Burning Man culture is not a single entity; it’s an amalgam of cultural movements and collectives that continue to evolve and incorporate new influences. The collectives in this spread were foundational to the evolution of Burning Man culture, contributing key elements to Burning Man’s source code that morph and echo to this day. Are these the only contributors? Heck no! We could never document them all.
“I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”~ FRIDA KAHLO
AVANT GARDE IRREVERENCE AND ANTI-CAPITALIST STREET THEATER
Early 20th century avant-garde movement known for its irreverent and absurd visual, literary and performance art.
1960s counterculture group in San Francisco known for anticapitalist street theater and decommodified “free stores.”
Free school that began at San Francisco State University in 1969. The Suicide Club began in 1977 as a Communiversity class.
Secret society active from 1977 to 1982 that challenged members to face fears through urban exploration and group pranks.
“A randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.” The Cacophony Society was known for complex public pranks and urban exploration. Members brought Burning Man to the Black Rock Desert in 1990.
Founded in 1985 by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant, The WELL is one of the oldest virtual communities; the first Burning Man website was on The WELL until 1995.
Nonprofit that defends digital privacy, free speech and innovation. The EFF was co-founded by John Perry Barlow, who was on the Black Rock Arts Foundation board (and wrote Grateful Dead lyrics).
SOUNDS LIKE CACOPHONY (ADJACENT GROUPS)
Political satire troupe that performs for free in parks. Started in 1959, San Francisco Mime Troupe continues to produce a yearly political musical comedy.
Order of queer and trans nuns devoted to community service. Active in San Francisco since 1979, they’ve had a vibrant presence in Black Rock City since the 1990s.
Involved with the LA and San Francisco Cacophony Societies, members of this punk circus were early members of BRC’s Department of Public Works.
Founded in 1978 by Mark Pauline, SRL is a performance art group that created socio-political satire using machines, robots and special effects devices.
Machine art performance collective known for somewhat dangerous kinetic works that integrate machines, fire and people. SEEMEN brought several pieces to Black Rock City.
A club of alter-bike mechanics, mariachi-punk musicians and clowns who build bikes and create interactive art.
European avant-garde artists, writers and poets inspired by Marxism and surrealism. Active 1957 to 1972, Situationists laid down a theoretical basis for culture-jamming.
An underground culture-jamming entity known for altering commercial billboards to display absurdist and anti-authoritarian messages.
Parody religion that elevates a pipe-smoking 1950s clip-art icon to the status of prophet and uses culture-jamming to parody traditional religion.
LARGE SCALE INTERACTIVE ART (IN THE DESERT AND ELSEWHERE)
20th century movement that merged dream and fantasy with the everyday world, resulting in whimsical and unexpected juxtapositions.
Avant-garde architecture and design practice best known for “Cadillac Ranch,” a half-buried row of cars in Amarillo, Texas.
Guerilla events in the Mojave Desert in the 1980s that featured Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten and Survival Research Laboratories, among others.
1980s art events in the Black Rock Desert that attracted the Cacophony Society: Croquet X Machina, a giant croquet match; and Ya Gotta Regatta, a wind sculpture regatta.
1990s art event in the Black Rock Desert involving some Cacophony Society and Burning Man instigators; Siteworks artists brought their work to Black Rock City.
“You can certainly compare Burning Man’s development to the growth of a lot of avant-garde or Bohemian movements. Those were, classically and historically, the centers for hatching new culture in the modern world.”
~ Larry Harvey, “Out of Nothing, Everything”