking from installation to installation, jumping on an art car and having it take us somewhere new and unfamiliar only to find more extravagant artwork to discover. I saw one of the best views that night, in front of the man there is a large Trojan horse standing probably 60 ft high. Climbing it wasn’t so hard, not like the previous night when Logan and I made it to the top of this totem, that one was a lot more risky not to mention the idiot guy at the top who was shaking the structure.
But anyways, the horse, you would climb the legs through these foothole and make your way into the inside of the body. There were speakers built into the walls playing back these eerie low frequency sounds and ambiences which were quite effective, ascending further you climb up and around its head onto a platform then continue up to a smaller platform that overlooked the entire playa. I could tell the difference from of landscape from the totem the previous night, many more gaps were filled in, pools of LEDs and tall pointed tents scattered the view, more bicycles connecting the gaps between the inhabited areas and colorful cars moving slowly and thumping with the beat of the bass that emanated from the hearts of these reanimated machines. We ended the night with miso soup from this camp down the street called Miso Horny, every day from 10pm-2am they serve soup and sake along with these strange smokable blends that smell of roses and mint. I am so surprised at how cold this desert gets at night, I’m thinking maybe I should have brought a much thicker coat, or I may have to make this soup run a daily thing.
Monday - August 25th, 2014
I awoke to the sound of rain, it was quite disorienting considering I wasn’t expecting rain. It took me a few mins to realize what it was before I slumped back down into my sleeping bag and let the light tapping above me lull me back to sleep. All of the playa slept in a little that day, things sort of felt like they stopped for a few hours, silence fell over Black Rock City, puddles collected and lighting struck. My boots became boats of clumped dust and sand giving me a few more inches of height and a lot less stability. I went on my morning ritual walk to the porta johns down the road admiring the thunder and lighting and reminding myself to get my field recorder out to sample the sounds. When I was walking back into the camp I had my closest experience to lighting, While admiring it before I did not really think about how dangerous the playa must be for lighting. You have this huge flat surface of sand with large metal poles staked into the ground holding tents up, perfect lighting rod. At that moment I saw a lighting strike all 5 poles of the main tent structure of our camp, I must have been maybe 100 ft away. The electric light came down and hit the main pole breaking off into four sections upon contact. Aside from my wonder after viewing this spectacle I could help but notice my body and how strange it felt I wasn’t stuck by lighting I know that but maybe due my to proximity I was effected somehow, it was strangely wonderful to feel.
After the rain subsided Ni Logan and I went out to Brulee: A Kinky Circus camp for there bacon and champagne offerings. Although the meals at Camp Contact are well prepared and very healthy they are however lacking one thing, meat. Before we ate that bacon we had gone almost a week without meat, that bacon tasted like heaven, even more than it normally does. The amount of people had definitely multiplied on the playa but we were told that this isn’t even half of the people that were going to be here. Since it had rained that day entrance into black rock city was closed until 5pm due to the muckiness of the roadways and the possibility of cars getting stuck, this resulted in a crazy huge line outside of the gates, after a while we heard they were actually turning people away, telling them to come back the next day to enter due to the length of the line. This also meant that they would not be emptying the porta potties till then…oh no.
Fun things in the playa
That night Logan, Julia, Jason, this strange tweaker and I went out to check the sound camps at 10 (10 on the playa not the time). Three major camps reside there, Opulent Temple, APEX and White Ocean. Each one has its own personality and throughout the week will go through different themes and specialty DJs. Honestly I like all of them, depending on the day you will prefer one over the other. One thing it did learn from the BRC newspaper is how each camp is funded. Opulent Temple is funded mostly by donations and fundraisers from smaller parties held throughout the year as oppose to White Ocean which is primarily rich donors. We checked out all the camps first to get the feel of each. At night every one needs lights on themselves and on their bikes, this is both for safety and for fun. With thousands of people weaving in and out of each other in minimal light and possibly twisted minds, I am surprised at how few accidents there are. Impressive burners.
Of all the parties, raves and clubs I have been to I have never been able to experience fire as an element to the environment but here fire is essential. White Ocean is surrounded by these totem sort of things that shoot huge streams of fire into the air when the bass drops or the music climaxes. The party literally lights up when this happens, you get a chance to see all these characters around you that were before masked by the dark, but now it is as if it were daylight except is has this haziness to it because of the massive amounts of gas being pored into the sky, the shadows flicker and the once dark, star filled sky, melts in the heat of the flame. You feel the heat on your body, even from a distance and you dance harder, your heart beats faster and you are left with more energy then before. There is one sound camp that is extra special; it’s called Robot Heart.
