Just on time, as Burning Man kicks off its ticket madness today, here is a recollection of events at our theme camp Gymnasium and beyond in 2017. If you would like to get engaged with our camp this year in any way, please e-mail us or leave a comment to this post! You can read more about the concept of our camp on its webpage, but overall our theme refers to the Ancient Greek institution for athletics, philosophy and socializing.
Traditionally, our first even was a running race – from the esplanade to our camp at 7:30 Plaza.
Being on the first day of the festival, the race was dominated by our own campmates,
and the winner turned out to be yours truly 😉
This time, we no longer used laurel wreaths ordered online – instead, we had them hand-made by two campmates from the Netherlands. They added a bit of a Dutch twist to it though: judging by the shape of the leaves, it was more of a ‘weed’ wreath 😀
Our Gymnasium also featured a massage station,
especially popular after sport events, and some lucky winners even got a four-hand massage.
Even though our theme camp was first conceived with an idea to revive the ideals of the Ancient Olympics, we keep on adding more elements to have a more complete ‘gymnasium’ in its original meaning – with philosophical discussions and arts as well.
2017 saw our first installment of a pottery workshop, which was a lot of fun, for campmates and guests alike!
It all started with a block of clay.
and after rolling a few pieces, we moved on to creating vessels using the coiling method.
Of course, our inspiration came from Ancient Greek vases,
more specifically, of black-figure type
(but not without some Burning Man twist to it).
Though only the most determined students remained until that stage of the workshop 😀
In 2016, we pumped up the acrobatics compartment of our Gymnasium by adding a gymnastics wheel, aptly fitting to that year’s theme of Burning Man,
but in 2017 one of the campmates brought and entire aerial rig!
Needless to say, it was a very popular attraction among our guests
and campmates alike.
Some poses seemed easier
than the others,
but all of them evoked flying!
The gymnastics wheel was busy too,
but not everyone needed equipment for their acrobatic tricks!
Surely, there was also plenty of fun to be had and art to be seen outside our camp,
and we had a couple of group outings.
A great aspect of art at Burning Man is that it is interactive,
and 2017 was particularly good in this respect.
Many art pieces were calling to incorporate you, to become their part!
The Tree of Ténéré was certainly one of the most popular installations day and night (you can see it by night in the video above).
This cylinder of LED stripes seemed like a pretty simple construction,
but once you got inside and someone spun it, it would turn into an amazing spectacle of color!
Inside this red circular tunnel, one could feel like on a spaceship mission.
And Incendia was our favorite sound camp to dance [naked] at night –
their roof was on fire, literally! 2017 was a hot year at Burning Man, but the nights were still quite chilly, so that fire felt nice.
It was hypnotizing to observe the fire from below, but if that wasn’t enough,
you could use special viewing glasses that multiplied the visual input.
We first saw this camp at FreeForm Festival in 2016, but at Burning Man their installation was much bigger. And thanks to that fire, we could dance naked all night long – till sunrise!
I was gifted glasses that transformed any source of light into a heart ❤ shape, so when I tried them with the rising sun, it was amazing!
The DJ who played that night – Seth Schwarz – was really good, my major music discovery of 2017. Along with mixing records, he played an electric violin, and it wasn’t just a gimmick but an essential and natural part of his set.
… Well, and if you have heard about our camp before, by this time you must be wondering about our famous naked oil wrestling. Of course this was the main feature of Gymnasium again!
Unfortunately, there was a mistake in the Burning Man app and info center that showed our camp in a completely wrong location, which we found out only after a couple of days, but we still had a good attendance of our most popular event.
We had three wrestling events, with a winner in each, and one was particularly memorable. Despite seemingly having a disadvantage,
he knew what he was doing
and sent his opponents out of the ring with ease!
That golden laurel weed wreath was well deserved!
And here is a video with clips from some of the matches, enjoy!
Are you going this year? Let us know and join our events!
Burning Man festival this year saw the second installation of our theme camp Gymnasium, which refers to the Ancient Greek institution for athletics, philosophy and socializing. You can read more about the concept of our camp on its webpage, but here is our report with some imagery that should help you imagine what it was like (or evoke some good memories, if you participated in our events).
