Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 Burning Man & Bass Coast - Why Festivals? THIS IS WHY.

Oh haiiii, I'm back from Burning Man!!! Super rewarding year for me. I decided to leap out of my comfort zone and head down early to meet a team of people I'd never met --- well, 2 of them I'd barely met, but everyone else was brand new -- to help build a sculpture for the outer ring of the Man. That means its kinda designed for the vast open part of the desert for exploration and play. Something told me it was the absolute right thing to do, and I'm so glad. Not only did I manage to meet some totally refreshing badass people who were entirely out of my circle, I also got to see some undercurrents of the festival from more of an inside perspective, which was super cool. Our team was working at The Generator, aka the giant building warehouse in Reno where most of the large-scale Burning Man projects are built before being taken out to playa. Technicians, sculptors, painters, mechanics, engineers and teams of random people from all over the world were assembling and loading out huge projects and different infrastructure for theme camps. Paying attention to the team dynamics and particularly in seeing the way the real-world prep goes into desert-world execution was of immeasurable value to me as both producer, DIY enthusiast and overall lover of magic.

Our interactive sculpture, called Eye Trip, featured a rotating eyeball chair.

As far as Burning Man goes: I love it, I believe in it. I think its an important cornerstone to ideas I'd love to see more out in the world. Mind-blowing artwork, conscious and kind people, fun and adventures all heavily laced with concentrated occurrences of synchronicity and high-vibing sass levels. I'm a huge fan of Burning Man's Ten Principles ALL the time, like, in daily life, particularly Radical Inclusion, Radical Self Reliance and Immediacy. I find the rituals and symbolism of the Man & Temple burns to be immeasurably cathartic. Plus, um, jumping on trampolines in tutus is like, super duper fun. Duh. Last but not least, I'm really into the fact that its all protected by the elemental lock and key of thick powdery dust and a definitive willingness to get there. You can't really be casual about the decision to go to Burning Man... you gotta brace yourself, work to make it happen, and prepare for extremes. Its a different world and the elements boil you down to the core. Your shit will come up. I love it. Its where things both real and fantasy come together. Here's an Emmy-award winning vid I found that features a lot of the art from 2011, the first year I went.

HOWEVS. I know there are also some pretty solid arguments in knockin' Burning Man, the first one being that the festival is a blatant, indulgent display of disposable income most people don't have the luxury of throwing away. Well, yah kinda. But um.. so is most of the Western World. Spent any time on Robson lately? How much does some American retail chain spend on rent every year there ya think so they can sell cheap crap? Hmm. Yah. Vegas anyone? THEY DON'T HAVE RECYCLING THERE. For serious. And can you guess how much food gets thrown away every day after even just ONE meal at ONE buffet in ONE all-inclusive resort??? My point is, that shit is happening constantly, everywhere, all day long. You might not be able to necessarily SEE it all in one glimpse all the time, but people spend a lot of money on things a LOT less “noble” than art projects with hippies ummkay. If anything I think that staring all that indulgence in the face is a much more effective way to become aware of our privilege and the reality / senselessness of capitalism's manipulation. In the meantime, if you want to knock mis-spending, how about spending all that complaining energy knockin' at our government's door. I bet the teachers would appreciate that right about now*BC is currently in the midst of a province-wide teacher's strike.

David Best's astounding 2014 Temple.
The other objection I hear often about Burning Man is that amazing, talented people spend too much of their time and effort on art projects for the Burn and not for their own community. WELL. While its true that many hours and many dollars go into desert-destined projects designed to explode my head into a thousand smithereens, its also true that the extent and nature in which I carry those moments into my personal every day life are relevant a way that I can barely verbalize. I literally see myself a a big sponge getting all juiced up there and then promptly coming back to squeeze out all the sass that made its way into my heart while my jaw was filling with dust. To me it represents an epicentre of what is possible, and that is so so SO empowering to me. I'm a witness to MANY off-shoots that propel Burner-type behaviour and projects in the real world – they absolutely do exist. The same is true of Bass Coast! It may only be once a year that we all gather together, but the idea is that those ripples cover the rest of the year, and hopefully reach out even further through all the people who are there to bear witness.

Speaking of Bass Coast - one of the ways this year's “Mutiny” theme resonated in me is around the rebellion against the limiting ideas we've been faced with about what's involved in making art a focus in your life. Like, for example, the myth that you either “make it” as an artist and achieve fortune and fame... but that if that doesn't happen, you can expect a life of poverty. Why so black and white? Maybe in a pre-internet world when the mass-media held locks and keys to the masses... but that's not the way the world is anymore. What about the idea that “fortune” comes in many forms? What about the idea that “fame” is relative? When you deconstruct “fame” or “celebrity” and remember that its only recently in history that its been highlighted and revered and played-up in and of itself ... in the meantime, being revered for your work is just as useful on a smaller scale as it is on a larger one. What about all the beautiful places in-between? I think having opportunities like Bass Coast makes it possible to share in real time with your community. Between the internet and small festivals or events, you no longer have you to appeal to the mass-capitalist gatekeepers to build a momentum. You can figure out how to make it a part of how you earn your living, or don't.. whatever works for your life. But for the love of sass, don't subscribe to the idea that it's all or nothing. That's just not true anymore.

