During the last week of August, 70,000 people gather in a desert in Nevada. The Black Rock Desert, to be exact, is the site of the annual festival Burning Man, where strangers coexist to escape reality. What started out as a small bonfire gathering on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in the mid-’80s is now one of the most famous festivals in the world. Celebrities and tech execs flood annually to the playa, and numerous Burning Man pop culture references exist in everything from The Simpsons to The Office. Now, in 2018, Burning Man is something of a household name. But for “Burners,” the festival is much more than that—it’s a lifestyle.
Every year, the theme may change, but the ethos stays the same. Burning Man is more than a festival; it’s an ecosystem that feeds off the energy of everyone congregated in a temporary constructed city, living by the 10 Main Principles: radical inclusion, self-reliance, self-expression, community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace. Every year, the week ends with the ceremonial burning of The Man.
Whether you’re curious about making the trek to the desert or just want to know about what’s going on in the playa this year, here’s everything you need to know about Burning Man 2018.
Burning Man always takes place during the last week of August in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The first few days of the festival are focused on building the self-sustained ecosystem known as Black Rock City. By September 4th, after The Man has burned and the festival-goers have retreated to wherever they call home, the desert will look just as it did before Burning Man began—one of the festival’s 10 Main Principles is leaving no trace.
During the summer solstice of 1986, Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few other friends met at San Francisco’s Baker Beach for a bonfire ritual where they burned an eight-foot-tall (2.4 meters) wooden man and a smaller wooden dog. Harvey has described torching the effigies as a spontaneous act of radical self-expression (now one of Burning Man’s 10 Main Principles). In its 32nd year, The Man stands 75 feet (22.8 meters) tall, and tens of thousands of spectators watch the ceremonial burn.
Burning Man founder Larry Harvey passed away on April 28, 2018, after suffering a massive stroke. He was 70 years old. On June 21st—the 32nd anniversary of the first bonfire ritual—Burners celebrated Harvey’s life both in San Francisco and around the world. This year’s festival will be the first since his passing, and there’s bound to be tributes paid throughout the week.
Every year, the festival’s theme changes. This year, it’s I, Robot—influenced by the collection of sci-fi short stories written by Isaac Asimov in 1950.
“This year’s art theme will focus on the many forms of artificial intelligence that permeate our lives; from the humble algorithm and its subroutines that sift us, sort us and surveil us, to automated forms of labor that supplant us,” the Burning Man website reads. “Are we entering a Golden Age that frees us all from mindless labor? Everything, it seems, depends on HMI, the Human-Machine Interface. In a world increasingly controlled by smart machines, who will be master and who will be the slave?”
Participants are urged to create art that fits this theme, but as always, art installations of any kind are welcome at Burning Man.
A large focal point of Burning Man is its art installations, and this year will not disappoint. There are hundreds of pieces making their way to the desert, separated into three categories: Honoraria, Black Rock City Art, and Man Pavilion. With this year’s theme, expect to see lots of robots and other sci-fi-influenced sculptures, as well as the annual Burning Man temple.
Though the festival has a focused theme every year, participants’ camps don’t necessarily have to follow that theme. With 70,000 Burners making the journey to the desert, hundreds of camps will set up throughout Black Rock City, ranging from cat-themed encampments to orgy domes, and everything in between.
As the 10 Main Principles indicate, Burning Man is all about inclusion, participation, and preservation. The only way the festival has been able to grow and continue to flourish for more than three decades is because it’s a community, more than anything. Each person who makes the journey to the desert does their part to help maintain that delicate ecosystem and ensure that Mother Nature is happy and clean upon their departure.