Even though our theme camp was first conceived with an idea to revive the ideals of the Ancient Olympics, this year besides the athletics we put more effort into another aspect of the concept of ‘gymnasium’ in its original meaning – philosophical discussions (with wine). For one session, each participant received a quote of a Greek philosopher and lead discussion on its subject, which let us cover all kinds of topics. We also had a session when we talked about our personal attitudes towards nudity as well as our views on the possible role for naturism in the [default] society. The common theme was the feeling of liberation and bonding with others that brings the simple act of social nudity – and the photos here seem to confirm that.
An entirely new idea for this year was the gymnastics wheel (aka German wheel). Several month before the festival, I stumbled upon a photo with German wheel gymnasts from 1920’s and immediately got an impression that it would be a big hit at Burning Man. As you can see below, it provided a perfect link between the theme of our camp and the theme of Burning Man this year – ‘Da Vinci’s Workshop’.
We of course refer to the drawing of the Vitruvian Man by Da Vinci, and expectedly the Man himself took the iconic shape this year.
We were so happy to see that our idea was immediately understood by other burners – as soon as we rolled the wheel onto the playa, we had people queuing to take a picture,
and it seemed like it was self-explanatory that one was supposed to get naked for a photo à la Vitruvian Man 🙂
This was a big success in terms of bringing all kinds of people to try a new fun activity in the buff and in public,
and they were creative with poses.
But we didn’t forget the primary function of the gymnastics wheel,
and the flat playa surface was perfect to roll it.
We had to be careful to avoid possible injuries, as even one rotation proved to be a lot more difficult than we had anticipated. The gymnastics wheel turned out to be a great magnet for people back at the camp too – dozens of passers by stopped to try it every day; only a few managed though, even with helpers.
In their defense, I have to note that in the first days we only knew one, difficult way of holding yourself in the wheel during rotation: pushing up with your arms with all power while maintaining them as straight as possible. That was until someone came by and said that there had been a workshop on gymnastics wheel at Hellfire Society camp. (On what subject isn’t there a workshop at Burning Man?) So we went there, and the camp lead gladly arranged another workshop specially for us. It turned out that while our technique wasn’t impossible, the typical and much better way to hold yourself during rotation on the wheel was by hooking your feet.
After we learned that, the success rate among all the newbies to gymnastics wheel skyrocketed, and we were on the roll 🙂
Our first athletic event in the week was the running race.
This year we only had a short race on our street,
but it was a nice way to get attention from our neighbors and passers by.
It was all for fun, but it was a competition nevertheless.
Our Gymnasium also offered daily fitness exercises, with Matt leading push-up sessions every morning.
This year we had a certified yoga/acro-yoga instructor among our campmates,
so we had a few sessions at the camp
and also played a bit on the playa.
We probably should have spent a little more time posing with those amazing and massive art pieces,
but unfortunately some of them were burned much earlier in the week than we had anticipated (e.g. the pyramids on Friday morning).
Some installations were quite interactive and served as great frames for photos, literally.
Other installations referred to familiar views of the “default world”, like NYC skyline at the Kostume Kult, making the whole experience only more surreal…
(I wish we could sip our morning coffee in Manhattan just like that!)
Unfortunately I enjoyed my nights out in an immediate manner, and recorded neither my own naked dancing on the ashes of the burned Man and at the White Ocean nor the performance by a couple of naked fire-spinners at the Mayan Warrior art car, which was probably my favorite mutant vehicle in terms of the music (and certainly in terms of the lights). But here is a short clip from that night I found online, where you can see those two naked fire-spinners, but resting in the crowd at the time – perhaps a video with their performance will appear at some point too, but I’m just happy to have witnessed it.
As you can see, our camp was primarily focused on providing interactive events rather than art and installations,
but we arranged some decorations to highlight our reference to Ancient Greece.
This year we added a statue depicting Hercules wrestling Diomedes for his 8th labor. By the way, I haven’t been able to find an explanation behind that ‘penile grip’ – so if there are specialists in history of art among the readers here, please enlighten us in the comments 😎
Here comes our report from Burning Man festival this year, when 18 of us gathered together to create a camp themed around Gymnasium as an Ancient Greek institution for athletics, philosophy and socializing. You can read more about the concept of our camp on its own webpage; we launched this project a few months earlier at FreeForm Festival, and here you can see how it came about at the festival of festivals, Burning Man. (But keep in mind that this is by no means an attempt to write about the festival as a whole, there simply “too much” fun stuff happens to be able to grasp more than just a fraction of it.)
