Colorfully clad desert dwellers traverse the sweltering terrain on bicycles adorned in bright costume fur and twinkling lights, their bodies covered in a uniform layer of off-white dust that blends with the chalky ground for as far as the eye can see. Scattered in the distance are various art pieces, some of them large and structurally sound enough to support the dozens of people who are climbing them.
The penetrating heat is overwhelming but as the sun slowly falls behind the distant mountains, the circular shaped city composed mostly of tents and RVs comes alive with thumping electronic music and illuminated, modified art vehicles. In a matter of days, there will be no trace that any of this ever existed.
This is Burning Man, the annual event devoted to art, music, self-expression and self-reliance. This year’s festival, which always falls the week before Labor Day, and is located in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, attracted an estimated 65,000 individuals from all over the globe, who made the trek to the former lake bed now known as The Playa.
Created by the Burning Man organization, Black Rock City LLC, the week-long experience encourages attendees to participate in a plethora of unique and enlightening activities that range anywhere from naked yoga meditation to thunderdome suspension battling. All-night music camps construct dance environments on the outskirts of town that attract party-goers from across the Playa.
In recent years, critics have challenged the Bohemian society, claiming that millionaire and tech leader presence on the Playa have begun to shift the event’s usual hippie-like nature. Tattered shade structures and rusty fire pits are gradually being overshadowed by luxury motorhomes and electric generators larger than most standard family cars. Solar panels charge Segway personal transporters. Numerous theme camps offer eccentric foods like sushi and smoothies with high-end cafe service.
However, Burning Man’s longstanding spirit of community continues to thrive. In fact, many of this year’s participants have challenged the naysayers’ criticism, contending that tech advancements have actually contributed to Burning Man’s success and growth over the years.
On Thursday, Aug. 28, TEDx hosted an independently organized TED event in Black Rock City to discuss various advancements in technology that are tied into the Burning Man spirit of community and gift giving.
Ben Davis, creator of The Bay Lights on the San Francisco-Yerba Buena Island extension of the Bay Bridge, discussed the removal of the current light installation that will begin in six months. He then revealed plans to reinstall a sturdier, longer-lasting version of the lights that will be unveiled in February 2016, while millions of eyes are trained on the Bay Area for the Superbowl.
He went on to announce the proposed installation of Light Pipe, a 2-mile extension of light that will be added to the newest extension of the Bay Bridge that connects Yerba Buena Island to the East Bay.
“This will be aesthetic equity for the East Bay, especially with state funding to baseline the cost,” said Davis, who found inspiration for his light projects from his experiences on the Playa in previous years. “In the gifting spirit of Burning Man , the idea is that San Francisco and the East Bay find a common light to allow the Bay Lights to represent the beauty in all of us.”