This is a movable camp that travels out into deep playa early morning and climaxes when the sun is rising. We went to this camp late into the night and traveled with it but not until the end. We are planning on “chasing robot heart” as they say later in the week. Robot heart is stage on top of a two story car art with a huge heart above the DJ, we may not have been able to see the climax yet but we did see them rise the huge 20 ft high led robot above the stage behinds the heart, it was super epic. Art cars also follow Robot Heart and there were some really interesting ones there that night.
Art cars have to be one of the most fascinating and unique things about Burning Man, other places in the world have parties, installations, and music but no where else if there art cars. The amount of work that is put into each one is incredible. The sound systems in some of them are top class and the designs are so well constructed. Space ships, rhinos, fish, lions, fire spitting octopuses…what?! It really makes me want to make one for next year. Coming back from Robot Heart we followed parallel to the laser lights coming from the sound camps, the intense green strings of light stretching miles into the darkness of the deep playa, moving and shifting but in the end leading us back to where we had come from.
Now you may be wondering who Julia and Jason are. They have to be some of the greatest people I have met here at Burning Man so far. Julia is part of the micro team as well, she is also a painter and a yoga instructor who works in New York. Julia has such a beautiful soul, she is so kind and her spirit is so full of life. She is a wonderful example of a strong and beautiful woman. When she hugs me I can feel her warmth and compassion. I am so grateful to have met her. Jason is such a wild character and a free spirit. He doesn’t really have a particular job, he waits tables, entertains for kids birthday parties and does odd jobs here and there. He sort of lives in DC but moves frequently. I believe his main purpose in life is to bring happiness to others; he emanates love and is entirely selfless. You can see it when he talks to people and when he helps others, it is a beautiful thing. Without both Julia and Jason my time here would be nowhere near as fun and enjoyable. If either of you are reading this, thank you.
And Ni. She is a special one. We went to Berklee together and over the past year I have grown closer to her than I ever have with someone in such a short period of time. She is the one friend who is always down to do crazy shit with me at anytime and anywhere. It surprises me sometimes when she is so enthusiastic to do something when most others wouldn’t even consider it. But that is one of the many reason why I love her. She will do whatever, no matter how dirty, illegal, or strange it is. We have worked together on so many projects and there are many that I would have not completed with her. She gives me strength and pulls me through things that feel impossible. She believes in me and I her and thats what makes our relationship so amazing. We both helped each other in figuring out how to come to Burning Man in the first place, through all the trials and tribulations at are involved in preparing and getting here. Ni is someone who will be close to me for the rest of my life. And that is a gift that I will never give up.
Tuesday - August 26th 2014
It has been seven days on Tuesday that I had not had a meal with meat in it. Both Ni and I were having bad cravings but luckily we had heard about a BBQ and “yard sale” at this camp called Suburbia not far from Camp contact. We got there and yes there were hot dogs, I shoved two in my mouth almost immediately and stood chewing blissfully, I could never be happiest being a vegetarian, this proves it. The yard sale was basically a bunch of boxes with random stuff in it, some good things though like face wipes and a fox ear headband which I took. From there we walked around a got a snow cone and some bubble tea, which were both equally delicious. Right across from the bubble tea place there was a rope and silks camp, on one side they had a series of ropes with hoops on them that you could swing from off of a platform. Logan and I tried it, it was hard. It’s all about rhythm and upper body strength. I think I got the upper body strength for it. But halfway through I lost rhythm and fell to the ground, oh well. I did try the silks though, silks are these long silk pieces of fabric that dancers typically use for performance, I never tried it before but I always looked fun. I didn’t know any tricks so I sort of just messed around on them, getting tangled in the fabric and the finding my way out, nonetheless it was an enjoyable experience.
Tangled up in silks
More fun things on the playa
After tiring ourselves out in the heat and the rope course we went back to the chill dome to take out afternoon nap before dinner. I awoke from the nap with a note and a piece of chocolate by my pillow, it said
“Over the deepest
streams of fireflies,
I wonder who that is? The chocolate was heavenly.
