Documenting the Fugitive: Burning Man | Deep dive into the archives (2023)

Although it may seem counterintuitive for an event that asks participants to leave no trace in order to maintain an archive, the development of the collection grew out of Burning Man's core giving principle. People have contributed artwork, photos and more to an archive housed at the offices of the non-profit Burning Man Project in San Francisco.

Documenting the Fugitive: Burning Man | Deep dive into the archives (1)
Posters with annual passes, on one of the walls of the Burning Man library

TheBurning manthe gathering began with two men, Larry Harvey and Jerry James, holding a solstice bonfire at San Francisco's Baker Beach in 1986. In 1990 he moved to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada; 80,000 people now gather there in late August to camp, make art and build community in the short-lived Black Rock City, built solely for the event and then demolished.

For nine days every year, people live in this improvised city according to10 principles for Burning Man, which includes radical self-expression, radical inclusion and radical self-confidence. It is a place without traditional commerce; people can gift things to each other, but money is not exchanged and reciprocity is not guaranteed. Participants create performances and art, explore large sculptures built for the event and much more.

On the seventh day, the townspeople gathered to literally burn the man—an effigy that had grown to more than 30 feet in recent years. When the event is over, everyone goes home, ideally leaving the place untouched, and Black Rock City ceases to exist until the following year.

Although it may seem counterintuitive for an event that asks participants to leave no trace in order to preserve an archive, the development of the collection grew out of the foundational principle of the donation event. People have contributed artwork, photos and more to an archive located at the offices of the non-profit Burning Man Project in San Francisco, California. And of course, the archive happened organically, as you would expect from Burning Man.

The idea of ​​an archive started with onei 1996The cablearticleabout the event, said Christine Kristen, known as "LadyBee," Art Collections Manager/Archivist for Burning Man Archives. "We quickly realized, 'OK, we've got to start sparing journalists,'" she recalled. Initially, the archive consisted of physical copies of all newspaper and magazine articles covering the event, housed in a huge filing cabinet. Now, as sole archivist and curator, LadyBee subscribes to Meltwater News, an online news monitoring service that sends all mentions of Burning Man by email, which she reviews every Monday. (This article will probably be recorded in the archive.) Around 2000, aarchive of material culturewas created that includes jewelry, postcards, patches and other items, as gift-giving is an important part of Burning Man culture.

Burning Man's current headquarters has six archives.Burning Man print productioncontains all materials printed over the years, e.gBurning Man buildingnewsletter (1991-99); thatBlack Rock Gazette, a daily newspaper printed on site from 1992 to 2005; and Tip Sheets, which provide participants with information about events in Black Rock City. Most of the print archive is physical, although some items have been digitized. Archive dedicated to both digital and print formphotographsdating back to the first Burning Man in 1986. The Burning Man Regional Archives documents more than 100 Burning Man events held worldwide in 36 US states and 32 countries. Library housesmore than 200 printed titles and scientific articleswith Burning Man content.


Despite the principle of "radical inclusion", Burning Man has been criticizedcultural appropriation of dress and rituals, and low levels of participation by people of color, especially those who are black—a lack of racial diversity is also reflected in the archives. According to2014 Black Rock Township CensusEighty-seven percent of burners identified as white, six percent as Hispanic, 6 percent as Asian, 2 percent as Native American, and 1.3 percent as black.

In the article toGuard, Black BurnerSteven W. Thrashertalked to other burners of color about why blacks might not participate; noted the general whiteness of the event, not to mention the prices that exclude many potential attendees — this year, tickets start at $575; The Ticket Aid program offers 5,000 tickets at $225 to those who qualify.

In 2020, Burning Man createdR.I.D.E.: Radical Inclusion, Diversity and Equalityinitiative which seeks to address and remedy the event's lack of diversity. According to the website, R.I.D.E.'s work includes "increasing access to BIPOC events by making changes to our themed camp, artist and mutant vehicle selection processes." LadyBee hopes that by actively working to make Burning Man more inclusive in practice as well as in slogan, the archives will receive more material related to the experiences of BIPOC Burners.


Documenting the Fugitive: Burning Man | Deep dive into the archives (2)
2020–21 Burning Man zakrpe

It's important to keep a permanent record of the event, LadyBee says, because with "any great cultural movement, people in the future ... want to know what it was, and they want to see videos and photos and articles and material culture." The archive serves as "a record of what has become a very important cultural phenomenon in America."

Notable items in the collection include a 1987 Burning Man poster—according to LadyBee, the first visual image of anything associated with Burning Man. LadyBee's favorite work is a photograph of a Mike Ross sculpture by Ales Prikryl, hanging in the archive's art-filled headquarters,Big Rig Jig, built at Burning Man in 2007. She described the work as two deconstructed oil tankers transformed into caterpillar-like creatures "as if to say. '[Screw] oil.'"

Material from the archives has been used for Burning Man exhibitions across the country. LadyBee is a co-authorSo Burning Man(2015) with Karen Christians and George Post and curated the exhibitionPlayaMade: Saw Burning Manaat the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston in 2017 and the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle in 2020. He also exhibited at the Nevada Museum of ArtCity of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Manu 2017-18.

In honor of Burning Man's role in American culture, the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington, DC, presents Burning Man and its materials in a 2018-19 exhibition.No Bystanders: The Art of Burning a Man. The exhibit later traveled to the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California in 2019 and 2020. LadyBee reported that Nora Atkinson, curator of the 2019 exhibit, plans to acquire some of the jewelry on display to become a permanent part of the collection at TOGETHER. new wing in 2024

Academic researchers have also used Burning Man archives to explore topics such as performance and ritual, organization, sociology, communication, social media, and consumer culture. UOn the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man(Seagull Books, 2010), Rachel Bowditch, assistant professor at Arizona State University's School of Theater and Film, calls the event "a contemporary galaxy of events, a rehearsal space for utopia and a secular pilgrimage."

Katherine K. Chen, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at the City College of New York, has written about event organization and sociology in several articles and a bookEnabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event(University of Chicago Press, 2009). The Internet archive also includescensus dataparticipants in Black Rock City, which researchers Kateri McRae, S. Megan Heller, Oliver P. John, and James J. Gross used for their article "Context-Dependent Emotion Regulation: Suppression and Reappraisal at the Burning Man Festival" inBasic and applied social psychologyu 2011.

Many photo collections and memoirs of Burning Man have also used materials from the archives; Roxane JessiOnce upon a time in the dust: Burning Man Around the World, published by the Burning Man Project, will be released on July 4.

LadyBee encourages people to donate to the archives andupload imagesdonated items. Physical materials can be sent to Burning Man Headquarters (660 Alabama Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA). The archive also receives personal items from people who have attended Burning Man over the years; check with LadyBee (Ladybee[at] which materials are eligible.

Academics and researchers interested in using the archive and other materials can send an emailacademics@burningman.orgor checkBurning Man Academic Websitefor mere information.

“We have a very creative and generous community,” noted LadyBee. "People like to be in archives. They want their stuff to be shared and seen."


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