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Burningman 2008

Is this the end of Burningman, as we knew it?
I think not.
But the times are definitely a-changin’.
2008’s theme was a timely focus on the American Dream. But does ‘more’ equate with ‘merrier’?
It’s almost inevitable that gatherings of creative souls that attract public attention lose impact as the ratio of active to passive players decreases. The population of Black Rock City has doubled since I first went in 2000 and I reckon my BM jollies have halved in those 8 years.

The same factor of 2 can also be applied to increases in cost and authoritarian interference. I have no issue with the cost but what used to be an anarchistic arts fest has turned into something else bound by (enforced) rules of conduct that contradict the original concept of antiestablishmentarianism. It used to advise on the tix, ” upon entering, you accept the possibilty of serious injury or death” but more importantly, and emphasized underneath that in bold caps, it stated that YOU MUST PARTICIPATE. That used to be about the only rule at Burningman. The word participate no longer even appears on the ticket. Is it just assumed or has that priority fallen by the wayside?
I don’t think there’s a burner out there who hasn’t said “it was better before”. But we keep going back for the rejuvenating experiences that do happen, and happen only at burningman. Happenstance and serendipity connect the fabric of all things BM. Someone needs something; flexible, about 8 feet long and pointed at one end, et voila, someone wil have it and give it gladly. They might even throw in a homebaked cookie. People wander around just giving stuff away. It’s a good thing. Edible things, drinkable things, wearable things. I was sitting at camp one afternoon having a chin wag with long lost cousin Sam who walked back into my life from the desert, and a girl skips by announcing to every person and camp that she passed that she was after the makings of a cat-woman outfit. She didn’t have to travel more than a half dozen blocks before she had a complete costume, right down to whiskers, tail and pointy ears.
Despite desire, I have never managed to devote time and resources to any significant personal BM project, so I bend the rule and do my bit by giving a hand where it’s wanted. That has involved helping in some big or small way to build Temples, conics , camps, cars and a multitude of smaller assists. Participation can take many forms.
This year Ellen and I put most of our last minute energies into making a cool camp with an emphasis on shade. Old sails, twine, timber, flags and fans @ 3.29 & Gremlin. “Passing Wind” we christened our home mostly for the crasser interpretation but the dust storm that raged during set-up may have had something to do with nomenclature too!

No-one was spared the dust and wind.

Weather also had a lot to do with the state of the playa. Apparently, a series of freezes and defrostings earlier in the year disrupted the make-up of the ancient lake bed’s surface. It wasn’t its usual hard, deadpan solidity but a much softer, thicker version that made a mockery of any but the fattest bike tyres. Cyclists at BM08 were reminded that they used to call them push bikes. Leaving car tracks used to be frowned upon; this year they were marginally better than the surroundings and were followed like donkey trails. If daytime cycling was tough, nighttime biking was quite implausible.

To accomodate the 49,000 burners the city planners took the 3 inside streets and put them to the outside which made it MUCH BIGGER , across and radially. Most of the streets were corrugated and soft. So to get from, say, the airport to the Man, you’d need to pack a picnic. And not a bad idea at that.

And the wide-open spaces of the playa were very wide and very open and punctuated by a smattering of art installations and desert distractions. It was a long haul between highlights. At night the space was EVEN BIGGER and any bright light became a beckoning beacon, and like moths to the flame we trudged, only sometimes scoring something social or interactive. Nothing like a giant rubber ducky disco out in the deep playa this year…. The lucky playapeeps retreating from the void got rides on vehicles back to the Esplanade but even that thoroughfare could be so strung out that there just weren’t the usual concentration of sideshow attractions.. And music this year was pretty bad. Wandering from soundbite to soundbite waiting for something to get the dancin’bones shakin’…. but nothing hit the spot. Friday night was a disappointing anticlimax. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

OK. Ya! Time to get off the blog soapbox. Shuddup and dance.

A damsel in de playa.

giant origami

cassette slot DJ – mobile disco. Fast Forward. Fun ride.

Altered State, the aptly named and beautiful-by-day-or-night structure became site of many a BM wedding ceremony. A Hopi Indian quotation inscribed on one of the internal ladder rungs stuck in my head: “We are the People we have been waiting for.”

And this was the brilliantly simple photo op; everyone’s chance to be on the cover of NatPlayo.


looooong strings of helium balloons dance the conga across the playa sky. Always good to see the third dimension used at BM. At night the daytime adornments of tinkling bells were swapped for cylume sticks so that the 500′(¿) trails would light up like bioluminescent nematocysts in an upside-down inky sea. Mesmerising by day or night.

