by David Wraith
Most people are at least somewhat familiar with Burning Man, the annual festival in the Nevada desert that culminates with the burning of a giant effigy. However, few people outside of the Burning Man community are familiar with regional “burns,” or the smaller, Burning Man inspired events that occur all over the country.
Even among my sex positive, poly, nudist friends, references to “burners” often draw blank stares. Gateway Burners, St. Louis’ own burner community, may be one of city’s best kept secrets. Every June they mount Gateway, a regional burn that attracts fire spinners, cosplayers, performance artists, nudists and other extraverts and social engineers, for several days of “radical self expression.”
Gateway Burners provides grants for onsite art installations at Gateway, and this Saturday, January 21st, in conjunction with another awesome local group, Arch Reactor, they will be holding their second annual Fire & Ice Benefit to raise money for said grants. I spoke with Stacey Lindgren, one of the organizers of Fire & Ice, a burner, and one of my favorite people in the world.
David Wraith: For the uninitiated, what exactly is a “burner”?
Stacey Lindgren: A burner is an individual that attends Burning Man related events, is part of the larger general Burning Man community or someone that believes in the ideals of Burning Man. Burning Man is a radical arts festival that occurs each fall in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event gets its name from the large effigy that is burned near the end of each event. At the big event, Burning Man, the effigy is always a man. The event is also not organized by a promoter, like a lot of festivals, but is instead built by the participants themselves. That means that everyone is part of the event, not just an attendee. People are encouraged to bring their talents in art, music, costumes, fire performance, poetry, cooking, construction and even in heckling. There is a place for everyone. Once you are in the event, nothing can be bought, sold or traded. Everything must be gifted, with the exception of ice, because no one enjoys food poisoning.
Burning Man is also an experiment in temporary community. The Burning Man community has 10 Principles. My two favorites, though I love them all, are Radical Self-Expression and Radical Inclusion. There are also theme camps at many Burner events. Theme camps are small neighborhoods within the bigger cities.
What has your experience been of Burning Man and other, regional burns?
Many people who have been to a burn will tell you that it changed their life. It definitely changed mine. I had always felt comfortable with my sexuality and my less than traditional lifestyle choices, but I had not felt that I belonged to a community of people that could relate to me. The acceptance and love that I felt at my first event, and at every event since, has left me with a smile that hurts my face. There are jokes about it being a bunch of hippies, but I was shocked at the diversity of the types of people that are drawn to this experiment.
The atmosphere at a burn tends to be very playful, open, permissive, hard-working and magical. Most people are very friendly, and because the participants build the events, you make new friends through both work and play.
At first you might be amazed by the lights, loud music, colorful and creative costumes and the fact that everything in your temporary new hometown is free, even at the bar themed camps serving cocktails. Once you peel back the layers of the onion though, it is the quality of the people and the overall experience and amazing acceptance that knock you over. The standard greeting is “welcome home,” and you quickly feel like you’ve known all these crazy freaks forever!
Do you think there’s a natural overlap between the burner community and the sex positive community, and if so, why?
Absolutely! The burner community personifies sex positive ideals and presents a model for communities to follow on how to approach being sex positive in a healthy way. Most events are nudist friendly and poly friendly. Many burns have at least one sex positive focused camp. At Burning Man, the big sex positive camp is called Poly Paradise. At the Atlanta Burn, it is called Fucking Awesome.
Poly Paradise has a human carcass wash, where you are washed by a partner. Interfuse, a Missouri regional burn, has a naked relay race, using double-ended dildos as the batons. People are just accepted for who they are and are encouraged to express themselves in whatever way they want, as long as it is not hurting someone else.
Burning Man can be very sexually open and the environment can be sexually charged. To help with this, there is also a special volunteer group at Burning Man called The Bureau of Erotic Discourse, or B.E.D., that focuses on communication at the event. They host ‘Clarity and Consent’ playshops during the event and their tagline is “communication is the best lubricant.”
What is Fire & Ice and what can attendees expect?
First off, expect crazy fun with crazy cool people! Fire & Ice is an upcoming collaborative fundraiser event for two local organizations.
The first organization is Gateway Burners. Gateway Burners is a St. Louis based regional Burning Man related organization that was created in 2006 to foster radical self expression through art and participation and encourage civic responsibility and sustainable community through its yearly events. In 2012, the organization will have its yearly big burn called Gateway Burn, a 4-day camping event, June 14-17. The organization also gives art grants for art and projects presented or displayed at the event.
The second organization is Arch Reactor, St. Louis’ local DIY/Maker/Hackerspace created in 2009 that utilizes technology, computer programming, crafting and ingenuity to foster the spirit of community in the creation of their many projects and inventions.
Fire & Ice will take place on January 21, 2012 at the William A Kerr Foundation Building at 21 O’Fallon Street, St. Louis, MO 63102. The event runs from 7:00 pm until Midnight and is for ages 21 and up. Each of the two previously mentioned organizations will be present to host correlative activities and entertainment as well as provide information about their organizations. The event will be $10 per person. Tickets will be sold at the door.
There will be a silent auction, music, demonstrations, a chili cook-off, a fire and ice theme-inspired costume contest, ice and fire sculptures and much more.
For more information, please visit the Facebook event.