Today was the day the temple opened. The temple is a special place on the playa. It is built for memory and for mourning, for loss and for celebration. Many people who come to Burning man come here to release something or deal with a loss in their life. The temple is the place to do this. That night we decided to make a visit to the temple. We have been seeing it being built all week, the temple this year was said to be a small one although I didn’t see it as very small. The detail that was put into this temple was beyond description. Not even a picture will do it justice. It was all built from wood, fine cut wood, like some sort of hand carved jewelry box holding the collective emotions of those residing on this barren landscape. There were lights surrounding the outside fence encased inside these diamond shaped wooden cages held up by a lattice base. The main structure was lit internally as well. In the darkness you could see the shadows of the negative space on the ground around the temple. Walking through it was like stepping into a sea of invisible lace; walking on it I treaded with a lighter step, not wanting to disturb this shadowy film of textured light that covered the playa floor.
People had begun to congregate inside the space, upon entering you felt as though the air was a little tighter, heavier, your breath was slightly hotter and your skin more sensitive and tingly. I grab my arms and try to control the bumps that have begun to form. The faces of those around you were a mix of sadness, confusion, release and solitude. Some came here to mourn a loved one who has passed on and others are here to remember, to let go and to move on. Leaving a piece of that person in the form of a note, a photo, a box, behind in this sacred space so that it may be burned with the rest of this beautiful structure a few nights from now. This place is a temple; the name is perfectly accurate. And of all the temples I have been in, this one is by far the most sacred and also the most temporary. I kneel down to the base in the center of the structure, its holding up a large diamond shaped wooden piece about 30 feet up into the air, I grab one of the pens scattered atop the wood and write three names. Three names of people who are now not in my life, people whom I will always hold close to my heart. I cherish the memories we shared together; you will always be with me.
Inside the temple
Time is such a fleeting thing, this flow moving forward, pushing us, unstoppable and unable to be chased. Time is always here, always beside us. Holding our hand, unknowingly, as we take steps through this wide open world. Through time we construct ourselves, we invest in the things we care about and attempt to calculate the things we think we don’t. But in the end we still end up falling in love with that which seem incomprehensible through time, things that cannot begin to be calculate like the others. People, places, visions; every once in a while one of these comes by that is undeniable, this medium that was once holding our hand, lets go and the flow becomes a steady, silent stream with each disturbance felt as a single ripple traveling across a frozen pond. This place is like that pond, and each person, like a ripple, a ripple felt like a wave. The feelings here are overwhelming and all-consuming.
The temple visit really changed the rest of my time at Burning Man. It is so easy to get caught up in all the activities happening in this place but it is important to remember what this place really means for all of us who made the journey out. The temple was a reminder of the complexity of emotions that resides both within the playa and outside. The rest of the week went by much quicker that the first part.
Wednesday - August 27th, 2014
Today was super hot, so hot we barely went outside of camp until the night. Logan, Ni and I went on an ice cream hunt, which was unsuccessful, but I finally got my postcards. I got to see Logan, Julia and Kiori perform in the installation today for the first time. It was beautiful. Kiori drew up a basic score for the performance but most of it was left up to their interpretation. They started close to each other, then moved far out into a circle and finished on the ground together. Each of them has a unique style and grace which fit well as their movements intertwined. The light of the spheres lit each of their faces but only faint enough so that a colored shadow would reveal each of their fine complexion and beauty. What an amazing trio it was.
When the sun went down, along with the temperature, Logan and I went out to explore. We were told that today was the day that mostly everyone had arrived and they were right. The streets were filled with people traveling up and down this grid system that was laid out for us. All the spots that used to be dark and empty were now full of lights and activity. Riding into the sound camps this night was much different than a few nights ago.
Before we even reached the sound camp area, bikes had flooded the space. It was hard to even distinguish where the bikes stopped and started; it was literally a sea of LED lights and dusty bikes. Art cars made their way carefully around what was suppose to be the perimeter of the camps as we weaved our way through the maze. Each camp was booming with sound, speaker systems as tall as buildings blasting beats into the clear Milky Way filled sky. The sky in a way resembled the floor of the playa, I would imagine that if I were seeing it from above it would look like a star-filled sky.