After months of preparation, the last days before the festivals were very exciting but also a bit scary – with this endeavor being our first experience as such a theme camp, something was likely to go wrong! Indeed, our early arrival/construction crew had a flat tire at the start of the trip in San Francisco, and as we collected all the stuff that we planned to carry to Black Rock City, we realized we had to buy an extra trailer. We resolved all the issues smoothly but experienced another setback due to the weather, as on Saturday before the opening of the festival, when we had planned to construct our camp, a severe dust storm took place; we could only enter Black Rock City in the evening and started construction early on Sunday.
Well, luckily we didn’t plan on building anything complicated, so we raised most of our shade structures before the rest of our campmates arrived. (Then later on in the afternoon a strong gust almost blew off a part of our shade structure, bending some of the carrying metal parts and tearing apart one of the tarps, but we were able to fix it; although it doesn’t say so in the instructions, it is apparently important to fix the structure with additional ropes and rebar.)
The final touch was putting up the banner of our camp.
Our location was great – at 7:30 Portal and A, we were at a busy intersection, but also with easy access to the Esplanade and an open view all the way to the man.
And that view proved to be nothing short of amazing on the first night, with the supermoon rising next to the Man statue.
Another nature’s wonder was a mini-tornado coming to us from the playa –
it was not any dangerous though, as you can see in the video below.
Well, this video shows a few other things too, but there’s still a lot more to the story (and two more videos) – so keep on reading. A couple more words about the camp:
We had a simple bike rack available for the visitors (note the horse head masks used for its decoration, I’ll mention them later).
For decoration, we used an olive tree (artificial – live plants are prohibited at Burning Man), columns adorned with ivy, and a small statue of Poseidon (without a trident, to make him look more like a generic Ancient Greek athlete…) – next time, we plan to team up with a 3D-printing camp to make a bigger statue.
The schedule of our activities was put daily on the blackboard.
Our first event included two running races – a 100-yard sprint
and a longer, approx. 1.8 km run from our camp to the Man and back.
The sprint was won by Chris, and the long run by yours truly 🙂
Admittedly, there weren’t that many participants, but it was still very early in the week, while many camps were still wrapping up their construction. We had other races planned, e.g. piggy-back and barrel-run, as we did at FreeForm, but we had to postpone and eventually cancel those due to dust storms and because the horse head masks which were meant for the final run of that race were stolen borrowed without asking from our bike rack. We also had to cancel our only night event – ‘discus (LED-lit frisbee) throw in the dark… and in the buff’ – because the nights were bitterly cold in the second half of the week! (Though as you can briefly see in the video above, we still managed to dance naked at some night parties getting warm by the fire from the art cars.)
Our ‘Naked Philosophy’ session was more of a personal introduction among our camp mates, as we did not know each of us in person; and then we discussed our experience in naturism and what it meant for us.
Our most successful event by far was the naked oil wrestling, and here is our second video dedicated to it. Unfortunately some of the video is quite blurry, because oil got on my camera, and most of the footage was not usable at all Oh well, at least it was a GoPro in a sealed casing, so the camera was totally fine after washing.
Our naked oil wrestling drew a lot of attention, even people in fancy mutant vehicles stopped to watch the match.
As at FreeForm Festival, we used sumo rules, which are the easiest to follow from all wrestling types, and added some Greekness to it with olive oil (and nudity), as a reference to the authentic Olympics.
Each match started with ceremonial wide steps, and then opponents tried to push each other
until one of them stepped outside the ring;
and the soles of the feet were the only part of the body allowed to touch the ground – so pushing the opponent down could also work.
But perhaps the most effective approach is simply carrying the opponent outside the ring, preferably keeping him upside down! 😀
For each pair, the victory was decided in 2 wins out of 3 matches.
We didn’t structure the whole event as an ultimate competition though – anyone could challenge whoever they wanted, and more than once. But we had two wrestlers that stood out
and were well matched –
so their sparring was very intense and captivating.
