Register Monday | August 8 | 2022

Out of this World

See how the Burning Man festival takes “radical self-expression” to new heights

The final days of summer are our last gasp before life is overtaken by frozen tears and fear of the outside world. Rituals range from hosting backyard barbecues, kissing a seasonal fling goodbye and, for those Montrealers among you, embracing one last opportunity to walk shirtless up the Main. For participants in the annual Burning Man festival, the week up to and including Labour Day is spent taking end-of-summer revelry to another planet altogether.

Each year, Black Rock City comes to life on a seven-square-mile expanse of dry Nevada desert north of Reno. At the epicentre of this temporary city is the Burning Man, a wooden effigy of a man which goes up in flames on the Saturday night. The ceremony originated in 1986 when Larry Harvey spontaneously ignited an eight-foot statue of a man on a San Francisco beach. Over the past twenty years, his personal bonfire has grown steadily. In 1990, the Burning Man outgrew the beach and was relocated to the dry Nevada lakebed known as “the playa.” Last year, over 35,000 so-called “burners” made the pilgrimage to the playa to form this temporary experimental community. The fleeting bacchanalian city features vibrant costumes, elaborate art installations and interactive theme camps. It is built on the fundamentals of "radical self-expression and radical self-reliance" and attracts a wide spectrum of nonconformists as well as anyone with an affinity for the obscure.

Like a real metropolis, Black Rock City sets up an extensive infrastructure of power lines, communication towers, public works and has a DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles). The city is laid out in a clock formation with concentric spokes. In honour of this year’s theme, “Psyche,” outlying boulevards were alphabetically named after regions of the mind, from Amnesia to Hysteria. From setting up to dismantling, participants abide closely to the mantra “Leave No Trace.” At the end of the week, volunteers labour to return the playa to its pristine condition so the party can be reborn the following year.

Montreal circus performer Aytahn Ross describes Burning Man as “Madmax mixed with Cirque du Soleil.” This past summer, he travelled to the playa to participate in Burning Man for the first time. His photographs capture the madness and beauty that transform this normally desolate expanse of Nevada desert into a spectacular mirage.

See Aytahn Ross in performance at the National Arts Centre of Canada on November 24 and 25, 2005. Click here for details.

For information on attendance and tickets for the 2006 Burning Man Festival, visit the Burning Man Project Website.