Paul Oakenfold was playing that night and you could tell what camp he was at by the even more exorbitant amount of bikes at that particular location, White Ocean. All lights on, fire, lasers cascading above our heads far down into deep playa. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Everyone was in a trance, lost in the sound of the blasting speakers and the heat of the bodies around. Slowly more and more clothes were stripped off as more dancing ensued. For what must have been hours we stayed there, traveling to and from the different sound camps. At one point we went exploring, we saw what looked like a chariot or something off in the distance. It was glowing with yellows and pinks and looked almost golden. We walked closer, trying to guess what it might be, but we were wrong, very, wrong. We saw people in it…in this..bed? Naked. Oh geez. Four people. Two men, Two women. Very attractive I might add. Logan and I approached it, still very curious even though we already knew what was going on. Looked at each other and laughed so loud I’m surprised we didn’t disturb the lovers. We made a sly u-turn around this sex chariot while watching this love affair with intriguing eyes. We could hardly believe it. It was way out in the playa, in the middle of no where!? Incredible.
After that little treat we thought it might be appropriate to go do some more exploring. We grabbed our bikes and headed out into the world of installations. The journey started off with us heading through this collection of massive led lit flowers. The lights only outlined the basic forms so with the night sky as its backing it was hard to distinguish parts of the flower from the stars up above. Making our way through the garden of lights past the labyrinth of ladders, under the giant wooden wave, across the playa to Embrace.
Flowers and the Wave
Embrace has to be the most impressive installation I have seen here so far. It was made for to represent relationships and connection and I also think to remember victims of suicide and consists of two figures holding each other, or embracing on another. It is constructed entirely out of wood apart from the metal hearts that reside inside each body. We had been watching it being built all week. You see the heads, then the shoulders, then the hands, and now; complete. The sheer magnitude of the piece is overwhelming, let alone the incredible craft and artistry that went into the design and development of the artwork. Never have I seem such an impressive installation in my life. We hadn’t been able to see it up close or go inside of it until tonight. It was the perfect night to come as well; there weren’t many people inside so we didn’t have to deal with a large crowd. Logan and I entered the body quietly. In the middle of the chamber there was a large mechanical heart. It pulsated. In and out. The sound of moving parts and metal gears bounced off the wooden walls. Standing under it you could see the inner workings of this mechanical muscle, turning and ticking, never stopping.
The wood used for Embrace was made of torn apart plywood, for some reason it reminded me of driftwood. It was layered on the skeleton of the structure leaving strategic holes for light to peek out. The floors and walkways were designed incredibly well, in order to get up into the head you had a two-way separated stairwell that would not allow you to walk along on the wrong way. It was quite steep but that was to be expected. Logan and I were silent as we walked through the body, exploring its many parts and all its intricate beauty. On the walls, there were notes from visitors, some wishing a loved one peace and others sounding lost and empty from this void which now exists in their life. We waited quietly in the line to go up into the head. After some time they finally let us in, there is only supposed to be a certain amount of people in the top level at one time I guess. Step by step we make our way up. Holding onto the sides wherever we can and making sure not to trip, finally space opens up above us and we pull ourselves into the head of the beholder.
The walls are covered with beautiful paintings, figures of people and faces decorating the 360 degree surfaces around us. I walk over to one of the eyes, peering out of to witness its magnificent view. One eye gives me a good look at the opposing figure, and the other of the incredible night skyline of Black Rock City. I have never seen a skyline such as this. It is so beautiful and difficult to describe. There are many traditional words I could use to try an explain it to you, but there is nothing that would come close to the what I saw and what I felt while looking out of that eye. It was such a powerful experience, the floor of this city was alive, moving and pulsing just like the heart below. Outlines of familiar places below us, shadows of ones unfamiliar; this is a place of such color and vibrancy, of mystery and of excitement. It is like a microcosm of the worlds best parts, thrown into a place that is traditionally uninhabitable, where we all live in not the most comfortable environment but also a place where everyone here, wants to be here. Where else can you find that? Where else can you find a city of 70,000 people who all actually want to be there? Everyone has taken such effort to be here for this week and this effort shines through just by looking at it. We built this, all of us, we built this city.
This was a special night for Logan and I. Similar to the view from Embrace, it is hard to explain but equally beautiful. I feel we share a connection that isn’t something you find everyday in life. I look over at her as we are both peering out over the city, bundled up in our dusty jackets and ratty hair I feel as if I have known her all my life. Strange thing is, asides from a very short dinner together with friends a few years back, this trip is the first time we have ever really hung out together. A little back story; we grew up in the same hometown of Bethlehem, PA but had never really hung out before this. We have shared mutual friends and grew up with experiences what could easily be exchanged with each other. Logan has so many beautiful sides to herself. She has a certain drive and spontantanity, a sort of light inside of her that I am draw to it. I honestly don’t know what this trip would have been like without her. This is the beginning of a longtime friendship, I feel it and I believe it.
