I first heard about the Burning Man festival when I was travelling in Asia back in 2012 and I’ve wanted to go ever since. But it’s such a huge logistical exercise that it takes a lot of time and planning to organise. You have to be prepared to survive the challenges that the Nevada Desert and Mother Nature will inevitably throw at you. When I returned to Britain in 2013, I decided to make Burning Man my next adventure and planned to go the following summer. But 2014 wasn’t to be and, in many ways that year was an annus horribilis. With hindsight it was probably a good thing that I didn’t make it to the Playa.
This year, though, I have finally managed to make Burning Man a reality. I toyed with the idea of joining a ‘theme camp‘, one of the many pre-built communities that make up the interactive core of Black Rock City where people can gather and play. Not all camps are open to Burner Virgins, but there are some, who, in exchange for working and being part of the camp provide meals, showers and in some cases accommodation. Being part of a camp makes life an awful lot easier if you’re coming from outside of the USA. It sounded like a lot of fun to me, but also a commitment to a set of people and a certain way of life for seven days.
Fortunately enough, I managed to amass some pretty amazing Playa playmates to accompany me on this journey and we’ve decided to go it alone and build our own camp. Our cast of characters is an intimate group of six; the players are as follows:
Bryce Groves, Co-Ordination Captain & Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol
I met Bryce (somewhat appropriately) next to a bonfire at a small film festival in Kent in 2013. Although we haven’t known each other for a very long time, our friendship has grown strong and deep in the past two years. Since we met, we both always wanted to do Burning Man and plotted to go together. Our first documented meeting on the subject took place in a pub in Southwark in February 2014 and mostly consisted of Bryce drawing pictures and coming up with strategies to try to persuade me to go with him that summer. I still have the notes in my notebook. It wasn’t meant to be a reality for either of us that year, but come December, we had made a decision: we would go.
Bryce is an Advertising Creative, a Film Maker and passionate and active member of the London branch of the New Zealand Green Party. I can’t think of anyone better to be a key part of the group – he is creative with a stylish eye, but he’s also practical and has a formidable knack for detail. He recently posted a link to cable ties on our Facebook Group wall with the declaration “God is in the detail!” He’s also a bloody caring person and I know he’s going to be looking out for everyone, monitoring for signs of dehydration and making sure that we’re all healthy and OK.
As an environmentalist, Bryce has been conscientiously following the Ten Principles of Burning Man, reminding us to offset our airmiles and choose ethical travel insurance. He’s thankfully going ahead of the rest of the Crew to perform a reccy and will be living in a vegan community for that time, as well as taking a vow of vegetarianism whilst in the USA. He has even diligently de-commodified his own camera. He won’t be shooting video on the Playa – that’s a busman’s holiday for a film maker – but I anticipate amazing stills from his old faithful Canon.
When I asked him what he is most looking forward to about Burning Man, Bryce said: “I’m looking forward to a total break from social media, email, and the tyranny of screens which demand to be looked at. Complete isolation from the grind of the real world, both physically and emotionally. In a nutshell, I’m looking forward to disconnecting. Disconnecting from my life. Disconnecting from myself. And hopefully discovering a better me.”
Wayne Chisnall, ‘Jammy Chips’, Chief Costumier & Mischief Maker
Back in the mid noughties, I used to be an ‘Art Curatrix’. I ran my own peripatetic art gallery called Pharos and hosted gatherings and happenings which brought together artists living in the East end of London to make work. Pharos was modelled on Warhol’s Collective and I was always on the look out for new and interesting people to recruit to our very own Studio 64.
One evening I noticed some brilliant sculptures at an art exhibition in Shoreditch town hall. They belonged to a sculptor called Wayne Chisnall. I introduced myself to him and invited him to join Pharos. Wayne was there from the beginning, and together we had some very good times. He produced two sculptures for my first exhibition, ‘Chiaroscuro’ and we went on the have some very silly fun in Venice, during the guerrilla art show ‘Travelling Light’ that I co-curated with Wilson Williams Gallery. I think you can read about my infamous ‘naked Russian boat rescue‘ on Wayne’s blog, where he also posts the latest news and information about his art.
Wayne has always struck me as someone with a relentless lust for life, not only in his endless dedication to his work, but to his commitment to having fun, getting up to mischief and getting involved in absolutely anything interesting that comes his way. Whether that’s being covered in fake blood filming zombie movies in old warehouses or stripping off to have an aerial photograph taken with a thousand other naked people, you can guarantee that Wayne is off doing it (although it might necessitate him keeping odd hours and living off a diet of pizzas!)
Perennially cheerful, he is rarely seen without his signature cheeky grin, which I’m sure will be helpful when times get testing on that Playa. As a sculptor working as an installation expert at the V&A, he is also immensely practical and his construction skills will no doubt come in handy as we build camp.
When asked what he is most looking forward to at the festival, Wayne said: “dressing however I feel like dressing and getting up to naughtiness!”
Wayne is the first to receive his Playa name – “Jammy Chips”. When the rest of the group were synchronising watches, fingers hovering over mouses, ready to buy tickets online at the exact second they were released, Wayne absentmindedly wandered off to put some chips in the oven. He came back to discover that he was first in the queue and had managed to procure two much sought after tickets without even trying. That just about sums Wayne up to me – the man was born under a good sign.
Lizz Brocklesby, Chief Mermaid & Camp Psychologist
Lizzie is one of my oldest and best friends. We first met at Sheffield University at Film-Making Society and then we went on to live together in a big house in Broomhall. I’ve got lots of memories of that time of being inspired by Lizzie’s creativity and adventurous spirit – she was making films and exploring her artistic nature as well as travelling on her own and doing all sorts of crazy things.
