I wrote this in 2010 or early 2011, for the Nowhere community, in parallel to writing up my dissertation on Nowhere. Some thoughts last night on attending a Q&A meet-up with Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man, have prompted me to post it up.
Saturday night, Nowhere 2010
beautiful chaos in the jungle dome
this space was without straight lines, an immersive space, with the huge, bulging, glowing cephadaria filling the top half of the dome, ropes enabling the fantastically present and highly decorated humanity to spill upwards, the dancing filling the whole dome, blending into the green foliage-esque decor. it was utterly beautiful chaos. I immersed myself to dance, withdrew to the edges to take air, inverted myself at the edge to experience a new perspective, shared this excitement with other revellers. I realised that a game I had learnt in the woods with a children’s charity was ideal for the moment. I set up two people playing- one person is a ‘camera’ and the other controls what they see. The ubiquitous use of digital cameras often transforms the present into something to be filed away and remembered in the future, the documentation of doing something. To be a human camera is to focus on a beautiful image that your friend seeks out to show you- to have the appreciation of a sight that is often expressed with photography, but without the removal from the present.
“it’s hilarious. everyone’s so utterly fucked in there” a man in board shorts shared with me. I didn’t like this phrasing of it. In sixth form I hung out with people who would become drunk and do ‘hilarious’ random things. Like downing dirty pints, non-consensually drawing on passed out people. When I snogged a female friend, something which made perfect sense at the time, this was presented to me on Monday as ‘hilarious’. I resented this label (but accepted it at the time, for social reasons, innit). The things we do when we are partying, in chemically altered states, are sidelined in mainstream culture, into a space where they are groaned about and laughed at the next day. People distance themselves from revelations about the importance of love, appreciation of beauty, the hollowness of their employed life or their will to change the world by the words ‘I was wasted’. I once overheard a lucidly drunk banker on the tube at 6.30am spill out revelations to his friend, feeling he had worked down to the core of his psyche, describing his utter disconnection to his work. He was going to go to work on Monday, putting on what he recognised as ‘a face’. His mate would probably remind him ‘you were so fucked on the tube, remember?’.
How do we deal with liberated openness at nowhere, whether combined with altered states of minds or not? Is it different from the ‘default world’?
Dumping the ‘we’ to return to my own perspective… I didn’t first find the attitude of accepting open self expression or questioning the world at Nowhere. I found it in various places, and took it inside myself, and I seek out these places. It didn’t stand out to me during my first year at Nowhere, I found people working together voluntarily natural to me, though I noted that it was remarked upon as remarkable by others. I was distracted from the event on its own terms by relationships with the people I’d come with. This year (2010) I immersed myself more in the community, hearing from many people how transformative Nowhere and Burner culture had been for them. It seemed most important personally for the people who found it an utter contrast to their experience of the ‘default world’. Inspiration leaks, however, from Nowhere to the lives of participants, and the inspiration generated at Nowhere is only what participants bring with them, given a platform to be expressed and to grow. The surreality of the event- the physically extreme location and abnormality of costuming creates an environment where people can feel removed from their everyday routines, and so are free to question them without having to immediately be confronted with a situation where they must either drastically change their habits or else admit hypocrisy. Recognising the efficacy of Nowhere in creating a platform for transformative thought and experience made me value it as more than a fun place to be. I realised I was interacting with people who I would normally have no connection with, as they move in such different ways from me in their daily lives, through income, age and inclination. People at Nowhere are away from their usual life paths, and are reduced to our shared humanity- we can interact as beings in the world without regard for social divisions that might normally be between us.
At Nowhere it seems there is a culture which does not ridicule openness displayed during the night before in the daytime. Is this because the day of Nowhere is still within the event, and the event is to the return to the default world as the lucid night out to the following week?
I believe this is partially true. The entirety of Nowhere is a space where openness, and distance from one’s routine is explored and celebrated. However, while this is partly dismissed and boxed away -“yes, I know when I was doing that I thought it was beautiful, but that was at Nowhere. Wasn’t it crazy!!”, the insights gained through experiencing Nowhere also spill out. We learn that we can enjoy interacting with strangers, that we can express ourselves without fear of ridicule. Some find it difficult to take these things from the context of the desert to elsewhere, others they already know these things in other contexts. The appreciation of the beauty of humanity existing at its best, once freely experienced, can be tapped into again.
note: photos are from nowhere 2009. and not closely related to what I’m talking about here!