Words : Duncan Larkin.
Images : Duncan Larkin, Anthony De La Fuente, Emily A Gray, Matt Strzelczyk.
It’s not every day someone phones you up and tells you to pack your bags and get on a plane to the USA.
It all started a few months ago, with my first contact with the Burner Exchange Program. It’s the project’s first year in existence, and the idea behind it is simple – to stimulate the exchange of ideas, with a view to developing greater interaction between regional Burns, and ultimately result in collaboration on projects in the future. To overcome the financial hurdles that stand in their way, it funds international travel for a few lucky burners, and those who would never usually think of it can see a whole new side of the global burning community.
So off I fucked, on my way to Chicago. I’d been so busy getting my paperwork, bags and loose ends in order, I barely knew anything about my final destination.
Lakes of Fire is the regional Burn for the Chicago/Detroit area. It’s a small event, with around 1700 participants. There is (or was this year, at least) only one actual burn, the Kraken (or Effigy), and it sets itself apart from most other regionals by being around a big, beautiful, freshwater lake. Switch out the familiarly stark, weather-beaten, harsh, hot and dusty desert landscape for cool waters, verdant grass and tall, lush forests. And yes, ART BOATS!
I stumbled around in a daze, sipping on watery beer and meeting hundreds of new people. Goddamn, say what you like about the Midwest, but these people sure are friendly! Everywhere people were knocking feeble-looking pegs into the soggy ground and erecting yurts (kinda like a tent but sturdier), cheap shade structures and geodesic domes. The smell of bacon, for the first of a million times, drifted across the breeze as I tried to take it all in.
Every day I met more new people, ate some or other delicious new American treat (nearly always including bacon or gherkins) and had some crazy new adventure with a total stranger or two.
What astounded me was how absolutely involved everyone was. Theme camps were everywhere, The Department of Public Works, responsible for site infrastructure, was welcoming, friendly and helpful, even if its members did say “fuck yer day” a lot. The people I met often turned up later, doing some or other voluntary shift. (That said, I heard after they did suffer from a serious lack of Rangers on the big night.) Theme camps would display their financials from previous years, showing where and how the money had been spent and who had done the work. Every art work displayed its Art Grant certificate proudly, and all round, I got the impression that having such a small community meant that the voluntary aspect of it became even more a part of the culture.
One camp, the DC BBQ had received an art grant for smoking meats. This is done in a kind of braai, with a separate chamber for the smouldering logs. Every day and night, they would slowly hot smoke a delicious variety of meats (more bacon here) and, when done, feed them to the volunteer crews. What this meant was that, to some degree, the Rangers, the DPW, the Effigy crew and other volunteers would be able to stop by for a meal without having to worry about preparing it themselves.
Our entire camp, The Secret Gentlemen’s Club, did a six hour greeting shift together. We hung out, all drinking, laughing and playing games with the people who came in, and passing time by with smiles on our faces.
Another camp, Kidsville, ran activities for burners’ children all day, so the parents could take a little time out and see the festival without a little screaming ball of snot and tears running alongside.
Besides these, there were many more camps with bars, dance floors, variety shows, drinking games, even a kissing booth, and whole-pig-spit roasts. When things started getting a little crazy, some opted out of the hard work by simply leaving a bottle of whiskey on a table at their entrance, with a sign, “help yourself”.
I felt like it was my first time at a burn instead of my seventh, walking around with wide eyes and a childish curiosity, thrilled at every new discovery. I had arrived alone, not knowing a single person at the event and five days later I left with more friends than I could count. I’m still in Chicago, three weeks later, hanging out with all of the fantastic people I met at Lakes of Fire. Given my run of goodwill and good luck, I decided to try to attend Burning Man while I was here in the USA, and I’ve already been given a ticket, offered a home in three theme camps on the playa, and even offered a tent!
The next direction I think the Burner Exchange Program should go in is to facilitate artists taking their work to other regionals. If, for example, someone [from South Africa] had an artwork they wanted to put together in the USA, I’m sure they would have no problem finding people in the USA to help them build it, fund it and get it to the burn. The world is a small place, the possibilities are endless and, at Lakes of Fire, the water is perfect!
Duncan Larkin, according to his hosts at Lakes of Fire, is “… a newly minted young Gentleman on loan from the South African chapter who has taken The States by storm. He builds the things that need building,drinks the things that need drinking and charms the people that need charming. Near as we can tell,he’s pretty much up for anything. You’ll like him.”
Feeling the spirit? All aboard! AfrikaBurn and other Burning Man regional events the world over are all about participation. Get involved and take your art outside! We recommend starting by volunteering – if you’re keen, fill out the form below and our team will be in touch.