A gathering of some 50,000 hardy souls in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, Burning Man has a different art theme each year – to inspire the week’s display of sculptures, floats, performances, and general surreality. In 2009, the 200th anniversary of Charlie Darwin’s birth (and Burning Man’s 23rd b’day bash), the theme was ‘evolution’.

With ‘burners’ coming from as far afield as New Zealand, and groups sporting everything from gimp masks and fluorescent suits to naked, dusty flesh, ‘evolution’ was interpreted in many ways. To one inhabitant of the ‘playa’, the prehistoric lake bed where the festival takes place, evolving was all about leaving the negativity of the Bush era behind. ‘Forgive this man – he was an American Idiot,’ said a note pinned to the festival’s eponymous effigy, accompanied by a photo of the former president.

For others, the evolution was more personal. Before the Man and the lotus flower-like temple were torched on the final nights, people graffitied them with cathartic poems, promises and pictures, hoping to ditch some emotional baggage. Inhabitants of camps such as the Alternative Energy Zone, meanwhile, spread a progressive environmental message, harnessing the sun and wind to bake bread and power psychedelic buggies.

If one thing unified the trance- and Gatorade-fuelled chaos, it was that everyone was evolving to an elevated state of consciousness; sticking two painted fingers up at the ‘default world’ and building a utopian community, complete with a gift economy.

 

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