This year marks the 25th anniversary of Burning Man, the weeklong art festival held in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada. The 2010 theme for Burning Man was Metropolis, with a record-breaking number of attendees, or "burners," as we like to call ourselves. A volunteer at the festival said the population of "the city" on Sept. 3 was 67,000.
A temporary city of this size really intensifies the amount of art and interaction available. In an art project called "Excellent Adventure," artists Gustavo Huber and Shelly Brown of Carbon Workshop installed phone booths all over the city. These booths are voice-reactive, audio-visual displays that use visible light to transmit voice data from one to the other. This way the phone booth is represented as a metropolitan icon but also makes possible a "color" conversation. One of my campmates said he picked up the phone and talked to a woman named Laura for about 30 minutes one night.
Giant pieces of metalwork mark the desert landscape. This year my favorite was a piece called "Bliss Dance" from Marco Cochrane. This 40-foot-high woman is seen dancing nude with her eyes closed. Lights inside and out of her metal frame change colors, in a display of luminous flux.
Another piece of interactive art came from artist Bryan Tedrick of Glen Ellen, Calif. His construction, called "Minaret," is a 50-foot tower of steel and redwood that can be climbed externally to the midpoint, then entered to ascend to the top. The top is a latticed, stainless steel dome where people can see out.
Experiencing rugged metal artwork that is welded and anchored to the desert is worlds apart from staring at canvas in a gallery. The whole experience of Burning Man is the free exchange of ideas, food, art, music and love. This free, open and giving environment is something so special — it escapes most of us in the real world, so far from this desert oasis of freedom.
This is what makes burners feel like Burning Man is their true home. A phrase echoed with regularity on the playa is, "Welcome home!" Michael Christian from Berkeley, Calif., encapsulated that idea in his art piece called "Home," which is a large globe with a dense, complex, textured surface design that incorporates city maps from around the world.
As this was my second year attending Burning Man, the two-hour creep through the gates to exit were very bittersweet. I was sad to leave behind this community of generous, open people. But I know I can take a little of the Burning Man spirit back with me to the real world by appreciating unconventional beauty and generosity in my everyday life.