Thursday, August 2, 2001
This time around, Susana McGuire''s getting a wig. The 38-year-old artist says that last year at Burning Man, she and her boyfriend had everything they needed--food, a gold lamé dress, a witch''s hat, weird makeup--everything except a wig. McGuire says that with the desert''s whipping wind, dust storms and mud raining from the sky, a wig is more for necessity''s sake than for appearance''s.
"I think I''m going to get a pink one," she says. A pink wig will coordinate with the name she''s chosen for this year''s celebration: Pinkie Velveeta. There''s no deeper meaning to the name, McGuire says. "No meaning is better. The best part about Burning Man is that there is no meaning anywhere. It''s refreshing."
Last year was McGuire''s first time at the week-long performance party on the playa. She drove out to Black Rock City where she met up with her boyfriend, Weekly graphic artist Kevin Jewell.
Because of McGuire''s work schedule, she could only stay four days. It didn''t take her long to acclimate.
"It''s just a party that never ends, and it took me all of five seconds to get into that. We''d wake up and drink a tall boy--coffee went right out the window--we''d dance in the sun, put on a costume and go out."
You can''t buy anything at Burning Man, so McGuire and the other thousands of people in attendance bartered. McGuire brought her own food and water, and set up camp at the Millennium Oracle, where Jewell built a screen house for shelter and decorated it with Christmas lights and fake flowers. "It was like a circus tent," she says.
Coming back home was the hard part. McGuire says she wanted to run away, maybe join the circus or something, but finally returned to her home in Monterey and her business in Carmel. She is counting down to August 27, this year''s Burning Man, when she can once again let her hair down.
"The best part about it is the artistic
freedom. I used to think I was a creative person and Burning Man just blew it away. It was humbling to see the creative power. It was uninhibited."
Her friends used to tell Elisa Lodge: here''s an event designed expressly for you. "I''ve been an expressive art therapist for 35 years, birthing people through enormous inhibitions into their radical self-expressive stuff. This event is to celebrate radical self expression--definitely made to order."
The 64-year-old mother of two speaks in a youthful voice. "Burning Man is not just a bunch of old hippies or young hippies jumping around--it''s a highly organized situation," she says. "To organize 25,000 people in a circle, it is a momentous occasion on this planet."
Planets, or Outer Space, happened to be the theme in 1998, the first year Lodge attended Burning Man. Lodge came to Black Rock City with her partner of 10 years, James Wanless, creator of Voyager Tarot. They brought along 20 friends, a band of their own, makeshift showers and a whole bag of performance-art goodies and masks. Their camp''s theme was The Oracle of Delphi, complete with huge pillars and a Wheel of Fortune of Wanless'' Tarot cards. Visitors were invited to spin the wheel, and Wanless, Lodge and their friends would do spontaneous readings with sound, dance, wigs and masks.
"You get the little secretary who comes in wearing little shorts and a little top, and all of the sudden she''s the queen of Madagascar," Lodge says. "It''s empowering people in new ways."
While their campsite was comfortably filled with plush pillows and soft fabrics, Lodge admits she would love an RV--it gets rough in the desert without a shower. Lodge says she did sneak into an RV on occasion for a shower. A massage may have been easier to find.
"There was one camp of lawyers that massaged feet all week, if you wanted a hair wash you went to the camp that did shampoos. I never saw one car pass all week. This was the beginning of really seeing human beings as living art."
Lodge says drugs are not required, although for some, they are part of the experience.
"It''s an altered state whether you are on drugs or not, and you really don''t need drugs because you are so struck by this taste of freedom--gaping mouth, jaw open. I was with someone who was a little nervous to be there, and suddenly we were standing there, and 1,000 topless women on bikes rode by, free-spirited, not anything special, just riding through the entire playa. And then a couple hours later we were watching a rehearsal of a 500-person rock opera. Suddenly you don''t even remember you live in Carmel, that you have another life, your brain is so blown away."
As a group leader at Esalen Institute since 1979, Lodge says she''s been actively exploring emotional energies and primal power for more than half of her life. She says Burning Man is a unique vehicle for such exploration. During one lonely night of her first Burning Man experience, this exploration led her to a certain spiritual kinship with her German-Austrian relatives who lived during World War II.
"One night, it was quite cold, and I got lost. The skies were flaming, and for one moment I let myself feel as if I was in a World War. There were all these phantoms and gargoyles and fire, thousands of people rushing around, and I let myself feel the depth of that. Right next to it came feeling, this extraordinary ''Wow.'' This is performance art. We can wow the whole world to kingdom come and we go home alive."
This year''s Burning Man will put Disneyland to shame, says 46-year-old Carmel resident Mark Bava.
"Some people are re-building the entire facade of the Emerald City, there''s this one man who has the world''s largest laser, there''s this 100-something-foot lion, there''s another woman who''s built this huge dragon train, one of the cars has a dance floor and a bar in it, one holds passengers like a subway train. It''s almost mind-boggling, the brilliance of the things people build out there."
As co-producer of a series of San Francisco-based parties that go by the names of "Anon Salon" and the "Flambé Lounge," Bava understands the organization and planning that go into throwing such extravaganzas. He says Burning Man blows them out of the water.
Several of Anon Salon''s parties attract Burning Man vets--Bava''s going to the playa for the fourth year this August.
"A lot of people say it''s this crazy drug-induced, psychedelic fest where everyone runs around naked--and it''s that--but people started doing zany stuff out of Burning Man, and they have honed their craft so much, they are working performance artists right now. This is a venue for people who do really cutting-edged artwork."
Last year, the Oracle camp where Bava hangs out included a massive stage and sound system. But because of the winds and dust storms, the performances never got off the ground and the campsite itself was blown to shreds.
"I spent half my time out there lying horizontal with my back killing me," he says. "You kind of have a love-hate relationship with [Burning Man]; there''s all this amazing stuff going on, but you kind of get tired of the pounding electronica music, and last year, these sand storms that beat people to death."
Despite the dust, the heat and the wind, Bava keeps coming back to Black Rock City. Somewhere, while surviving the harsh elements and building a new community, Bava, a sculptor and a musician, says he learned something about himself in the desert, cliché as it may sound.
"I want instant gratification--if I can''t play guitar like Eric Clapton, then I don''t want to play at all. And at Burning Man, there''s a lot of really bad performance art. You realize it is all play, it''s all creative play, and it''s all good."