What is burning in the Burning Man Festival ?
Why do the participants burn their precious artworks at the end of the festival ? We argue that in order to experience the artistic moment fully and to break through the cultural biases against art that tries preserve artworks, the participants burn it all up at the end of the festival
There are many aspects to examine in the Burning Man Festival. For instance, one can approach it from an artistic point of view as well as scientific and cultural. There is a multiplicity of perspectives one can apply to explain the very act of the festive destruction of the artworks created during Burning Man. Chritine Kristen (2207), for instance, investigates the usages of fire as an art from that are performed in festivals including the Burning Man Festival. In her article ‘Playing with Fire’ she claims that; ‘There is an unmistakable feeling of release in the act of burning that which we have created, particulary when a community has worked together for a period of time to create something complex and large in scale. Whether it reflects letting go of a personal issue or releasing collective energy, the feeling is powerful and seems to awaken ancestral memories or at the very least a sense of wonder’.
On the other hand, McRae (2011) investigate the psychological effects, namely the various forms of self-expression, on the individuals who participate in the Burning Man Festival. They found a significant increase in the way in which the participants of the Burning Man Festival expre themselves. According to their research, the participants used radical forms of self-expression since they were in an open setting that is free from all cultural norms. Therefore, they conclude that the context in which participants find themselves radically influences they way in whcih they express themselves, that is, whether they suppres their emotions or express them.
We argue that the Burning Man Festival creates an open space for radical self-expression since it breaks through the cultural norms that lead to self-suppression in public. As the Burning Man Festival creates a carefree enviroment that moves the participants beyond cultural values, the festival is able to increase human creativity and gift us the possibility to enjoy and being in the moment. Therefore, we assert that the very act of burning magnificant works of art represents a rebellion against the cultural norms that give art a historical value. As opposed to the traditional understanding of art, the Burning Man Festival is purely focused on the very feeling of intoxication that is is supposed to break through the cultural norms and express ourselves freely.
What is Burning Man ?
The festival began upon a burning wooden figure in 1986 San Francisco’s Baker beach by Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and his friends (Rohrmeier & Bassett, 2015). After this incident, the combustion has evolved into a ritual that risked the public safety, an consequently, it was banned by the goverment within four years. As a result, Larry Harvey, Jerry James and other participants began to search for an alternative space. The festival moved to its new home in Nevada Desert. Although only around 60 people participated şn the Burning Man event, the festival has grown bigger over time and did manage to attarct 70.000 participants in 2015. In 1998, Sergey M.Brin and Lawrance who are the co-founders of Google were among the participants of the festival. The first appearance of the Google’s Doodle has the Burning Man’s image (Vargün, 2015).
The precondition for participation in the fetival has ten basic principles ‘Leave No Trance’, ‘No Spectators’, ‘Survive’, ‘Gifting’, ‘Decommodification’, ‘ Collective Efforts’, ‘Civil Liability’, ‘Instant Experience’, ‘Radical Self-Reliance’, ‘Radical Self-Expression’ (Bee,2003). To exhibit their art audience will consist of the world gathered in several places and the Nevada desert to watch them burn. For instance, one of the two brothers in our country’s famous landscape architects Sunay and Günay Erdem’s work was the first airport constructed by using sand.
The festival ends oe day before the American’s Labor Day by burning the huge man figure in Playa. On the same day, the participants burn memories of people’s properties, pictures etc. This, according to our understanding, indicates that the participants are awere of the temporality of the Burning Man experience so that they do not try preserve this artistic experience, which is impossible, since they try to grasp this transcendental experience by consuming it in the moment. This type of art-making, opposes the traditional understanding of art since art has been considered so precious that it has to be locked away inside the museums. In contrast, the Burning Man festiva frees us to experience art in the moment itself without concerning too much for its preservation.
In this content, we introduced couple of elements to understand the esoteric core of the very act of burning in the Burning Man Festival. Since the festival creates a setting outside the cultural norms, it allows the participants to express themselves freely. The festival opens up a free space for its participants to discover the artist within. To be completely free its participants from the cultural biases and let them experience the moment in its full artistic form, the works created there are doomed to be burnt in the fire.
Bee, Lady (2003). ‘The Outsider Art of Burning man’’.
Kristen, Christine (2007). “Playing with Fire” in Curato’s Overview.
McRae, Kateri et al (2011). “Context-Dependent Emotion Regulation: Suppression and Reappraisal at the Burning Man Festival” in Basic and Applied Social Psychology 33:346–350.
Rohrmeier, K. & F.Starrs Paul (2014). ‘‘The Paradoxical Black Rock City’’ : All Cities Are Mad.
Rohrmeier, K. & Bassett, S. (2015). “Planning Burning Man: The Black Rock City Mirage” in The California Geographer 54.
Vargün, Özlem (2015). ‘’Burning Man’in Sanatsal Aykırılığı’’