TECHNOLOGY

The secret sci-fi origins of Burning Man


One has happened at night, sometime between 2000 and 2005. She swore this happened, but she couldn’t be more specific about the timing than that.

What Summer Burkes remembers is what she saw. She was deep in the desert with a few friends, wandering deeper – no life in sight. Then, at some point, at a dark and indefinite hour, she came to an abandoned camp. There were cargo tents. And the watchtower you climbed. At the top was a small platform. On it is a TV, bugs, and some dusty old communications equipment. Burkes listened to a transmission being played in a loop. I told her where she is: Planet Arrakis. He also told her why no one was there: the sandworm had eaten them all. “This made my hair stand on end,” Burkes says. I ran back downstairs, scanning the area, frantically, for signs of a worm.

The danger was not real in the strict sense of the word. Burkes was at Burning Man, the annual fire conference in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada. She now believes that the ghost camp, which sits in the comfort of her current home in Northern California, was an art installation designed to transport a General Xers maniac like her to Arrakis, Frank Herbert’s place. Dune. It’s a planet covered in a scorching desert sea, and its tidal sand ripples as giant subterranean worms fade. Walk across its surface so evenly, so lifelike, creatures will hear you, darting skyward, and hitting.

Is this what Burning Man is all about? Role-playing scenes from your favorite fantasy, with a spooky dash of Herbertian horror? You will be forgiven for not thinking. Over the years, the event – expected to return to the desert in 2022 after Covid’s two-year hiatus – has become a sort of counter cultural city on a hill, established on West Coast land for pharma and cherished life principles, a radical week-long social experiment powered by a gift economy. “A load of bullshit,” says John Low, one of its founders. He’s a little upset, because the bigger the Burning Man gets, the more ardent fans seem to twist his geeky beginnings. “In fact, popular culture has had a much greater impact,” he says. Although almost no one talks about it, the origin of Burning Man was crazy max. He was Lawrence of Arabia. And it was, very decisively and in a way not properly acknowledged, Dune.

But the burning man It started on the beach, she says. So good: In 1986, Larry Harvey and co. They set fire to an 8-foot wooden dummy on Baker Beach in San Francisco and made such an unforgettable joy that they had to do it again the following year. Then the following year, and the following year, until the party was so enthusiastic, the police shut it down. So Harvey summoned Law, whose sci-fi-obsessed crooks at the Cacophony Society had an idea: Let’s take her to the desert. The year 1990 marked the beginning of Burning Man. narrates lu fi spark, one of many documentaries, Burning Man.

Early in that first year “on playa” – Berner talks about BlackRock – and Dune Crew nerds suggested everyone build dummy suits, a reference to body-fitted bodysuits that recycle precious fluids and preserve the life of Arrakis’ desert-dwelling Freemen when they venture outside their safe mountain villages, known as sieches. “They ended up with some leveling that required less expensive labour, and they covered their entire bodies in playa mud,” Lu says. In subsequent years, attendees would bring their own dungeons to the proceedings. Someone announced on the ePlaya message board in 2007: “I want to put together a group interested in building a Fremen sietch group on playa.” Another stove, in 2005, called the decommissioned ambulance he rode in “The Worm.” For years, Burkes and her ex-boyfriend artist fancied building a giant worm exploding out of the sands of the playa.



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