Burning Man

The Green Man

Last Monday I got back from this year’s trip to Burning Man. Yes that’s right, pay attention all you would-be employers, future in-laws, anonymous Taylor-googlers and other internet aspersion-casters: I’ve been to Burning Man. A couple times. I enjoy it, and I dont care what you say. It’s a totally worthwhile and inspiring event to attend. If you’re ever up there, I’ll be the guy who looks like this:

Taylor in Dust Storm

There were a lot of big dust storms this year. It’s a totally surreal and unique experience to be riding a bicycle through a whiteout dust storm in a desert while princesses, giraffes, topless frogs and people in cupcake cars emerge out of the haze and drift past you. I dont think I’ll ever be totally clean again, though.

Living in the Bay Area you hear about Burning Man a lot—it’s difficult to avoid meeting “burners” who are really, really into the Burning Man lifestyle. And I think there are a lot of misunderstandings about it, mostly because the people who are its biggest advocates and ambassadors to the public are invariably dreadlocked new age creepy guys with cowboy hats and ear expanders whose “playa name” is “Sensei” and who talk about how life on the Playa is, like, so much more real than life in the “default world”, and would you care for a sensual chakra massage? I think that stuff is annoying too. So I understand why a lot of people think Burning Man is just one big drug-fueled naked hippie techno sex party for rich hipster yuppies spouting a load of pseudo-spirituality. And Burning Man is that to some people. I mean, I go. And I’m a hipster yuppie (or was, when I had a job). And I like techno. And apparently sex is fun, or so I hear. That aspect of it does exist, for sure. But it’s a much more complicated, organic, less-annoying event than this stereotypical impression of it.

The basic idea of Burning Man is to form a temporary community where pretty much everything goes as long as people are having fun, giving back to the community, and at the very least not engaging in any extremely antisocial behavior which would detract from everyone else’s experience. It is what you make of it, and it provides a place where pretty much every underground subculture can thrive and stretch its legs. So there are obviously a lot of hippies, ravers and nudists, but also people into building giant robots, and blowing things up, and skydiving, and making sure everyone else is fed and healthy, and making massive art, and playing minigolf, and pretending to be zombies and having fake lightsaber battles. It’s so ridiculously diverse as to be bewildering. If you’re into some bizarre thing, nobody will criticize it, and most likely there’s someone else who wants to help you with it.

Anyway, so I enjoy going, and this was a pretty fun year. I drove up with my friend Robyn who’d never been before, and who was therefore required upon entering the gates to lose his Burning Man Virginity like so:

Robyn Loses His Burning Man Virginity

The art was amazing as usual, though there wasnt anything that quite compared to the Belgian Waffle or DoLab Flower of last year (see my 2006 flickr album here). There was some very cool stuff though.

By far the biggest thing on the playa was a giant wooden oil derrick called Crude Awakening surrounded by enormous twisted metal statues in worshipful poses:

Crude Awakening

The derrick was 100 feet tall, and spectacular when lit up at night. Each of the statues had different fire elements exploding and burning within them.

Crude Awakening Statue

Crude Awakening Flaming Eyes Statue

Crude Awakening Statue with Tesla Coil

Crude Awakening

Plus you could climb all the way to the top to get a great view of the crowd below and the entire playa.

Statues from top of Oil Derrick

But the coolest thing about Crude Awakening was that Saturday night, following an amazing fireworks display, they burnt it down with the largest explosion ever set off at burning man. It was the most massive mushroom cloud I’ve ever seen. Very loud, and very, very hot. And I was right there in the front row! Here’s a decent video of about the last half of the show from pretty far away. To judge the size of the thing, remember that the oil derrick is like 100 feet tall. The explosion is at about 00:50. The flame afterwards was from a huge flame cannon shooting upwards about 120 feet. A “fire gusher”:

This year’s burning man art theme was “The Green Man,” and a lot of the art pieces were about the environment in some way. So it’s pretty ironic that while Crude Awakening was ostensibly about oil worship, the artists chose to raise awareness about oil usage by exploding more propane than ever before. Supposedly the morning after the event, the artists were going to place a tree where the derrick had stood, but this didnt happen for some reason.

Crude Awakening was exactly what I love about burning man. Art and spectacle on a truly massive scale that you would never be able to see anywhere else. I think the most successful art instills a sense of wonder and awe, and burning man is a great venue for that. Art can be enormous and have room to breathe and expand, unencumbered by urban constraints. Like these two full-size colliding oil tankers, which you could climb up and which were filled inside with flowers and plants:


I mean, how did they get that there? Where else could you see that, and be allowed to climb on it?

Another of my favorite things was a giant monkey bicycle-powered strobe zoetrope:

Bike-powered Monkeys Zoetrope

Which, when moving, looked like this:

Other favorites included the Burninator X, a cross of synchronized flame throwers:

The Cubatron 3d light display:

And fights at the Thunderdome:

The Temple of Forgiveness was also beautiful and intricate this year:

Burning Man Temple

The Temple

People write notes on the temple to loved ones they’ve lost in the last year, or to other memories they want to symbolically say goodbye to. Then on the final night the temple is burned in a somber, contemplative burn. A very different atmosphere than the festive burn of the man the previous night. Here’s a video of the temple falling:

And, of course, despite the early burn on Monday, the Man was rebuilt and burned on schedule:

But I think my favorite thing about burning man is just riding around in the desert darkness at night, looking at the lights of the city. Black Rock City by night, in its entirety, is the greatest art at burning man.

The Root Society by Night

The Temple at Night

A Mutant Vehicle tower thing

Ferris Wheel of Fire

Actually, perhaps the most amazing thing this year was the double rainbow that appeared after a particularly brutal dust and rain storm. My crappy HP camera photo doesnt do it justice. It was the brightest rainbow I’d ever seen, brilliant, and with almost triple rings. It made me think for a minute that all the new agey spiritual burners might be on to something. Black Rock is a special place, and something beautiful was watching over all of us out in the desert.

Rainbow Panorama

Of course then I spent 10 hours driving back to San Francisco and got all cynical again.

check out my full flickr set here.

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8 Comments!   { Actually just 7 Comments with 1 Trackback }

  1. Andy
    Sep 13th, 2007at3:29 pm

    Why have you not dragged me here? Why!??? You really shouldn’t let my apathy put you off. We could just stick my desk on wheels, and parade that around….

  2. taylor
    Sep 13th, 2007at4:09 pm

    Yeah your cube would fit right in. Actually, a cubicle-themed art car would be a great idea. There was one art car that was a board room, and would drive around having meetings about boring things, with graphs and charts and stuff. It was pretty funny.
    Burning Man is like the fire arts festival times a million, with much more dust and louder music. You’d like it.

  3. Oct 6th, 2007at7:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Oct 19th, 2007at11:05 am

    britney e hilton paris spear

  5. Oct 20th, 2007at4:42 am

    Why have you spammers only discovered this Burning Man post??? There’s a whole blog here to spam! Dont limit yourselves.

  6. Oct 20th, 2007at12:23 pm

    britney new news spear

  7. Oct 20th, 2007at8:29 pm

    well stated agreerwow. you make a good point. duly noted.

    but this is just what i’m talkin about! choose a different post next time!

  1. Oct 15th, 2007at6:54 pm

    Burning Bikes: The Wacky, Weird Vehicles of Burning Man…

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