I always think that Lizzie is so wise and strong for such a young woman. “She’s been here before” – as they would say. And Lizzie has been by my side during so many major life events – leaving university, coming home from Australia, moving to London, splitting up from a major relationship and, more recently, bereavement. Throughout, she has been there next to me, to comfort me with herbal tea and unending compassion. But, living as we have together through our twenties (and now thirties), we have had an awful lot of fun too with our close knit friendship group from Sheffield. I know that we’re going to have a scream together at this festival and get up to lots of mischief, just as we have done over the past 14 years.
Lizzie is the only other woman in our group, and it will be nice to have her female energy to offset all the blokes in the camp. I know I can trust her implicitly. I also know, that whatever shit goes down on the Playa, Lizzie can not only deal with it, but help everyone else through it too. She’s studying for her PHD in Psychotherapy, so if anything gets messy, her calm nature and intuitive soul will be healing balm to whatever comes up. She’s also a creative, with a MA in documentary film making from Goldsmiths and an art foundation, as well as being a qualified yoga teacher and a healer. She’s just all-round accomplished really, so will have plenty to add to the group.
When asked what she is most looking forward to about Burning Man, Lizze said: “I’m looking forward to living in an alternate reality where love and kindness have the utmost value. Where everyone is a friend. Where anything goes.”
I’ve shared so many journeys with Lizzie already, and I just can’t wait to add Burning Man to the list.
James McMurray Cole, VP of Survival & Rebel Command Insignia
I met James several years ago at a wild night in celebration of Kate, one of my best friend’s, birthdays. Kate also lived in the house in Broomhall with me and Lizzie. Memories of that night are now hazy, but I can tell you that wheelchairs, wigs, cigars and lampshades were all involved at some point! James is the friend of Kate’s now husband Ben so it is all a little bit incestuous in our friendship group!
In early 2014, after having recently experienced heartbreak, I got a text message from James offering to cook me Sunday dinner. It was a simple gesture but a very caring one. I wasn’t used to blokes being that lovely and so I went over. A drunken snog was had in his living room and the rest is history (although it does involve a trip to San Franscisco with him spontaneously flying out to see me, which was very cool but it is too long to tell you about here.) James has been by my side since. In fact, thinking about it, it was probably around the time that me and Bryce had that first meeting.
James is a very interesting person – he’s one of the most intelligent people that I have ever met and he collects stories and pieces of information about almost anything. He’s very practically minded (always good when you’re about to camp out in extreme survival situations for seven days) and very sociable, which is a tool that will come in handy in a culture of interaction and play with others. Although at first, Burning Man was definitely mine and Bryce’s project and James didn’t know a lot about the festival, since learning about it, I’m proud to say that he has embraced it and it has been fun to watch him getting so excited about preparing for his time on the Playa.
That said, it is going to be interesting to see how we interact together in the desert. I received a document from a dear friend of mine entitled ‘advice to couples on the Playa’ and one of the testimonials within dubiously stated: “Burning Man has stressed my relationship more than any other episode I can name….”
James and I have already gone through a very difficult year together. We’re both extremely headstrong people with very passionate personalities. Whilst I’m excited about what Burning Man could bring, for both of us as individuals, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m also fearful that we will be massively tested on the Playa…I guess we shall see what eventuates, but I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with him, for experiencing us outside of the drudgery of reality, and also, for him to see my ‘best self’, which has been somewhat obscured in recent times. I’m hoping that Burning Man will be a rich experience for James, one that we can enjoy and explore both together, and as individuals. I want him to discover himself. And to know that he is beautiful. And I also want to be able to let go of that – because his experience, ultimately, is not about me.
James is looking forward to “watching the sun coming up in the desert, meeting awesome people, going to the Temple of Promise and cycling out into the Deep Playa to see the art.”
David Lewis, Architect of Dreams & Bestower of Plaques
Last, but by no means least, is David. He’s the newest member of our merry gang, so I’m not able to fill reams here about our experiences together. I’m viewing Burning Man more as an opportunity to scribble on those blank pages together.
David is Lizzie’s boyfriend and, kudos to him, committed early in in their relationship to being part of our BM massive. Lizzie means so very much to me and I know that David makes her very very happy indeed, which is enough for me. Over recent months I’ve been getting to know David and we’ve enjoyed some real ale, fireside silliness, and singalongs, as well as some awesome music (Nils Frahm) at the Royal Albert Hall. There’s also been much banter about us both being from Liverpool (although he knows that I’m the true scouser!)
David is the perfect blend of creative and practical – he’s an architect, so no doubt will be drawing up the plans for our camp as we speak. He also won a prize from his practice which he will be using for his own on-Playa art project…althuogh a little bird tells me that some of the money might have been invested into a GoPro. With four filmmakers within our six-strong crew, I’m expecting that we can knock up a bit of decent footage between us.
David says: “I’m happy with how I am here in London, so I’m not searching for an escape, or an answer. I’m looking forward to being enriched and inspired by the wonderful people we will meet there. I hope to return with an even greater feeling that humans are wonderful things, kind and imaginative, brave and charming. That said, I am looking for an experience that will move me, one that will take me to another level. And I look forward to getting to know my companions and muck around in the desert madness with them, and most of all to go on another journey with Lizzie. Plus some wild partying too, of course.”
This is a screen grab of the happy crew, the moment we all managed to successfully purchase our tickets online back in February from four separate locations!