|Polaroid photo by Tony Diefel [11th Jan 2009]|
This post began as a book review but now also serves as a tribute Larry Harvey - artist, philanthropist and the co-founder of Burning Man, who, at the beginning of this month, suffered a massive stroke and subsequently died on April 28th, aged 70. [update]
The legend of Burning Man begins with a romantic night in 1984 when Larry (aged 36) and his then girlfriend and her teenage son went down to Baker Beach on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, a public beach northwest of San Francisco within site of the Golden Gate bridge, to celebrate the summer solstice. According to an account in the Wallpaper:
'A friend of Harvey had dressed mannequins in polyester, and thrown them into a bonfire while a boom box beat ‘mechanical thuds’ around the flames. [My girlfriend’s] son was doing something only a 14-year-old would invent. He was saturating the sand with gasoline, and then taking a burning stick and writing in fire. So I knelt with my lover and wrote [in the sand] – it was supremely romantic,’ Harvey explained at a 1997 speech in Nevada. ‘And so, having thought of this morning and night for a couple of years I woke up on the solstice and I thought “I’m tired of this.” So, I called up a friend [Jerry James] and I said ‘Let’s burn a man, Jerry.”on the summer solstice [Saturday June 2nd 1986], with the help of ten friends, hauled it down to Baker Beach, poured petrol over it and set it on fire. A crowd of some 35 people suddenly turned up to watch. Legend has it that one woman ran forward and held the effigy's hand. Harvey recalls: 'I looked out at this arc of firelit faces, and before I knew it I looked over and there was a hippie with his pants on his head and a guitar standing there, materialized out of the murk. And he started singing a song about fire...That was the first spontaneous performance, that was the first geometric increase of Burning Man. What we had instantly created was a community.'
The Burning Man became an annual event for the next four years and each year, the effigy and crowd numbers got bigger. In 1987, it was 15ft tall and 80 people showed up. In 1988, 200 people watched as the 40ft Man was set alight. The giant figure was charred but didn't collapse so had to be sawn up and burnt on a bonfire. The following year, the legs and the pelvis of the 40-ft effigy collapsed and it was burnt in a semi-erect position, watched by 300 people. Finally, in 1990, the Golden Gate Park Police decided that it would be unsafe to set light to the Burning Man as it might start hill fires in the surrounding landscape. The 350-strong crowd quickly turned into an unruly mob. As a compromise, the police agreed that the statue could be built not but burnt. Harvey and his collaborators realised this was the end. The BM was dismantled and put into storage.
According to Wikipedia it was started in 1986 by surviving members of the now defunct Suicide Club of San Francisco. They describe themselves as "a randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.”
Cacophony has also been described as an indirect culture jamming outgrowth of the Dada movement, and the Situationists.
One of its central concepts is the Trip to the Zone, or Zone Trip, inspired by the 1979 Film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. [See Previous Posts]
One of their main tenets is enshrined in the phrase 'you may already be a member' which means you can self-designate your membership. The anarchic nature of the Society also means that any member can sponsor an event. 'Cacophony events often involve costumes and pranks in public places and sometimes going into places that are generally off limits to the public.'
'A template for pranksters, artists, adventurers and anyone interested in rampant creativity, 'Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society' is the history of the most influential underground cabal you’ve never heard of.
'Rising from the ashes of the mysterious and legendary Suicide Club, the Cacophony Society, at its zenith, hosted chapters in over a dozen major cities, and influenced much of what was once called the underground. The Cacophony Society’s epic exploits radically changed the way people live and play in the world. The group inspired Chuck Palahniuk’s 'Fight Club' and Burning Man and helped start pop culture trends including flash mobs, urban exploration, and culture jamming. A large-format, full-color, hardbound homage to this protean group Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society' is packed with original art, never before published photographs, original documents and incredulous news accounts.'Again according to Wikipedia, Cacophony member Michael Mikel attended the Baker Beach event in 1988 and publicised it in the Society's newsletter 'Rough Draft' [pictured above] in 1989. That same year Cacophonist Kevin Evans and other members attended a wind sculpture event in the Black Rock desert near Gerlach in northern Nevada, organised by a creative collective known as Planet X.
This inspired Evans to suggest, in 1990, a Zone Trip on Labour Day, publicising it as "A Bad Day At Black Rock' after the famous Spencer Tracy movie. According to the Burning Man chronology, they invited 'the architects of the wooden construct along for our voyage to the bizarre setting, making it the biggest, most elaborate piece of firewood - a glorious conflagration.' Incidentally, three weeks prior to the event, the Burning Man was vandalized being 'reduced to kindling by chain saws, the result of an accident'. The figure was rebuilt in San Francisco with two hours to spare before being transported to desert and destroyed.
|Photo by Douglas Rawlinson. See website:|
Details of this year's festival [Aug 26th- Sept 3rd] are at this site: https://burningman.org/ ] The 2018 theme is 'I, Robot' [named after the sf novel by Isaac Asimov].
It's not only the Man that gets burned. Each year there is a magnificent temple constructed. This too is also burnt to the ground at the end. Thanks to The Building Centre's newsfeed, discovered that this year's festival will feature a huge spiralling temple made out of a light coloured timber.
‘Galaxia’ is designed by French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani of Mamou-Mani Architects and is inspired by the swirling structure of the cosmos. Galaxia celebrates hope in the unknown, stars, planets, black holes, the movement uniting us in swirling galaxies of dreams,” Mamou-Mani Architects explain. “A superior form of Gaia in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Galaxia is the ultimate network, the fabric of the universe
These two books are the first and the latest to be published on this remarkable event and they complement each other extremely well. 'Burning Man' was published by HardWired (the publishing arm of Wired magazine) in 1997. It focuses mainly on the people, many of whom are taking advantage of the 'clothing optional' rule. These wild early years are powerfully captured in large full screen images with some foldout pages. Copies are still available on the internet at a good price.
|Photos by Barbara Traub (left) and Kevin Kelly (right)|
|Shot by Ny Guy in 2014, 'El Pulpo Mecanico by Duane Flatmo and Jerry Kunkel'|
a long and detailed entry on Wikipedia here
The main Burning Man site has a complete list of published books and a detailed chronology of the Burning Man's history and the 10 Principles that guide the events' ethos.
There's lots of Burning Man video footage on YouTube. These are a couple I enjoyed:
Burning Man 2017 from above - drone 4K by Matthew Emmi.
Burning Man 2017 Hyperlapse by Mark Day
Great article in Wallpaper: 'How the art of Burning Man ignited a cultural movement beyond the desert' by Jessica Klingelfuss. Stunning pictures.
'In recent years, there have been murmurings among purists that the festival’s DNA has been altered too much, becoming a magnet for celebrities and influencers, as well as earning a reputation as a networking event for the tech elite (Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have all attended).'