Black Rock City – Themes and City Structure

As a way of making each year unique, at the end of each year’s event the theme for the next year is announced. Having a concept gives the artists a creative focus, and starts them thinking about their next year’s project.

10 story steel skyscraper: American Dream 2008

In such a huge, potentially chaotic event it does help to have a unifying concept, and I do appreciate the art installations  that are truly connected to the theme.  Sometimes that connection seems a bit forced,  more like some vague rationalization of how the artists conception is theme related.

The theme for 2011 is Rites of Passage.

The ‘official’ description:

There are moments of crisis and frisson in our lives which inform us that we’ve somehow crossed an inner threshold and are changed. Thus moving from one state of being into an unknown other obliges us to face our innermost insecurities, and it requires faith, a willingness to leap off the ladder of ordered existence. Our theme this year invites participants to join with others in creating rites of passage.

themes from the previous years

The layout of the city is similar year to year with a clock face forming the basic structure. Residential streets occupy the outer ring from 2 o’clock to 10 o’clock with plazas at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. In the center of the clockface stands The Man. If you walk from there toward 12 o’clock, you will reach The Temple. Beyond that is Deep Playa.

Black Rock city is 1.5 miles wide with a footprint 7 square miles (data from 2008 ). Defining the event boundary is 7 miles of net fencing, both to establish an official perimeter and to catch blowing trash.  Part of the requirements for the BLM permit is that the event leave no trace, either on the site or on the playa beyond it.

Each year the naming of the streets is determined by the theme, with the innermost always called The Esplanade, then concentric streets radiate out from there. The first street will start with an ‘A’ and so on. The spokes are logically called 2:00 o’clock, 2:30. 3:00 and on through to 10:00.

The street names give a sense of the concept behind the theme.  For ‘Rites of Passage’ the streets are named:
Esplanade
Anniversary
Birthday
Coming Out
Divorce
Engagement
Funeral
Graduation
Hajj
Initiation
Journey
Kindergarten
Liminal

Intense, eh?  There are a few streets this year that I mght not choose to live on.

Who will choose Divorce? Will it be people who have just been or are about to? Will it be those who consider their divorced status a fundamental part of who they are? Will it be people who simply don’t give a rats ass about themes or street names – who just call it D Street?

And who will be setting up camp on Funeral?

And what the heck anyway are Hajj and Liminal? From wikipedia,

The Hajj (Arabic: حج‎ Ḥaǧǧ) is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the largest pilgrimage in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”[1]) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes, as defined in neurological psychology (a “liminal state”)

Well, Liminal sounds like a great place to live, but the farthest out circular road has a couple of disadvantages: it is a very long way from everything, and it is the road that the incoming and outgoing vehicles use so is more dusty and has less of a comfy, private neighborhood ambiance.

What road would you choose to live on in Black Rock City this year?

There will also be some additions to the residential space and structure in 2011, a very good thing considering that the event is sold out and the population pressure will be significant.

the most dramatic change in the plan this year is the addition of sixteen new streets. To ease pedestrian and bicycle movement and access at the back of the city, the new streets are short radials at the fifteen and forty-five clock positions. They begin mid-city at Graduation, and end at the last street, Liminal.

Graduation is a wider boulevard starting in 2011, and double-deep blocks sit along Graduation’s border. Public Plazas are returning at Kindergarten and 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00. We are holding most of the camping space around these plazas unreserved and available for the general public to develop and maintain as an experiment in spontaneous urban planning and collaboration.

“spontaneous urban planning and collaboration” This phrase captures an essential part of what makes Burning Man such a compelling event. Out in the empty desert, on an ancient lake bed, for one week each year a city appears. For this one week it is the fourth largest city in the state of Nevada. As the week of the event progresses, it is still building, day by day, then suddenly it begins to depopulate and deconstruct.

As the last days arrive, the street signs have vanished along with most of your landmarks for navigating. Night time and dust storms become more and more disorienting. One goes out on the playa with some prominent camp in mind to guide the return, but by the time you cruise back, that camp too has been pulled down. For those who stay to the very end, there may be a sense of loneliness and of loss. Black Rock City has become a ghost town

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