Burning Man 2002 - Part II

I'm not telling this story in any order. It comes out in fragments. The main night of the burn I contributed a couple of canvases to the community burn. I felt a release. Why do artists want to destroy their own art? I was about to transition to performance art and this was part of my initiation. I knew that my life felt weighed down by objects, feelings and desires. I needed to unburden myself just a little. It was important and symbolic.


That night I wanted to be as close to the main burn as possible. There was an attraction to the main event that lacked words mostly. In the surrounds- fire shot into the air all around. The intense night time panorama was so primal and festive; something Hollywood could never produce without CGI and hoards of extras. Time stood still and something old and ancient appeared.


The Burn was incredible. I was standing packed like a sausage, naked and fixed on the center of the burn. I was so close, like I wanted to touch the fire. Mini tornadoes swirled out of the fire, almost chasing after the firefighters in silver suites of protection. The fire was speaking to us. It was dancing in swirls. Its power was omnipresent and poetic. So much of human history and development is surrounded by fire. This was all of that history speaking to us, letting us know that the fire burns inside of us all and unites us. It can also separate and kill us simultaneously. The literal and the figurative danced together with the ages. Time and space collapsed around us.


I remember leaving the next day and feeling the weight of that experience which led to that feeling that so many Burners talk about- the sadness and despair of leaving such an event because it does something that you can't do anywhere else- it only happens in a remote place that is temporary. A week in its entirety that time seems like ages- it cuts at your very existence and makes you feel strange and hollow. You left something there and you can't get it back very easily.


One night I was tagged by the Wildlife Preserve and the Animal Control team was quick to identify me as an animal that needed to be vaccinated. Funny how they didn't know that I was a mute bunny who could only grunt and gesticulate. That was the key to my success at Burning Man- after two conversations with strangers when I first got there- I went into existential mode and tested out ideas about reality and consciousness. I decided that talking was not a good idea. It would be better to elevate my consciousness by not speaking to people. One of the enforcement officers from the Animal Control wanted to give me a vaccination- some kind of alcoholic libation in a syringe. When she asked me if I wanted to be vaccinated- all I could do was make unintelligible utterances. When I gestured like I wanted it, she expressed her fear that I was so fucked up that she shouldn't give it to me. I was in character and I wasn't going to break it. That was my goal for Burning Man: don't break character! One morning some dude wanted to chat me up and said how he saw me the night before. He commented on my roller skates with the wheels that were coming off the axles out on the playa. I didn't break character, it was hard to do, but I was good at being a bunny and I wasn't going to fuck it up. The guy seemed really nice and I might have pissed him off in the end.


I remember the first hour I was there, I was passing by a stage with some kind of entertainment- like a stage and a dj maybe. Whatever, some asshole with a microphone was yelling at me to put some fucking clothes on. He was angry and mocking me. I felt afraid, but I also thought that I should just continue on my way. That was the one and only mean person. So many people were nice and lovely. I remember a dust storm kicked up with some rain and as I headed back to my car to take shelter, some generous lady was handing out some kind of mixed drink and another person was handing out masks to protect people from inhaling the dust. That was the giving spirit of Burning Man that they promote along with participating and not just observing. I would say I was in full participation mode most of the time I was there. By not breaking character, I believe I was a super special participant. My last day, as I was about to leave in the mid-morning, I left the rest of a 12 or 24 pack of beer for my neighbors while they were still slumbering. These two guys would always say high to me - “Hi Mr Bunny”! I had completed the cycle of giving. I felt like I had reciprocated.


