Burn After Listening: Experimenting with Art & Science on the Playa

Burning man is a festival in the desert where nearly 70,000 people congregate for a week - and for that week, it’s Nevada’s third largest city, known as Black Rock City, commonly called the Playa. There’s a street grid, city planning, emergency services, a radio station, mail, a DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles), you can even be christened with your own “Playa Name,” I’m Sloe Ninja. For the residents of Black Rock City, it’s about radical self-reliance, you need to bring all you need to survive for a week; you must keep track of the trash you generate - and take it back to the default world with you; lastly you cannot buy anything there other than ice and a few select non-alcoholic beverages. It’s a gifting economy. Camps bring gifts… from coconut water, to scotch (yes, please!), to bacon, to science lectures.

When I arrived I realized Burning Man was a choose your own adventure type of place. Just like anywhere, you’re in control of the path you take. Ya there’s hippies and it’s hot, sure there are plenty of naked people (and some may not be what you want to see naked), and at night - it’s spectacular, an acid lovers mecca, - there’s nothing in the world quite like this place. The adventure I chose was to find the science on the Playa and to explore the relationship between art and science. From science talks about the brain or how we can use healthy bacteria to fight infections, to musical tesla coils, to art cars shaped like a giant brain, to a full fledged observatory, Burning Man is chock full of not just art, but science as well. The real beauty of this place is seeing science and art working together to create something magnificent.

The amount of time and effort put in by the community at large is astonishing. People put in hundreds of hours on projects that they display for a week out of the year. It’s the the people like this that come to Burning Man to experiment with their ideas, like a musical tesla coil, or a brain jungle gym art car, or an observatory - they are what makes this place so unique and special - and really a testbed for the creation of amazing art and science - and a place where you can clearly see the connection between the two.

No city is perfect, and black rock city is no exception, but just like anywhere else, you’re in control of your journey there, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Special thanks to Coup de Foudre, Dr. BrainLove, and the Black Rock Observatory.


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