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‘No Spectators’: ‘Burning Man’ festival comes to D.C.

This was the first year that I seriously considered attending Burning Man. Although circumstances dictated otherwise, in the way of the Universe, I stumbled upon the ‘No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man‘ exhibit at the Renwick Gallery here in DC. Admittedly, although I have been interested in attending the festival for years, I knew very little about the actual execution of Burning Man. I had read thoroughly the principles along with everything else on the website, but I wanted the experiential part to ride on the element of surprise. Although smaller in size, I experienced that very surprise walking into the gallery for the first time. My 26 years of life have garnered very few experiences that would have prepared me for what I was set to encounter.

Being a great fan of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, I felt similarly inducted into a world of fantasy and infinite potential. There were even magic mushrooms and kaleidoscopes dreams with no drugs involved. Such is the art of using sound and light to behoove the senses and reshape reality. Perhaps even just allowing a an alternate reality to shape itself. As I moved from one part of the exhibit to another, a new world materialized before my eyes. Testimony to the depth and breadth of the human mind and spirit, gargantuan handmade 3D installments and the larger-than-life principles greeted me at the entrance. Alternating fullness of silence and echoes of ethereal music guided me from one room to another. It was Fantasy; not in the way of simple make believe, but in reopening one’s existence to the realm of possibility. In demanding the most imaginative and authentic self in order to experience it in its fullest. Mr. Rogers would be proud. Life on ‘The Playa’, the desert location that hosts the festival, is not solely about existing within a Utopian society. In many ways The Playa seeks to rebuild a sense of what living should consist of along with a willingness to not only reject limited notions but to contribute individual goodness to the experience of the whole of society. Simply put: Accountability. Founded on principles like ‘Radical Self-Reliance’ and ‘Decommodification’, Burning Man creates its Utopian society not for escapism alone, but for a kind of meditative incubation that seeks to foster lasting solutions. Which seems kind of ironic in regards to the fact that the festival only lasts a few days, with another one of it’s principles being ‘Leave No Trace’. I found, and I would assume that all who have attended have done so also, that this doesn’t apply to the mark that the experience leaves on your heart. A thriving metropolis one day and a heap of smoldering rubbish the next, Burning Man is revolutionary in it’s elusive permanence. Countercultural by nature, Burning Man has created an Ethos that could quite possibly stand alone.

In one of the very first descriptive plaques it read “[Burning Man] radiates a heavy idealism and questioning of the status quo; it is a remedy for cynical times.” In the way of the dual consciousness that Black people often possess, as W.E.B. DuBois mentioned in ‘Souls of Black Folk’, I was able to experience the exhibition twice at once. I’ll admit that, in my foremost reality, I was entirely amazed at what privileged people with disposable income and resources are able to do with said income and resources. Burning man is a world in which all attendees get to escape the society that only a portion of those attendees and their forefathers have collectively created. Even in fully embracing the principle of ‘Radical Inclusion’, I have thoughts that stand separate from the immersive experience. Keeping in mind the fact that there are Blacks and other POC who have yet to determine existence for themselves in this country, I am interested in what manner and in what capacity would we create a like or parallel space? What would a “black burning man” look like and how would it differ from the original? Could we accomplish making a utopian society to serve firstly as a safe space for POC as such? What would come into existence if we took up not just the underlying theme of determining reality but the right to do so autonomously and imaginatively? Not to mention the tremendous sense of responsibility and intention that doing so would then engender. I am looking to join with like minds in order to explore said possibility. Somebody call the head of Afro-Futurism and tell them to send us the Dirtiest Comouters they’ve got. All Hail Queen Janelle.

Burning Man was entirely too complex to contain within this short analysis. In getting to see the likes of what man of kind can create, the sharp reopening of both my imagination and logical mind to possibility almost consumed me. I am sure actually attending Burning Man will be such a journey; so much so that the version of me that attends won’t be the version of me that returns. In fact, just immersing myself at the gallery has had a profound effect on my interpretation and interaction with reality. In tandem, I understand the necessity of repeating such a ritual yearly, if for no reason other than to continually renew one’s faith in the future of mankind and to stoke one’s own creative fires. Daily, I remind myself that there are NO SPECTATORS in life, and that we should all be actively living and building. In turn I ask, how will you participate?

An overview of the exhibit can be found here.

I spent a great deal of time meditating and simply existing in the ‘Temple’ portion of the exhibit. I chose not to write about it because there are no words to do the experience justice. Although that particular portion of art was retired mid-September, here is video from the museum itself that gives you a glimpse of the greatness that was.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man‘ exhibition will be open at the Renwick Gallery until January 21, 2019.


Published by 0whateverlolawants0

Creative. Connector. Ideator. Polymath. Autodidact. WriterDoulaDancer. Black Woman.

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