Dear Friends and Enemies,
Imagine that you are out on the playa in the Black Rock Desert. It is sunrise and everything is filtered in dusty silver and gold, tinged in pink. The air carries a chill that you want to relish for as long as you can before the heat sets in.
Off in the distance, a DJ on an art car is playing a sunrise set to a large and sleep-deprived crowd who will soon wander back to their yurts and RVs. But you ride past and scan the far horizon to see what art you can discover.
There are the well-known pieces that have been hyped on social media for most of the past year. There's always something to climb, something to take your picture in front of, something bigger than life and unbelievable. You can see those pieces from halfway across the playa, on a clear day. They are never empty, unless a model and the photographer who rented her for the event (or vice-versa) need the piece for their portfolios. Everyone wants to be a part of those pieces, wants to say they experienced it or participated, even if it was just throwing ten bucks into a bottomless Kickstarter.
In 2018 there was a walled off compound out on the playa. "What is that?" we asked each other. Someone told me it was a labyrinth and I set out immediately to go see if I could find a minotaur space alien at the center, or maybe an LED-covered genie, waiting to grant me a wish. There was no genie, or minotaur, or even any labyrinth (there WAS a labyrinth on the playa elsewhere but this was not it).
I biked around the entire thing until I came to a door, which was being guarded by a friendly man. He told me the whole area was off-limits. Off limits! In the middle of the playa! It's completely closed off? I asked. All week? Yes. This was not for us grubby burners. This was an enclave of Art and Science, apparently sponsored by BMW.
Is Studio Drift's Franchise Freedom gorgeous? Without question. Was it incredible, seeing that swarm of 300 drones take to the sky, accompanied by Joep Beving's magical composition? You're damn right it was. And yet...
Studio Drift & BMW premiered this same piece in 2017 in Miami. This was not a work of art created for Burning Man. This was a well-traveled drone show, brought to you by BMW, for an audience of passive spectators, executed from behind a big black wall in the middle of the playa. How does that have a place in a theoretically radical and spontaneous space?
So back to your sunrise journey. You bike past the Instatrap sculptures, dodging a dozen amateur photographers and videographers using the pieces as open-air photo booths. At last you come across an eerie statue that seems to have been grown from the contents of dozen different recycling bins.
It has been quietly conceptualized and constructed with no requests for strangers' money, no posts on Medium humble-bragging about how many trucks it took to bring in, no private parties on Burn Night. No walls, no keep out signs. It has been created for you. For some lost, wandering soul to find. For each of us.
Taking a closer look at the lonesome statue, you notice hinges in the arms and legs and even the face. You reach out to touch it. There are no signs telling you the right way or the wrong way to interact with the art. There are no ropes guiding you away. There is no one standing by, watching to make sure you don't mess it up. It's just you and the art.
You reach out and open a door in the statue's face, and you do what you came to Black Rock City to do: you play.
Burning Man needs smaller, playful, creative works of art more than ever. Anti-M's Home For Wayward Art, or Lekha Washington's surreal and beautiful Moondancer. Or smaller pieces, like the interactive exhibits with no names, quietly placed on the corners of camps and at the dusty edges of the trash fence.
The space to put your dream is out there, waiting for you. If you think you can't possibly bring your art because it's too weird or too small or not glamorous enough, stop self-rejecting right this fucking minute and get to work planning your piece for 2019!
This is my challenge to all artists heading to the next Burn: What could you make if you or you and your camp had to pay for everything yourselves, like we all had to do in the days before this event was officially a Phenomenon and you didn't get emails from the Org with a helpful list of Kickstarters to support each month? What if you had only your truck or a rental van or a friend's trailer to bring it in? What could you make with your friends if Kickstarter or IndieGoGo didn't exist?
I challenge everyone out there this year to be more radical with their decommodification. It doesn't take much effort to tape over a moving truck logo or to put stickers over brand name on a bike, but it's a lot harder to walk away from fantasies of being the Next Big Thing on the playa, the thing everyone wants to take photos in front of to share all over the internet later. Commodification is insidious. Especially when it comes to us in the guise of our peers and leadership.
This year, forget the internet. Forget that people have cameras. Hell, forget that people have money. Just open yourself up, create something amazing, and come share it with us. It is beautiful and we will love it, no matter how small. Also read: The Joy of Small Art at Burning Man