Making our way back to the camps we wondered, what time was it? Was the sun coming up soon? We thought so. We also were out of water and quite staving. We headed back to camp contact, made some eggs, refilled our water and found Julia and Justice, an awesome guy who I helped set up camp with whom we had grow quite close to. The sun had not risen yet but it was close; you could feel it. The air was a little foggier from the faint light that illuminating the dust in the air, your breath felt thicker; sort of like an early morning after a snow except without the cold. The sky was slowly changing and every second you looked away and looked back it was far different then before. Color crept through the darkness, revealing a canvas that resembled the mess of an old forgotten painting pallet. By this point we had decided to walk past the temple, further out into the playa to witness the unfolding of the sky.
As time went on the pallet became clearer, brighter and more organized. Shades of every color imaginable were peeking through, settling into layers of brilliant light. And then in a moment when I thought it could not get any more spectacular, a burning hot red sun was born on the horizon. I don’t know how long I stared into that sun, it must have been for quite a while, but I do remember at some point hearing a voice in my head reminding me that at some point I may go blind. I turn my head, catch the breath that had been taken from me and lay my head down. My eyes can see the whole sky and even the sun from this magnificent view. The silhouettes of the monstrous mountains surrounding this once fertile desert plane outline my peripheral vision. I lay in disbelief of the extraordinary beauty that is around me. I let myself get lost. There is no way to fully understand how something this incredible could possibly exist. But it does. This was my first sunrise on the playa.
Thursday - August 28th, 2014
Only two days left till the man burns. I slept for the first half but who really does anything in the morning. I prolly shouldn’t say that, there are actually quite a lot of people out during the day but I guess I just prefer the night and now I am a keen to the early mornings because of yesterday, or should I say this morning. Time is smeared; I have to keep reminding myself what day it is, what time it is… where am I.
We heard that Skillex was playing today. Yes I know that is quite mainstream of me to actually remember that one but hey, I’d like to the big shot perform. Opulent Temple, that’s where. Now let me introduce Tracer. He is quite the character. He is a super tall guy with short curly brown hair, a fragile smile and a soft-spoken voice but he is wild! He dances like a tiger on steroids and he sort of became one on a later night, minus the steroids. I think. Explain later. Tracer, Logan, Julia and I went out that night. Ni was volunteering at center camp so I left a note for her in our tent to meet us there. We biked over to 10 o’clock and found an open spot in the crowd which was already pretty packed. Opulent Temple has an interesting setup. It feels a lot more intimate that then others, perhaps because of the proximity of the projection area and raise platforms that sit facing the stage. There is a small platform in the center of the dancing area where you can go up and press this button after it lights up. I thought it was suppose to make the fire go when you pressed it because that’s what it seemed to be doing for the other people but whenever I pressed it, it never worked, oh well.
Skrillex’s set was kind of confusing, I’m not sure when the person before him stopped and he started, I think it was basically a joint set between them but nonetheless the music was great and the energy was high. Most of that night was spent at the sound camps, we tried to find Robot Heart at one point but it was no where to be seen. It wasn’t late enough for it to be out in deep playa so we weren’t sure where it could have gone. Without realizing how late it had gotten, 4am when we looked at the time again, we decided to go back to camp refill our waters and kill some time exploring installations before Embrace was going to burn.
During our walk to Embrace we went by Micro, without even keeping track of time we arrived right when Kiori was going to do her sunrise dance in the installation. We were so happy that we made it in time. We sat down and watched as Kiori interacted with the space and the shapes. He body flowed like mercury just as Logan had explained. Her movements were so delicate and natural, with a grace that I had never seen before. She is such a beautiful woman, and not like a beauty you see everyday, it is a rare beauty. Striking and captivating. She approached the spheres that hung from the beams as if a child first born into the world. She was gentle and curious with sweeping motions and fluid gestures. She wove in and out of the structure, teasing the objects and exploring them with her dance. She finished on the ground, curling up into a ball and then silence like I haven’t heard here before that moment. What an exceptional performance.
