i was interested to find out more about a festival i’ve never attended – the legendary burning man in nevada’s black rock desert. considered more of an art festival than a music one every festival-goer is a participant as well as on observer, there are few mere spectators. the act of participating in a festival – whether that’s as a performer, technician, volunteer staff or an artist – can give you a different perspective and a stronger sense of community. “burners” are in the majority active participants in the festival rather than passive consumers.
i was particularly taken with the temple structures which are built every year – as the iconic man is – in order to be destroyed, burned at the festival’s end. the original temple was constructed as a memorial for those lost to suicide. as the community has aged over the years the festival’s been going they accumulate more losses to illness, accident and overdose. the space is designed as one to reflect and remember and is set apart from the bustling centre of the site, a visit becomes a small pilgrimage across the desert. each year the temple is gradually altered over the ?week of the festival with inscriptions and offerings and the whole community gathers to watch it burn on the final sunday night (after the man is burned amid great ceremony on the saturday). the transformative effect of fire is used with great effect to offer participants a chance to process and release grief.
the temples become portals through which black rock citizens can pay their respects to those they have lost through gifts of art, inscriptions and performative gestures. as in chinese funerary rites, the burning of effigies and symbolic paper objects… releases them into the afterlife. the burning of the temple, and with it the inscriptions and gifts, performs a similar symbolic function of release and transfer… temples are liminal spaces for divine human encounter, for illumination, transformation and passage… participants become ritual agents transforming their grief and sorrow into release. (p. 235)
– on the edge of utopia: performance and ritual at burning man rachel bowditch
i’m interested in the use of message boards or structures that invite “graffiti” at festivals and how that encourages active participation amongst festival-goers. written messages are particularly appealing to me as they’re accessible to people who don’t consider themselves “artistic” or are intimidated by a blank page as i am. i also like the idea of transformation, of release, of writing something and letting it go.
the most obvious way to achieve this short of fire (i’ll leave that to the experts) seemed to be a balloon release. these have been done before at sziget, but without the added aspect of having messages attached and the tantalising lure of a possible reply.