Updated: Jul 25, 2020
The cultural potential of unrestricted art and expression in a gifting society.
Every summer in northern Nevada, 70,000 people gather to create a temporary city out of nothing. The city is built within a week and is taken down after a week of celebration, growth, community, and rebirth. Every year new art installations are built and brought out into the desert, lovingly referred to as ‘the playa’, many of them burned in a celebration of life’s impermanence. The city runs on a gifting economy, with everyone bringing everything they need to survive and some extra to give away.
I stumbled into the world of Burning Man shortly after graduating college in 2017.
At the time I was frustrated with the future that most architecture students look forward to. I knew that my future didn’t involve sitting at a desk for the rest of my life, or creating unsustainable and vain homes and buildings for the ultra-rich.
I had just started dating my then-partner before I graduated. He introduced me to the Burning Man world, showed me pictures of all his favorite installations and burns and encouraged me to apply for a low-income ticket. I knew then that this temporary city would become my home. That summer I flew to Oakland to help build the next temple, and when we arrived on playa a week before the event began I was welcomed in with open arms to stay and continue helping on the build on site. This was an honor and a feeling that I never realized would become commonplace within the community, both on playa and within the community in the default world. After my first burn I moved across the country to Los Angeles to be closer to the new family I had found and to work on my own art.
Temple 2017: Marisha Farnsworth, Steven Brummond, Mark Sinclair
My time in Los Angeles has led to a sort of double-life in which during the workday I am designing and adjusting plans for some of the most wealthy people in the United States and during my time off I am painting, writing and designing art installations. At one end I create digital renderings and pick out specifications for multi-million dollar homes and renovations, listening to arguments over bills and budgets, pondering over unrecognizably similar molding profiles for hours only to change the design again the next week. On the other end I am fundraising for art installations, scraping up $100 wherever we could to make sure we could get finishing touches, spending countless hours building and working with other artists to make art that mattered. The contrast between my two worlds has been frustrating to say the least, but it has brought about a clarity to how to better live my life and given me goals to strive for as I slowly bring my two worlds closer together.
The Folly: Dave Keane Singularity: Rebekah Waites
Our society has been so solely focused on trade/benefit relationship and runs on the idea that growth and expansion is the only way to find success, that we’ve forgotten the reason we have created larger societies at all, and we’ve forgotten what sustainable living is like. The only purpose of a greater society is for the higher levels of support and the freedom to cooperate and live our lives to the fullest. Instead I think many of us have found that the paycheck-to-paycheck life that runaway capitalism has given us is not much different than the lives our ancestors used to live, working everyday just to survive - and not much more.
Our human potential has been stifled with the absence of public art and emphasis on consumerism. But now I have found a community where - for one week - money does not exist, and giving is the universal language we all understand (even in the default world)
The Monaco: Captain Greg Barron La Victrola: Hank Crank Creative
You can take one look at the art and community that leaks out of Burning Man and understand that as human beings, we have an enormous potential for the amazing things we can create. With the limited resources - and even more limited funds - our amazing artists, builders, managers, and performers come together and give each other everything we have to help make some of these projects a reality.
I can only hope that in my lifetime we can bring our developed society closer back down to a larger community that works to support us as individuals and encourages the innovation and creativity that I see in the Burning Man family. Because our future isn’t in the material things or corporations or expansion, our future is in our people and our creativity and our community, and for one week out the the year, in the empty desert in Nevada, you can see the results of a community that supports one another and freely encourages our highest levels of creativity and self expression.