Burning Man primarily features large scale interactive installation art inspired by the intersection of maker culture, technology, and a connection to nature and the elements that can not be denied. Many of the works are fully-immersive, inviting participation through all of the senses: touch, taste, smell, sound, and of course eye-candy to almost over-stimulation levels. In other words, it’s a Sensorium on steroids. The level of creativity, through the guiding principles of Radical Self-expression and participation, is absolutely positively the greatest I have ever witnessed and been a part of. And while it is, in a sense, always the same event year after year, it has never been the same twice. Not even for a minute. There are plenty of regulars – those things, people, camps, and art cars for instance, that are seemingly there every year - but they’re never in the same context, and therefore remain an integral part of the irregularity that comprise the event known worldwide as Burning Man.
NPR, reporting on Burning Man, said that it was “Once considered an underground gathering for bohemians and free spirits of all stripes, but has since evolved into a destination for social media influencers, celebrities, and the Silicon Valley elite.” Although Paris Hilton did ride past me on her bicycle one year, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen another quote-unquote famous person at Burning Man. In fact, really there are very few tell-tale signs someone in Black Rock City is having that much more of an elite experience than you may be having yourself. First and foremost is if they appear to be clean – as in freshly showered. A clear indicator that they are either a) staying in an RV with both running water and air conditioning, b) staying at a luxury camp that provides private toilets and showers, among other convenient amenities, or c) a combination of both, which is few and far between, but when you see such a camp, with their chandeliers and AstroTurf, you better know that these “Burners” are most likely very high-profile attendees and more often than not paid tremendous sums for their creature comforts of home away from home. Other than that, once out on the playa, everyone has equal billing and no amount of money or status is going to give you a competitive advantage in a city where Decommodification and Gifting are two of the ten principles meant to evoke the cultural ethos of Burning Man. Along with Radical Inclusion, Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort, and Immediacy, the guidelines, originally written by Larry Harvey in 2004, have since become a universal criterion of the general culture of Black Rock City.
Burning Man is not just an art gallery, a rave, a campground, or a place to discover something new about yourself. It is not just a hopeful phenomenon or some incarnation of a Dionysian festival - it is the sum of all of these, and many, many other things. Because of the variety of goals fostered by participatory attendees, known as “Burners,” Burning Man does not have a single focus, but it does have a central overlying theme each year. The theme for each year’s Burn is announced in October, a full ten months in advance of the event. This gives the artists, camps, and the Burning Man organization itself, time to create their work that best reflects the overall theme. As a foresight practitioner who uses the edge to observe change and identify the messages emitting from their creative interpretations, the theme to Burning Man each year has been a radical resource for the work I do since my initiation to Black Rock City and Root Society in 2010, when the theme that year was ‘Metropolis.’ Consider the fact that the majority of attendees at Burning Man are both creative and committed, and the inventiveness and originality they witness goes home with them to inspire their work and lives for years, if not the rest of their life.