We walk to Embrace, quiet, reflecting on what we have just seen. I think in a way it prepared us for what was about to come. We finally get to Embrace and we sit and we wait, the arguing about seating arrangements dies down as we have finally found a place to sit up front. It wasn’t our fault that we were placed in front of some people, it was all so confusing and the fire squad was ushering us in that direction anyways. This will be my first major burn of this year. Embrace. It’s hard to imagine that beautiful structure turning completely to ash, right in front of my very eyes. But it will, soon. The clock is ticking and they said 7am was burn time. Its after that so we sit….and we wait.
I shuffle around, trying to get comfortable in this tiny spot we landed ourselves in. Its getting warming and the sun is already quite high in the sky. That sunrise was by far the best sunrise I have ever seen. It even beats the one the other morning, didn’t think that was possible. The procession getting here felt long and solemn. Thousands of people flocked over the desert all aimed at the same particular spot, for the same ritual, for different reasons but all to see one thing. Fire. Flame. Burning. Change. On this morning it is quite dusty so the sunrise looks different than before. Slightly disconnected from the sky, glossed over by a haze of sand and emerging heat. Glowing the most brilliant orange I have ever seen, traveling through layers of thick cloud and dirty air, getting cut off in areas at times but in term making the other parts even brighter. The sky is full of muted colors, gaining brightness and depth as the sun continues to climb. Far out into the playa you can see a mirage of heat approaching, making the art pieces that lay between myself and this massive star distorted and interrupted. The closer I get to Embrace the higher the sun, the clearer the morning and I am reminded that this is the beginning of the end of Burning Man.
There it goes. It’s starting to smoke, they lit the fire. It begins slow, just wisps of gray smoke and then it grows and grows, its flames billow out of the heads of the intimate bodies. Ash and flaming particles fly through the air, massive currents pick up the pieces and create small tornados in the sky. As it burns, blackness blocks out the form of the sun, sparks of flames catch fire to the sky and light up the surrounding area with what could be mistaken at daylight stars. There is a point, a moment, at which Embrace reaches the peak of beauty, when it is even more beautiful then before it was lit. Far more beautiful I must say. Half of the heads are gone but you can still make out the form of each face. Gusts of wind tear off pieces into the sky, some come crashing to the ground and others hang on with dear life as the fire rips into the structure. This was the point, the pinnacle of the entire trip; it was all downhill from there, even the burning of the man, nothing could top this moment.
Piece by piece the bodies slowly lose their form. The presence that gifted us with welcoming arms is no more, replaced are simple figures on the horizon. The inner structure reveled, more than just wood was burned with this structure. And with that burn; freedom, release, and an unexplainable weight off my shoulders.
These weeks have been tiring both mentally and physically. After the burn of Embrace we made our way back to camp through my first white out storm. I covered my face with my bandana and trudged through the blinding light of the desert dust. Tasting it in my mouth and feeling it collecting on my skin and in my hair. But I didn’t care, after the cleanse of that burn, nothing could dirty me now. Finally we reached camp and exhaustion swept over me.
Friday - August 29th, 2014
I must have slept for 18 hours that day. No joke. I woke up to eat dinner and that was about all. Friday is what I called recovery. We didn’t it do much that night. I think we just walked around a bit and had some of the warm Whiskey Logan brought with a mixer of warm Caprisun, not very tasty I might add. Not sure what else to say about Friday.
Saturday - August 30th, 2014
I woke up midday, ate another unsatisfying vegetarian meal. By this point I was very sick of the meal situation or better day, no meat situation. This is the night the man burns. Maybe it was just because I was slowing down but I felt like the whole city had taken a step back at this point. We all knew the man was burning and this was the end. Some people were planning to leave right after the burn but I really wanted to see the Temple go up in flames. And we also had to break down the installation on Sunday, cant forget that part. This night we all went out together, finally. Logan, Ni, Myself, Julia, and Tracer. It was nice to have us all together. All week it seemed like we always kept missing Ni. She did some extra volunteering at Center Camp and it was normally during the time that Logan and I were ready to go out and explore. There really is no meeting up in this place. Once you are out, your out. There no way to contact anyone and attempts to meet in specific location at specific times never worked out. Also if you lost someone, chances of finding them are slim, you probably won’t see them till the next day at camp.
We made our way to the center, following the crowds of burners to the ring of art cars that surrounded the man. Every art car in the city was here. Its amazing how many there are and how many that are new to me even after being here for two weeks.