A month or two before burning man, I was somewhere between SoCal and San Francisco, studying at Santa Monica College and visiting friends in SF respectively when I felt more and more detached from art as a thing that hangs on a wall or that needs to be legitimized. Art on the wall was dead. Art that moved and breathed and grew into new shapes was what I wanted to experiment with. Burning Man was the perfect place to test that feeling and gain some confidence in my ability to transform into something new. I wanted my art to be in the moment and fluid. Without a lot of pretension or support from a community. I wanted to be impromptu and surprise people. I wanted to take a piece of Burning Man perhaps to the streets and touch the hearts of those who could feel the world transforming around them. Like a portal in space and time had opened up on the boardwalk of Venice Beach where I took The Bunny to the masses. Many reacted positively. My only goal was to show up and act weird. I wore a shirt, tie, blue velvet blazer, slacks, roller skates and headphones to listing to music. Of course, I wore the same bunny ears from Burning Man which made me stand out just a little. I skated and moved in strange ways. I was present with the crowd but separated by sounds. I was in my head and in public at the same time. I really wanted to touch peoples' souls and hearts.




There were three things that really pushed me in this direction.


First, I had new experiences with friends in SF for whom I had taken Pure E with at a house party. That opened up my senses. I had recently separated from the military, 911 happened and I was still feeling really weird about myself, my goals and the world around me. I was lonely and paranoid. It fucking sucked. I had no clue how to speak constructively about my feelings. I had been to zones of former war and terror. Places where people had to flee. I've never killed anyone. I'm not a combat veteran. I was a NATO peacekeeper in Bosnia and it is an experience I will never forget. It was the best intro to International Relations one could ever ask for. Later I spent a few months in Kuwait and after I separated from the Army, I went to Kosovo as a civilian telecom technician. The day after I got to Los Angeles after leaving the Balkans for the second time in my life- 911 happened. It fucked me up enough to not want to go out and see people. I had plans to room with a friend in Oakland. I made some cool art while I lived there. I spent all my savings and got back into debt. I was depressed but didn't identify with it. I was reading about the Cinema of Transgression and watching weird sexual and violent films; Nick Zed, Lidia Lunch and Richard Kern were a few of my influences in that moment. I felt so strange and alone. Drinking alone. Hence, the experience in SF with friends and mind altering substances was the best thing for me. I only did E like twice in about 6 months but it was enough to actually sense a physical and emotional change in me. Enough that it almost pulled me out of the hole I was in.


The second influence was an Intro to Western Philosophy course at Santa Monica College that was taught by a lesbian doctorate of Feminist Epistemology. She was one of the most impressionable professors I had ever had. Her class got me to think about things anew. The participation in class was elevating for me. I look up to her teaching and confidence. She wasn't a stodgy angry feminist- she was a human being who knew a lot about transformation and she encourage experimenting with role playing. Being someone new and different.


The third influence was a book that this same professor had listed as required reading or so I thought. In the end I was either mistaken or she just decided not to include it. The book is called The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abrams. This book focused on human history, linguistics, shamanism and the place of shamans in tribes, cultures and societies. I read the book before the philosophy course had even started. I had strange transformational feelings from reading the book which was preceded by taking ecstasy. I was coming out of my body in a way. I felt detached from my insecurities about my body and more in contact with its abilities like I had never felt before. I saw a different model of the world now that impacted my actions. I saw my place as a person who could make changes to things. I could learn new things and grow. I wanted to be free from possessions. I had become more in touch with myself while also feeling like I needed to experience something new that wasn't the same thing that I had been surrounded by all of my life. Eventually, after selling or giving away most of my belongings over a couple of years from 2002 to 2004, I moved to Peru to escape the ills of our society. I had fallen into a cannabis cloud and was becoming more detached in an unhealthy way. I felt so transient and lost before I left. But I digress, that is another story to tell.


Burning Man was an event that I have only attended once. I have no desire to go back again. The one time I went by myself in 2002 and didn't talk to anyone almost the whole time I was there was so special, I know it can't be replicated. It was like the one time I went to the Love Parade in Berlin (1998). That was a mass event, but it paled in comparison to Burning Man. I don't watch movies a second time or read a book over again. Once is enough for me. I am Mother Earth's loving interloper who doesn't need a repeating occurrence of things. I didn't take any pictures at burning man and I did not make new friends. I was there and then I was gone. Transformation is real but also a fleeting moment. Such was Burning Man for me; a beautiful shooting star streaking across the sky in an instant.

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