Burning Man 2023: Animalia

September 3, 2023

It’s drugs, sex and EDM. It’s the world’s biggest inside joke. It’s a playground for rich techies. It’s a place where if you think you can be absurd you have to prove it. It’s extreme camping. It’s a place of radical acceptance, creativity and self expression. It’s the easiest festival to get busted for drugs. It’s transformational. It’s Burning Man.

I first went to burning man in 2012 just after I arrived to California because my brother had an extra ticket if I helped with an art installation. Still shedding my Midwestern skin, but leaning into my curiosity I attended and… it was transformational. It was the first time in my life I felt a truly accepting and loving community where there was no expectation. It was a place of wonder and otherworldliness with amazing environmental-musical experiences like fire stages and raves in white out dust storms. It was a place of freedom where you can happen upon nearly any experience and a place of creativity where a mechanically oscillating octopus made out of junk metal shoots flames out of its tentacles and drives around.  

This year in 2023, the year of Animalia I returned to The Burn and boy did I forget how intense the experience is. Everything is going on all the time, you are always missing something and your boundaries are often pushed. You will experience the range of emotions. Sometimes daily. (also, see my planning guide)

This was a typical day for me at The Burn this year:

Incredibly intricate and dark and strange. The Tower of Babel was a reminder to me that the purpose of art is creation and experience. The whole thing was scheduled to burn on Friday night.

Some version of this happened from Sunday – Friday when we had to leave early because my friend was having a difficult time with the conditions and non-stop stimulation on their first burn. Although, given it rained Friday-Sunday and everyone got kinda stuck, maybe that was for the best. Although, I  cried hard having to leave this place where I feel so accepted. Where my emotional connection to music and the sense of freedom I get from dancing can be celebrated every day. Where I will almost always be greeted with a warm heart, a clever grin or a welcoming hug wherever I go. Where I get to experiment and try new things in a supportive community without judgement.

There is no way to truly explain Burning Man without experiencing it personally and every person’s Burn is their own experience by what they prioritize. However, I feel like telling stories of the experiences there goes a long way in describing how absurd, fun, free and otherworldly it is. In Black Rock City, these experiences are all normal:

My little funny art project for the year was a bunch of zoo-themed signs surrounding my “Feral” Fencepost warning participants not to stare, feed or approach. Someone pulling them all out was a low of the event for me.
The always intricate temple at night during a dust storm.
Dancing on an shipping container at Ego Trip
A fire show we just happened upon. The flaming swords and flaming wings were definitely a highlight.
I feel like we barely made it to center camp this day.
Seeing this felt like home.

…and there are sooooo many other things like climbing up two stories to play a large plinko game, making a brass token, seeing a hundred different ways to do an art car, dancing in a giant pyramid, playing pool with bowling balls, 100 ft wide dust devils, poloroid pictures of us in giant fake wigs, fire!, hundreds of people in a naked bicycle parade, learning some dance moves from Crazy Legs and more…

Getting trashy at The Trash Fence Simulator.

The theme for me this year was a celebration and defiance of life. After a several year, extremely intense mental health episode. This year has been very positive and stable. Burning Man for me was a reflection of embracing life and a welcome home to the acceptance and silliness of the community.

If you are new to The Burn, these are things I would tell you:

Well, here I am in the sad normal world where it’s too clean, too quiet, too normal. I didn’t go into Burning Man with expectations how I would feel about it and left the possibility that I didn’t relate to it like I used to. On the other side, I definitely miss it and feel like I was a little too careful this year. I planned the week carefully around being well rested and engaged volunteering at the Zendo Sanctuary a couple times and supporting my friend who was new to The Burn this year. I slept too much and didn’t quite have as many late-night or sunrise music experiences as I wanted. I felt more wreaked after four days at Lightning in a Bottle than my six days at Burning Man. However, Burning Man isn’t just a party. It’s a community event and much more emotionally engaging than a music festival. It’s going to be a long time until another experience like this and I’m mourning that and trying to figure out how to integrate this experience into my life as I hose off the dust from everything I brought out there. The Man burns in 364 days. 

This made noises as you pulled a rope or handle to rotate each band
I was on fire playing this game
The bikes we had such a good time making prior to them getting a little broken at The Man. People really appreciated them which felt good because it meant we were contributing to the festival.