No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man

I was introduced to burning culture in my mid-twenties, and I wish it had been way sooner. People tried to tell me I was already living the lifestyle, but I just had to come to an actual burn, and I wasn’t into it. Camping? No way. But I am so glad I finally did it, because having to put up and sleep in a tent is worth the benefits of experiencing a burn a hundred times over again and again. It’s hard to effectively describe what you’ll experience at a burn, but I tried to give some 101 tips in this post, including a what to bring list.

Burning Man started in 1986 on a beach in San Francisco with Larry Harvey and Jerry James. They made a wooden figure and burned it on the summer solstice (my birthday!) with a group of their close friends. This is the main ritual behind a burn: the act of burning a wooden effigy. But there is so much more culture in these cities we build and tear down, leaving no trace of behind us.

I’d like to reinforce the idea that while Burning Man is the mecca of all things burn, there are regional burns all over the world, year-round. You can participate in burner culture without going all the way to Black Rock.

Also – if you’re someone who has pre-judged Burning Man as a “huge drug fest full of hippies in the desert”, you might want to take a listen to the podcast I recently did with Alexandra Roxo. It debunks a lot of the preconceived notions you might have about a burn.

If you’re uneducated about Burning Man, please check out their official site and also look into the documentary, “Spark: A Burning Man Story“.

Currently, at the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC, there is an exhibit called “No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man“, and if you get the chance to go, I strongly recommend checking it out (on display from March 2018 to January 2019). (It’s free, because it’s part of the Smithsonian!) I wanted to share some pictures and video I took at the exhibit for those of you who can’t visit yourselves. (And a free offer for the first 10 people at the bottom!)

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
A giant installation made out of wood, where people could write and dedicate to other people (a common interactive part of the structures that are built at burns)

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
The original Burning Man group

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
It’s popular for burners to collect ashes after the burn; these are collections from over the years

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
Burning Man patches from over the years

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary



Burning Man is held at Black Rock Desert

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
There are a large amount of interactive, light-based, music-intelligent, and just plain beautiful art pieces at Burning Man, just like this one

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
A collection of all the keys lost on the playa (the field) over the years (hah!)

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
An aerial view of Black Rock City long ago

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
A close-up of the exhibit at Renwick Gallery

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary
One of the biggest parts of burner culture is adopting the 10 principles of Burning Man, listed here

FREE: I took a bunch of these. The first 10 people to comment “Yes please!” below and include their e-mail in the comment form so I have a way to contact you for your mailing address, will receive one of the cards. (USA only please, for shipping costs, sorry!)

No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man | Uncustomary

Enjoy the video footage set to the tune of “My Favorite Burning Man Things” by Dr. Yes

PS – Renwick Gallery is actually on Atlas Obscura, so it technically counts as a roadside attraction!