The Temple of 2008 was a beautiful monument to waste. Basura Sagrada was, like all it’s predecessors, essentially more popular than the Man itself. Sunday’s burn is for many the most anticipated event. This is mainly because it is is full of humanities blood sweat and tears. Not through it’s construction but through the pain and love and suffering expressed by visitors and left as a spiritual statement, an absolution, an apology, a plea for intercession, thanks, love or some emotional sentiment to be delivered by conflagrant updraft. This year the crafty constructors got to design and build their own viewing seats around the perimeter. This shot includes the decorated arch of one.

somewhere around 9 o’clock on the esplanade I think…hollow, light filled columns highlighting original glyph designs that looked at least in part, mayan inspired.

Wings of Desire? No. Spread Eagle.

Ruth and Tim of WindFireDesigns were part of the DOTA camp (Department of Tethered Aviation). The daily displays of kite flying en-masse and individually were one of the most entertaining features of the burn for me. Tired of one-too-many propane spewing metallic monsters, kites provided a quiet alternative entertainment. And they were willing to share too!

This is me playing with the devil.

And I hereby thank the girl who took this shot of me, and I offer in return one I shot of her being toyed with by a kite-cursor. Thank you!


Another fine use of the elements and the infinite airspace above BM is an old favourite, the drifting black smokering. 60 feet across they are ‘blown’ and if breeze permits can march across the skyscape in series. I caught one drifting above a field of 300 poppies.

Again simplicity, trial and error and combustible fuel are the ingredients in a spectacular display.

The ringmaster at work loading his duel fuel apparatus…

followed by the big bang and widespread fallout of unburned kerosene and a beautiful big black smokering!

I naturally get drawn to architectural pieces in all their BM diversity.

The nautilus inspired Optic Sunbrella

Common camp at on Dart and about 4.30. Two layers of HUGE parachute ripstop. Windblown it became a magical undulating being. Lying in a hammock looking up was like staring at the underside of a giant pulsating jellyfish.

Michael Christian’s Elevation. Superbly constructed, finished and solid as a ….steel tower. Seating for one only at the top in the throne for ‘Me’.

Something to do with a few hundred 4x2s.

Temple details plus vista.

The Zsu-Zsu emotiometer. Geeft me!

Night roadscene from Man to Temple.

And daytime, vice versa.

This articulated predatory piscine was one of my favorite heavy metal pieces. Beautiful, strong and detailed. (artist?)

(economic crisis foretold at burningman!) The stork delivering a baby on a bomb was yet another beautifully designed and engineered, functional sculpture.

It was pedal-powered transport, looked great, told a story and used flippers as wings.


The lamplighters are a shifting cult of devotees who perform the daily ritual of hanging lanterns on lightpoles along the mainstreets.

Being at the Temple at Dawn, either from a night of wakefullness or sleep, is a grounding and peaceful experience.

you can see a bunch more 2008 pix at http://www.callananphoto.com/burningman2008/

or from previous years at

In my criticism of Burningman’s dilution, as quantity threatens to occlude quality, I’ve got to keep reminding myself of the truism that one’s first Burn is usually the best. That means that every year thousands more experience the uniqueness of Burningman for the first time. And therein lies the hope. The newcomers can package their reactions and creativity and reshape it as they like. The challenge with Burningman is to be original and better than before.

see you next year?
Burn on.

In conclusion I want to share an eloquent analysis of Burningman Art as written in the late 90s by Bay Area artist Larnie Fox (taken from the BM website http://www.burningman.com/installations/ )

“There is a yet unnamed art movement that may prove to be of some significance, and Burning Man is close to its center. It often manifests itself as circus, ritual, and spectacle. It is a movement away from a dialogue between an individual artist and a sophisticated audience, and towards collaboration amongst a big, wild, free and diverse community. It is a movement away from galleries, schools and other institutions and towards an art produced in and for casual groups of participants, more akin to clans and tribes, based on aesthetic affinities and bonds of friendship. It is a movement away from static gallery art and formal theater and towards site-specific, time-specific installation and performance. It is a rejection of spoon-fed corporate culture and an affirmation of the homemade, the idiosyncratic, the personal. It is profoundly democratic. It is radically inclusive, it is a difficult challenge, and it is beckoning.”