I think that a lot of the struggles artists go through have less to do with being an artist and a lot more to do with simply being a human going through the process of figuring out how to manifest what they need or want in life. I think a LOT of people struggle with that, myself and a lot of my friends included, but, uh... so do a lot of people who DON'T self-identify as artists. I would argue that a regular creative practice might even actually alleviate the struggle of that somewhat as people who don't may in fact feel even less fulfilled because they don't have some form of creative practice as part of their lives. I believe that events like Bass Coast are the portal for showing people opportunities for self-expression that are plausible, accessible and relatable. You can interact and be inspired. You can witness the growth and shifts. Suddenly valuable pathways to opportunity and community OUTSIDE of the festival appear. As Andrea Graham & I once said after a New Year's party last year, the most important parts of an event are what happens afterwards. It what's created afterwards, the connections and the work and the ripples and hopefully bringing more of what the events bring out in people – joy.

One of the reasons Deck3 came together as an alliance for dance and performance enthusiasts is because we kept noticing all these people attracted to festival dance-floors who looked like they LOVED DANCING A LOT. Like, a lot a lot. It seemed that they had or could have a much deeper connection to dance than a casual party here and there could honour. Upon further investigation, we discovered that a lot of these people had passionately loved dance or gymnastic practice as children and teens, but then had just ... stopped. Why? A common experience was that at early adulthood, most were given a choice to go for a full-time career, or to leave their practice behind all together. Whyyyyy? Why does it have to be all or nothing? Why not incorporate that element back into your life, and not necessarily just on a dance floor at a party?

bass coast mutiny mainstage, designed by liz thompson
photo: metamorphograph
liz & i, post-burn
I've always loved the burlesque movement because it gives people the opportunity to explore performance and its associated arts without having to give up the rest of their LIVES, for eff's sake. I mean, as in all art forms, there are obviously people who want to take it to that level (with Sweet Soul, for example, we strive to set a high professional standard), but that doesn't mean there isn't room for everyone at some level, where-ever they are at. The movement is equally about inviting every day people into new world self-exploration and expression as it is about re-programming ideas around sexuality. I really love seeing the first school of thought there carry over. Seeing it in some of the new NON striptease dance-crews that are popping up like Subscura & the Light Twerkerz... I really value working with these groups who are self-organizing and spending their energy and focus on something they love. Their passion is very renewing and inspiring to those of us who have been working at it for awhile.

me as "captain hooker" - bass coast mutiny performance
photo: alliecat photography

final bow for sweet soul's show at bass coast w/ subscura, tawni krystal, leiah luz & rori satya
photo: glenn mclelland

When I was onstage at Bass Coast, I said that it was time for the entertainment industry to change, especially when it comes to women working together.... and I didn't mean working together in isolation or separately from men. What I meant is that its time to see more women working together IN GENERAL because it helps eliminate the following belief systems: 1) that opportunities for women in our industry are scarce; 2) that we have compete with each other in to get said opportunities because they are so scarce; and 3) that we all have to agree 100% of the time about everything in order to co-operate or collaborate creatively. NOPE. Those limitations exists only so long as we believe they do. The more we tap into the power of DIY, and the more we empower one another to be creative, create our own opportunities, cooperate, share our work and take advantage of our various strengths and differences, the less we play into those unhelpful belief systems, and the less they continue to exist.

To this effect: I will say personally I'm not a huge fan of projects that highlight the idea that opportunities for women in our industry are still scarce. While I do very much appreciate the intention behind some of those projects, I personally believe that at this point the most effective way to affect further change is to move forward as tho things are already the way we'd like them to be. To me, this is not denial, nor lack of consciousness. It's action, and progress. 

Regardless. Whether you identify as male, female or anything in between, I think what a good festival experience humbly suggests is: RECONNECT. Go back to a class. Buy some paint; make something. Clear our your living room once and awhile and dance to your favourite new mix. Make a costume. Try this, try that. Get a dance-crew together, or join one, if you want. Do it for the fest, and then incorporate it into your daily life. You don't HAVE to be a full-time dancer, painter, sculpter --- or a teenager -- to delve in deeper and enjoy the benefits of self-expression, physical exercise, community or just straight up fun this offers. You can make your relationship with it your own, and delve in just as deeply as is comfortable for you.  

Here's some fun dance related links.. but I guarantee that no matter what you're looking for, dance or not, there's a crew of rad peeps doing it. Or start something up dammit. 

UMMKAYYY. I'mma now go get ready to do what I do best, aka rap topless to some ish while the bestest stripteasers ever make jabs at the status quo and show off their wonderful backsides. Keefer Bar, tonight, 135 Keefer in Vancouver. It's a thing. 

Still glowy from the burn.. golden rays. :) 
All my love..