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BURNING MAN 1999

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Burning Man 1999
by Dave Marr

Black Rock City 1999 was a year that began with heavy windstorms and included bitingly cold desert nights on the playa. 'The Wheel of Time' was our art theme and our streets were named after planets in our solar system — Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Earth, Venus, Mercury — and divided by annular streets spanning from 2 o'clock to 10 o'clock. The Man stood at the center of our living timepiece and was surrounded by an inner clock that was used to showcase large-scale art and performances related to our theme. Divided into hemispheres and quadrants surrounding the Man, all theme-related art was placed as it pertained to our current timeframe, our immediate past and our perceived future.

1999 marked the first year that the Burn was scheduled for Saturday night, instead of the usual Sunday, to allow participants additional time to clean up and leave no trace before their departure. Before the Man was ignited on Saturday, it was Jim Mason's 3 enormous fire cannons that shot flames 120 feet into the sky which warmed the faces and bodies of the gathered crowd. These were the same faces that brought over 320 registered theme camps and 4 large villages to the event.

Our costs to produce the event went up, which translated into a rise in ticket prices, and our population also grew dramatically — up from 15, 000 (in 1998) to 23,000 attendees and with this increase in inhabitants came a fresh crop of fascinating art and participation. Unfortunately, this was also a year when we were forced to eject a theme camp, Capitalist Pigs, after numerous complaints of megaphone-blasted racial and homophobic slurs as well as sexually inappropriate shouts to participants, including children.

Participants at Burning Man 1999 were also witness to "Krystal" a massive nude group photograph by artist Spencer Tunick and the introduction of "L2K" a large circle of 2000 lights buried in the ground around the Man — who stood at 50ft. The playa was also home to an array of theme related performances and installation artwork that included Dana Albany's "Bone Tree", LA Cacophony's "Small After All World", Austin Richard's mobile Tesla Coil "Electrobot", Kymric Smythe's "Big Bang", Pepe Ozan "la Mystere de Papa Loko" opera, and Steven Raspa "Futura Deluxe Bubble Fountain and Porta-Temple".

In 1989, we had grown into a one-night crowd of 300 people on Baker Beach. Ten years later we are tens of thousands of participants who plan and prepare months in advance for a seven-day residence in an experimental community we call home.