But even the fiercest match ended with a hug.
And both of them received well-deserved golden laurel wreaths!
(By the way, I lost their contact, so if anyone knows them – please put us in touch!)
After the final match, all wrestlers were welcome to go to an amazing massive group shower ‘perfoamance’ at the camp called ‘Something Freaky Foams This Way’. Next day, we arranged the same competition at their camp – so that people queuing up to get foamed would try their strength in wrestling and entertain the public, and skip the line. We got in touch with one of the organizers of this camp at FreeForm Festival, and this was the best collaboration we could ask for – getting clean and relaxed felt particularly amazing after days in the dust and then even more so after wrestling. Decent showers are obviously quite sought-after at Burning Man, but this camp brings the whole experience to the next level by making it a massive group (40 people at a time) and entertaining activity (with countdown and music, water and foam sprayed under high pressure).
Here are some more photos from the wrestling matches at our camp and ‘Something Freaky Foams This Way’, if the ones above and the video aren’t enough.
Besides planned events, we had a few spontaneous activities, e.g. dance practices by Antony and damoN.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any footage of our fun session of a naked Greek dance with music from ‘Zorba the Greek’. It was lead by our new friend from another camp, and he rightfully suggested we would like the idea of performing this dance naked, which he said was his fantasy from a while ago, when he learned it at a Greek restaurant.
And if you follow this blog, you shouldn’t be surprised seeing some naked capoeira here 🙂
And with Tam around, acro-yoga was bound to happen sooner or later –
to our own and guests’ entertainment.
Then we toured a bit around the playa and did more acro-posing with some of Burning Man’s most interesting art constructions in the background.
This structure proved to combine very well with acro-yoga,
as its multiple lines were quite easy to align with the body parts of the posers.
From afar, it looked as if the giant metal ball was resting on Antony supported by Tam’s legs…
And one of the Mars Molecules seemed to be designed perfectly for acro-yoga, not just as a background, but as a base too.
Here is a composition with three men again.
And now, three men intertwined into one ‘laughing dragon’ –
laughing and causing laughter in viewers alike.
There were a few other camps that offered activities in the buff. Besides washing your body from all the dust, sweat and, in our case, also oil at the ‘perfoamance’ camp, cleaning the nose from accumulating dust seemed like a good idea too… and of course there was a camp for that – Neti’s (naked) Nose Spa – and naked too! I really liked how I felt afterwards, so when I got home I immediately ordered a neti pot. Some events were missed due to dust storms or cold nights (e.g. black light naked twister), others I simply forgot about (e.g. naked skateboarding session).
The camp across the street from us, Decadent Oasis, provided the best light show at night, with their technicolor ever-changing palm trees and great music. We were invited to do a striptease for their bachelorette party, though we first had to find some clothes to put on 😀 They also had a slackline,
and we were treated with a show of really good slackline walker who was naked and walked it all way through.
which featured plenty of nudity in its decoration among other elements.
Another view of the R-Evolution statue.
Riding on the bike in the heat of the day felt pretty nice thanks to the light wind (unless it turned into a dust storm!)
But the best conditions seemed to be around sunset time – the sun wasn’t scorching but it was still very warm before the onset of the cold night, and the air was still – that’s when we liked strolling around in our altogethers. But the photo below shows how you can be well protected against the elements while being naked!
And for comparison, this is how the same place looked like one day after the end of the festival…
Sad that everything has to come to an end, but on the other hand Burning Man celebrates immediacy, so realization of the temporary nature of… everything is part of the festival.
We made sure to leave no trace behind us and were ready to go home for the next adventure. Gymnasium proved to be a great experience for its organizers and visitors alike (hopefully all of them, let me know if not) and will hopefully develop only more in years to come!
And here is our third, bonus video with damoN performing on the playa. This was shot while the festival was still rocking, just outside Black Rock City. In case you thought it was difficult to escape from the crowds at this massive festival, it is actually easy to find a place where you can be alone when you would like to reconnect with your ‘inner self’; and the vast open landscape of the desert will only help with that. But it’s good to know that you’re next to the city full of your friends or yet-to-become friends.
