For the next in our Lorna Loves series, our founder - Lorna Watson - shares the profundity of her recent experience at Burning Man - a legendary annual event held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert that's built around community, art, self-expression and self-reliance.
"The build up to the event is always intense," says Lorna. "The final weeks - and indeed months - are spent in a whirlwind of preparation; planning camps, art projects and offerings that will be gifted. On a human level, years of social isolation mean we are out of practice with large gatherings, which makes this year's Burning Man particularly poignant, as it comes at a time when we couldn't need human connection more."Throughout history, mass gatherings such as collective rituals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages have created intense social bonds and feelings of unity within human societies. A Yale study published earlier this year has found that modern-day secular mass gatherings that emphasise creativity and community, such as Burning Man, can serve an even broader purpose.
The Yale research team studied people’s subjective experiences and social behaviours at a number of secular mass gatherings in the US and the UK and found that; attendees reported feeling more connected with all of humanity, are more willing to help complete strangers, and have the potential to expand the boundaries of moral concern beyond one’s own immediate demography and community, long term.
"It didn’t take much for Burning Man’s characteristic outpouring of colour, eccentricity and creativity to come to life," continues Lorna. "Trucks and cranes made way for the fleet of out-of-this-world art cars crisscrossing the playa. And dusty work attire was banished to the bottom of suitcases for exuberant costumes. A whole delicious world of 'waking dreams’ - this years theme - sprung up up before our eyes."
Lorna explains five of Burning Man's 10 key principles that resonated with her most this year, and why.
Creativity and craftsmanshipFor me, one the primary attractions of Burning Man is its ability to re-establish our innate childlike curiosity and overall sense of playfulness, and the often profound levels of self-realisation this brings about. This year I was particularly close to two artworks:
Our camp, Soulshakers, renovated a VW camper van into a little photobooth art car that we drove out to the playa at night. Anyone who came across us could climb into the two-seater sofa inside the art car and have their Polaroid photographs taken as our gift. I particularly loved how something so low key and low budget initiated such a fun and hugely uplifting response from participants.
One of my closest friends, Kirsten Berg, created several different artworks for Burning Man this year. Her main piece, a sculpture named Drishti, was located between the Temple and the Man. Drishti was inspired by the Sanskrit philosophical phrase, 'Drishti, Srishti', meaning: 'As is your vision, so is your universe' or, 'How you behold, is what you unfold'.
A sculptural expression, and reflective symbol, of finding ourselves at a critical point in history, where we are called upon to focus and engage our collective gaze into a more elevated vision, as co-creators and collaborators of our individual and shared realities. Shimmering in mirrored steel, Drishti’s softly arcing angles sweep our gaze collectively upward to the stars, literally and symbolically.
What I loved most about Drishti was the way each of our respective reflection's changed in every mirrored facet of the sculpture, highlighting the distortion we all experience between perception and reality.
Other personal favourites this year (there were so many!) were:
Luna Art Car; a moon silhouette that regularly appeared on the playa at dusk or in the dark, with a crane hoisted star that pulsed in time to our collective heart beat.
Sonic Sphere; a truly immersive audio and light concert orb. Once you climbed inside, you lay down on giant suspended rope hammocks under a huge geodesic sphere, surrounded in all directions by uniquely synchronised sound and light effects. Whenever you or others in the orb shifted position, your perceived experience of the sound and light moved too. The first time I was there, Faure’s Requiem Op.48 was playing under the umbrella of a clear blue sky. It was so beautiful and serene - and unforgettable.
And, the family of ‘zebracorn’ electric bikes you could jump on and go on a spontaneous adventure!
Community is one of STELAR’s main principles as a business, and our ethos is founded on the deep-rooted example set by Balinese culture and the importance community plays within its society. Our purpose as a business includes building an international community of like-minded people that value the importance of craftsmanship and heritage in today's society.
Burning Man's community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
For me, the Empyrean Temple is the pillar of community at Burning Man. This annual architectural installation is created as a place for anyone to go and release, mourn, or celebrate someone or something important in their life. Participants leave personal mementos and messages at the Temple as part of a journey of processing and letting go. The Temple is burned on the very last night of the eight-day event, after the Man burns.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift exchange and gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional and doesn't contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
The generosity I have experienced on the playa is second to none. Highlights this year included receiving a glass of chilled champagne, along with a platter with chilled fresh apple slices, blue cheese and crackers at 9am in the morning from a complete stranger while listening to the Black Rock Philharmonic orchestra play at the Temple. And the ‘Candy Man' who appeared out of nowhere with his ‘toolbox’ of candies to relieve dry dusty desert mouths with an array of sweet treats.
Leave no trace
The Burning Man community is committed to holding the upmost respect for the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavour, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
As a business founded on regenerative and sustainable principles, leaving the minimum environmental and carbon footprint is at the heart of what we do, and better still looking for clever alternatives, such as growing our own materials within our supply chain.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in Burning Man culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. Living in the present moment is a life philosophy that Balinese culture exemplifies and we aspire to embrace as a business - and as individuals.
Beyond the sunrise DJ sets and Instagram-worthy beauty of the art and people, the real Burner culture shines through in times of adversity. When the playa's dust hits the fan, we rally together. From the rangers and Temple guardians to random acts of kindness, Burning Man city is underpinned by principles of communal effort and civic responsibility, from build through to strike and beyond. While the city comes together yearly, it never fully comes apart. The culture extends around the world in its regional network, and lingers in the hearts of those touched by its magic and beauty.
“[Yale's recent study's] findings are an important reminder of what we’ve missed in years of pandemic isolation: powerful social experiences, or what the sociologist Emile Durkheim called ‘collective effervescence,’” says Yudkin, one of the study's authors. Another, Crockett, concludes; “Transformative experiences help people transcend the borders of the self and connect with all of humanity — crucial qualities to cultivate as we work to end this pandemic and prevent future ones.”