www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Chasing the Dragon © Philip Volkers

Chasing the Dragon © Philip Volkers

Burning Man in St Leonards

Sometimes you think you know things and then realise that you simply don’t. Naively, HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths thought a festival was a festival was a festival – a gathering, mainly music-orientated with some side events. But bumping up against the Burning Man Festival, it explains on its website: ‘Burning Man is not a festival. Burning Man is a community.’ So that put her straight… it is more a spiritual arts festival of self-expression with music provided by the participants.

The Burning Man has come to the Lucy Bell Gallery, St Leonards in the form of a photography exhibition with an accompanying book: Philip Volkers Dust to Dawn: a Photographic Adventure at Burning Man.

Halcyon Daze © Philip Volkers

Halcyon Daze © Philip Volkers

He has been attending Burning Man, an annual Festival in the Black Rock desert in Nevada since 2006 so it is an amazing, atomospheric document of a very individual event. It is in the middle of the desert where each year a city emerges, thousands of people gather (last count about 75,000) and then totally disappear –  leaving no evidence that anyone was ever there. Other tenets of the event are: about bonding; friendships; with a strong element of self expression. The effect being a tangible, spirituality that settles over the area.

You turn up at Burning Man with all you need – food, clothes, water and tents or building material to build your dwelling with the intention of being creative and contributing to the community . When Philip Volkers arrived at his first Burning Man he said “Oh my god, I’m home.” He had found his tribe.

You take no money, or keys – those things that tie you to your day-to-day world. There is no sponsorship or advertising. It is an anti-consumerism community that values self expression, creative cooperation, gifting and collaboration. The creativity is shown in all sorts of anarchic ways: dwellings, vehicles, art and definitely clothes. A cornucopia of wild and wonderful styles. Volkers describes it as “Alice in Wonderland, meets Lord of the Flies, meets Mad Max”.

The city is built in a semi circle, grid system over several acres looking towards a distant Man and a Temple.

In 2018 Galaxia Temple was built by architect Arthur Mamou-Manil. Volkers explains, “Visiting one of the previous temples, he had cried, something a building had never effected him in that way before. And this year Mamou-Manil had the chance to create his own affecting temple.” People visit and react in their own individual ways – they pray, leave messages to dead friends or family, get married, install the ashes of loved one’s.

The effigy of the Man is burned on Saturday night to huge celebrations. Sunday night the Temple is burned.

To silence.

And then on Monday they break the camp/city and leave no trace of themselves behind.

Going there for over ten years, it has been part of Volkers life. He has had the best of times there, now goes with his wife, made lasting friendships.

The Embrace © Philip Volkers

The Embrace © Philip Volkers

Burning Man is about self expression and self reliance. It encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources. Volkers feels the whole event can change people, can give them a different outlook. He explains, “because of the extreme conditions it somehow pushes you to look into yourself. To be who you really are.”

Inevitably, the event has changed over the years, gentrification has taken place. Some old ‘burners’ say there is now a corporate element to it all. Volkers does not comment on that but he does regret the ubiquity of the smart phone. He thinks the point of the Festival is to be there, experience it, retain those images on your retina and in your memory – instead of the perpetual image-taking and selfies. Next year, if he goes, he pledges to go cold turkey, without his cameras, to feel Burning Man as a punter.

However, Volkers has the happiest memories: clear skies, the desert, the full moon over the Temple. Of driving around the site in a dust storm, in one of the art cars with Madonna’s Like a Prayer blasting out, the clouds parting, the white out cleared, revealing another perfect day in the desert with friends.

Surprising, Burning Man has got a philanthropic dimension, tentacles have  stretched to the outside world. All that knowledge and creativity is being shared to other areas of life/communities, like disaster areas where speed is of the essence, or where creativity would improve people’s lives. It’s heart-warming that the original hippie-style, fun and freedom tenets of the festival can, and apparently are, being stretched to help others.

Philip Volkers Dust to Dawn a Photographic Adventure at Burning Man at Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, TN38 0EJ until 20 October, 2018. Open Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. There is also a book Dust to Dawn, available. 

 

Posted 13:31 Wednesday, Sep 26, 2018 In: Photography

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