Finally, I am getting to write about one of the brightest events of the last year and my whole life so far – Burning Man, a festival that I had wanted to attend for years! And it is just on time before the tickets for 2013 go on sale already next Wednesday, for which you need to pre-register by this coming Sunday, 12:00 Pacific Time!
Of course, given this blog’s theme, I’ll focus on the naked aspect of the [Burning] Man, which is just a small portion of what I have experienced there. Nudity is a commonplace in Black Rock City (geographic alias of Burning Man), but only a fraction of people opt for it. This gives you a realistic feeling of what it could be like if full nudity in public was legalised in Western society and some people would start make use of this freedom.
By the way, it is thanks to this blog that I found a wonderful companion, Andre, to join me at the festival, as I had to sell a ticket originally planned for another friend who had to cancel. We planned all logistics together, and it worked out just fine, and we became good friends. The whole planning thing seemed quite complicated at first, as we had to organise a self-reliable camp out in the desert in Nevada with unpredictable weather AND visit and see as many interesting things as possible during the festival. The official website and mailing list contains all necessary information, but I’m going to give just a few words of advice re logistics (of course, this is just from our personal experience, and may be totally different for you).
1) There are now buses from some of the major cities in the area, but the price doesn’t seem to be competitive with car rental as long as you are more than one person.
2) Even a small tent can be totally fine as long as you have a good shading structure. You are not going to sleep much and spend time ‘indoors’. But it’s essential to have protection from dusty winds (sometimes) and blazing sun around noon (every day).
3) What the official booklet advised re water (up to 4 gallons per day per person) was absolutely over the top for us. I understand that they want you to stay on the safe side, but we took only half of the recommended amount and then had to give out at least a third of water.
4) Don’t bring booze, unless you want a very specific type or your camp theme is some sort of bar. There is plenty of alcohol everywhere, and don’t forget, everything is free at Burning Man once you get there!
5) Vinegar turned out to be really useful to clean skin, especially feet, from alkaline playa dust. I sometimes poured it in my ‘barefoot’ Bikram shoes; skin moisturisers are great too. On the other hand, I didn’t feel it was necessary to have more sun protection than, say, on a sunny beach day, as some sources claimed and urged to bring sunscreens of SPF100 etc. But then again, I was already tanned by the end of the summer, and also I suspect that dust might actually help against the sun. I used SPF15 or 30 on my shoulders and never got burnt.
6) Melons! They actually did well even in that heat for several days and we wished we brought more than 3.
7) Last but not least, it was a great decision to join a pretty big theme camp, Playa Bike Transportation in our case. They gave us a lot of advice and provided the kitchen, solar camp shower, and most importantly the shading structure.
So, construction of the shading structure was the first thing we took care of when we found our camp. This way we also got to know several camp-mates.
It wasn’t too complicated, and I even found a minute to pose as the Vitruvian Man of Leonardo da Vinci 🙂
The only difficult part was hammering rebar into the hard playa ground. But I had no idea that it would be much more difficult to get it out afterwards! (That’s when we used some of our extra water, as it was easier to pull out rebar from wet ground.)
Playa Bike Transportation camp turned out to be an excellent choice for me in many respects. Burning Man is built on the idea of everyone contributing something to ‘the community’ – “no spectators, only participants” is the motto. Being a part of a bike camp, it was easy to find a way to help people – by repairing their bicycles.
Black Rock City is quite a big town without public transportation and cars (unless they are ‘mutated’), so most people rely on bicycles to go long distances. But with all that dust, bikes break easily (it makes sense to have a playa-dedicated bike if you are a regular, or rent one from a camp like ours). So, our camp was always busy with people lining up for self-service or help from our professional mechanics or amateurs like me.
While on duty, we got approached all the time, but the good thing was that it allowed us to get to know a lot of people!
It is worth noting, that Playa Bike Transportation (this year, Playa Bike Repair) is not a nudist camp per se. I knew there were camps that were more related to nudity, but my idea was to try to live as if birthday suit was as ‘normal’ as any other outfit and just do regular stuff in the buff… like repairing bikes. I did not want to stay in any kind of nudist colony, and I think this was the best thing I could do to show that there is nothing wrong with nakedness. Before joining the camp, I discussed the nakedness issue with the leader and he seemed to be convinced, although Andre and I were going to be its first naked members (pun not intended). It worked out just great, nobody seemed to have issues with that and a couple of our campmates got naked too on various occasions.
