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.
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…
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.
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.
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. . .
One of the many ideas that avatar and co-founder Gary Warne sprung on his Suicide Club co-conspirators in the late 70’s was a scheme to commandeer two massive freeway billboards and to bend the ominous message to the confederated will of the Club. The Suicide Club evolved out of Communiversity, a free school at SF State in the 1970’s that was part of the free school movement of the 1960’s. Pranks and adventures were reflected in many of the classes offered. The Suicide Club first appeared in print and the world as a “class” in Communiversity in 1977. This first billboard alteration was the inspiration for the founding of the Billboard Liberation Front a few months later. The BLF was to go on altering or “improving” the copy and images on giant drive-by advertising for thirty-four years, predating and presumably influencing later work by Shepard Fairey, Ron English, and other midnight advertisers. The BLF grew concurrently with the Cacophony Society and had members that crossed over the entire San Francisco underground arts scene. Suicide Club stalwart Dan Spero made several audio interviews with Gary back in the early 1980’s before Gary’s tragic and untimely death at the age of thirty-five. The audio file below is Gary’s story of the first billboard hit, an event that spawned or encouraged a thousand advertising hacks to come over the next three decades. Chuck Palahniuks novel Fight Club (and the David Fincher movie) include a billboard hack inspired by Cacophony and the BLF.
Hearing Gary’s voice decades after his passing is quite a treat for me and for anyone else who knew this visionary prankster.