JL on Burning Man at Nevada Museum of Art.

Somehow, somewhere, somebody made a mistake and invited me to speak and present at the Nevada Museum of Arts City of Dust exhibition. As far as I know, this is the first attempt by a serious institution at an art, culture and historical review of the Burning Man ™ event.

Desert Site Works II Trego Springs Black Rock Desert. This event which took place over three years at various hot springs ringing the Black Rock Desert was where much of the BM philosophy, fashion and culture was formed

Desert Site Works II Trego Springs Black Rock Desert. This event which took place over three years at various hot springs ringing the Black Rock Desert was where much of the BM philosophy, fashion and culture was formed. photo William Binzen

I intend to do my absolute best to showcase dozens of crucial individual collaborators, “fellow traveller” organizations, scenes, and happenstance occurrences that were integral to the genesis and the early spirit of this now gargantuan pop culture phenomenon. This is the first exclusively “Burning Man” event that I have participated in since 1997 at CB’s 313 Gallery in NYC. The show is NOT paid for or curated by the BMorg. There is a gallery show with materials donated by the usual suspects and by a few rogue elements including Harrod Blank, Philo Northrup and me…

JL on The Black Rock 1991. photo by Sebastian Hyde

The show and wall/display art & artifacts are curated by the Nevada Museum of Art staff including art curators Ann Wolfe and Bill Fox (real not “playa” names: Wolf & Fox), assisted by Sara Frantz and Megan Bellister.

The speakers roster was compiled and curated by Marisa Cooper. A special thanks to JoAnne Northrup for making the initial introduction and convincing her colleagues that I did not bite, and convincing me that the museum was serious about presenting accurate (as much as this is ever possible in a subjective world) information; under these circumstances I agreed to present at a Burning Man retrospective.

 

While never having performed on the Black Rock, Kevin Binkert's fire tornado was the prototype for many such art devices to be debuted at BM.

While never having performed on the Black Rock, Kevin Binkert’s fire tornado was the prototype for many such art devices to be debuted at BM. Kevin debuted this piece with seminal SF machine art combine Survival Research Labs. SRL while never visiting the Black Rock, was indisputably the primary influence on all machine and much of the fire art to come at BM.

Cacophony was the main influence on the culture of pranking to take hold in early BM. Here is Cacophonist Phil Bewley at the Clown Alley event in SF’s North Beach in 1988. photo by Peter. Field

At this point in time, it is a fact that BM has a definable and coherent structure, culture and for better and for worse, some real influence on a large demographic of liberal anglo culture in America & Europe with some inroads into influencing the liberal elites of other cultures.
As anyone that knows me is aware, since about 1995 I have had mixed feelings about the event and it’s growing popularity.

As one of the three owners of the Burning Man Festival (until January 1997) and a long time facilitator of non-commercial, transgressive, underground culture, I am uniquely positioned to comment on this event.
L. Harvey, M. Mikel and I formalized the ownership of Burning Man in 1994, and the “Burning Man” ownership entity(ies) ever since have been corporate in structure despite the often touted “gift economy” of BM.

There were three major influences on the genesis of BM as an event and as a culture: The Cacophony Society/Suicide Club subculture growing out of the fertile SF underground, including the Zone Trip concept pioneered in Cacophony, the TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) philosophy outlined in the philosophy of Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson), and the Desert Site Works philosophy created by William Binzen.

Guru Road is a mile long, decades in the making art installation by longtime Black Rock Desert character Duane "Doobie" Williams. This marvelous installation made a huge impression on all in the early BM crew. One of the 3 or 4 times I have smoked pot since I was 17 years old was with Doobie on Guru Rd. in 1990. It was an honor.

Guru Road is a mile long, decades in the making art installation by longtime Black Rock Desert character Duane “Doobie” Williams. This marvelous installation made a huge impression on all in the early BM crew. One of the 3 or 4 times I have smoked pot since I was 17 years old was with Doobie on Guru Rd. in 1990. It was an honor.

The overall arch of the history of this singular desert event is bookended by women, and the event has been primarily directed by a woman since the close of the last millennium. This, despite the “Man” centric iconography, symbolism, mythology and press profile.

Some other things I will cover include the primary influences on fire, neon and machine art at BM, principal creators and organizers, artists, criminals and the like, that I believe were integral to the pioneering spirit of the early desert event. I will also touch lightly on some of the odd and creative people, groups and art that preceded us on the great playa of the Black Rock.

As anyone familiar with BM knows, there are thousands of stories covering many years. My intent is to show some of those people and incidents that I saw as being integral to the original spirit of the event as well as those who built the culture and set the stage for the influence, for better and worse, that BM has undeniably had. . .