Besides Playa Bike Transportation, Andre (mostly) and I volunteered at the neighbouring Post Office camp. Yes, Black Rock City may be a short-living settlement but it’s got its own functional Post Office with a proper stamp! I tried my best to be the least friendly possible mocking the stereotype of a USPS worker, but Andre was much better at it and soon became known as an ‘angry postman’.
Again, we surprised our customers by our attire, but everyone seemed to love it!
Our coworkers were cool about it too.
Thus, I think our biggest contribution to the Burning Man festival was spreading the idea that nakedness is just fine and there is nothing shocking about it by doing regular jobs in the buff and interacting with large numbers of people every day. Burning Man is all about expanding your views and comfort zone, and hopefully we’ve triggered this at least in some of our “customers” and campmates.
Besides acquiring new friends, I also knew some old buddies were coming as well. One of them was Miguel, a devoted naturist traveller.
When I ventured out to search of Miguel’s camp, I saw El Pulpo Mecanico, one of the hundreds of art cars, or mutant vehicles on the playa.
And I think it remained to be my favourite till the end. It looked fantastic in daylight and at night too, with all its moving tentacles emitting fire.
Some mutant vehicles were huge and impressed with their design and mere size.
There were also a lot of spectacular structures and constructions, big and small, that made the landscape absolutely surreal.
This pirate ship sinking in sand was definitely one of the highlights.
Some structures were interactive, like these phone booths.
By the way, as you can see on this photo, there was a night when it was warm enough to walk around naked. When we played with my LED-lit frisbee, it was even too hot. But most of the nights were quite chilly, so we had to wear something. Andre and I had a minimalist ‘caveman’ outfit made of fake sheep fur rugs (you can see me on the left of the night el Pulpo Mecanico picture).
The main structure was of course the Man himself, seen from all over the city thanks to its geometrical plan (and provided clear weather, usually in early mornings) – on this photo from 9 o’clock plaza, where our camp was located,
or from Center Camp, here.
At night, it is lit up, as almost everything (and everybody) else.
The Man structure was also a gathering point for some events like Black Rock City’s own issue of the World Naked Bike Ride, aka World Naked Pub Crawl. With bikes being such a crucial part of life during the festival, and its idea to promote self-reliance and sustainability, WNBR seems to fit perfectly into the concept of Burning Man; and with those phallic structures around the Man, which I guess had to do with 2012’s theme, Fertility, the naked aspect of the ride seemed only more appropriate.
Before the ride, naked people took over the Man,
filling the whole structure
and climbing everywhere possible.
Nice view from the Man 😉
Most of the participants were on regular bikes, but it wouldn’t be Burning Man without some amusing riders, who decorated their naked bodies,
Party Naked Tiki Bar, is a probably the most known naked hang out place at the playa, and it was a part of the World Naked Pub Crawl too, of course.
Besides those, I would also like to mention Scarbutts Cafe, where we got our late morning coffee
for a couple of good spanks 😀
Center Camp is a great hang out spot too, and it wasn’t left without some naked activities either.
This guy was really good at playing with the sock ball.
And I was really happy that my Burning Man didn’t go without some capoeira games.
There was a martial arts theme camp, Black Rock Kwoon and Dojo, with classes on different martial arts including capoeira, but there were daily games (rodas) at the Center Camp too.
And I was even happier when one more naked guy joined the game, as well as a topless girl (not on the photos, though).
For a moment, the Center Camp turned into an Ancient Greek gymnasium 🙂
Too bad it was the last evening already, but that was a definitive “yes” – Black Rock City rocks!!!
Those were sad and happy two last nights when major structures were burnt, but that is also a part of beauty of Burning Man, highlighting the idea that one must live in the moment.
And it ends, as everything, only to give a new beginning… Already on the way back, my new friends and I were discussing our ideas for the next year! (Though I am still to decide whether I am going in 2013.)
Oh wait, I’ve also compiled a video with some of the brightest moments at Burning Man. No video is capable to show what that festival of festivals really is, but hopefully it can give you some idea and inspiration.