The blaze started with a bang. Literally, it just sort of exploded. Fireworks were everywhere, the music from the art cars were muffed by the sounds off all the people and their excited screams. After the initial burst, the fire of the gigantic figure burned slow. You could see areas getting weaker and pieces falling off but the burn was slow. They must have really built this thing well because it was impressive how long it stood. This burn may not have been as special as Embrace but it was quite epic. The fire in the night sky and at such a height was beautiful and exciting to watch. The flaming ashes went far down the playa and truly looked like flaming stars. After the fireworks came to the end we waited, and waited for it to fall. But it still stood. I watched all the burners making their way through the crowd, some leaving, some dancing. Tracer was doing cartwheels n the crowd with made all of us nervous because we thought he was going to kick someone in the face on the way down. Fortunately he did not.
The Burning of the Man
After quite some time we made our way out of the crowd and left the burning stick figure behind us. Ni had already went back to camp by now. But Logan and I had been wanting to go on the Ferris wheel and this would most likely be our last chance. We got in line and by some chance of fate, a man came up to us and gave us a skip the line pass. We took it with gratitude and went up to the front. If he had not given us that we would have probably been waiting in that like for at least an hour. Julia, Logan and I squeezed into the small rickety metal frame of a seat that was attached to the large metal wheel, pulling down the bar with excitement and awaiting our adventure into the sky. Away it went, we felt the cool playa breeze and were confronted with the breathtaking night scenery of this wonder place we were fortunate enough to experience. Here it is now, and tomorrow it will be gone. The sea of lights, which a week before were so mysterious to me, now are instead attached to some of the most incredible experience I have ever had. I can honestly say that this place feels like home, it is a place that is like no other in the entire world. And I will miss it. Now is the time when I should say all the things I learned and how all of this has changed me but I don’t think that needs to be said. From reading you can see know how powerful this trip for me and how thankful I feel that I am here and grateful to all the amazing people that I have met and experiences we shared together. This place brings people together and with my life and my work that it what I strive to do as well.
After the Ferris wheel we wonder around the playa more quietly then we had previous nights. And to our surprise it had gotten quite late. We had to be ready to break down the installation at 9am so our perspective of what is late had to shift quite a bit from the other days. We end up going back to camp after some time and head to sleep.
Sunday - August 31st, 2014
We wake up a few hours later, go to Micro and start dissembling. This project was really a great one. It was so exciting to see all the people enjoying it and experiencing it. I think Kiori and Aaron were happy with the outcome of the installation, I am so happy for them. Taking it down was bittersweet. Thankfully it has plans to be installed in a gallery location in Australia later in the year. I learned a lot from this installation and it gives me insight into how I need to prepare for my installation on the playa, what will work, what wont, what I need to watch out for and most importantly the whole experience has helped me see what it is that I could really bring here to make this place even better. The future is an exciting thing.
After breaking down we head back to camp, many other people are burning their structures and installations. This really is the end. We are leaving at 4am tomorrow, Monday, morning. Ni is heading to LA then back to Boston and has found a ride with some people in the camp across from us. Logan is heading to Reno the back home to NYC and I am heading to San Francisco to start the next chapter of this adventure. We pack up our stuff and shake off the dust as best as possible. Tonight is the temple burn. This is a very important one for many people on the playa because of the emotional value attached to the space. I feel that way too.
The first time I heard the art cars without sound was at the temple burn. The temple burned quickly and fell to the ground all at once, in a spiral nonetheless. It began burning and went up into flames within a few minutes. The flame was hot and I could feel it close to my skin exciting each membrane in my body. People surrounding me were feeling this just as I was, going through their own process of grief and loss, of absolution and release. Whatever they left inside the temple during the week be it a memory, an object, an obsession or confession is now burning, it is parting from them and parting is hard. I left some things in there too, I can feel it as it withers away, the breaking off of the ones I’ve lost, sour memories, past resentments and a failed relationship. There is something unique about this communal release. I have never experienced something like it with such power. We are all here, letting go and remembering. It is a beautiful thing.
This was my last night on the playa. The smell of smoke and burning wood fill my lungs, the sounds of lingering parties still milking what little time the have left. My skin feels different, the multiple layers of dust that cling to it like algae to rock, my hair has turned gray like an elderly woman and body tan and ageless. My cloths are dirty and this pink flower headband that I put on days ago seems to have grown into my dreadlocks for good. My soul feels clean, my head clear and my body alive. Such inspiration I have come upon on this first burn; the first of many I know. Change is coming and I know that is the only thing I have to rely on, which to me is freeing.