Saturday, 25 May 2013

You Came In Burned

"Slow-cruising on one of the most notorious dirt roads in all the country, the 113 kilometre stretch on the R355 between Touws Rivier and Calvinia starts to feel like a pilgrimage as the sun turns red; the distant hills stretch out far beyond the horizon and the dust permeates every inch of our surroundings. This is that rubicon moment when one starts to realise that the next couple of days will be spent free from any dependence on creature comforts or normative societal structures as the Karoo landscape steadily eases out any obsessive thoughts or anxieties and prepares the mind in a two-fold outlook of survival mode and child-like exhilaration. Eventually the engine rests and we wait to enter one of the most unorthodox creative communal living experiences we had yet to encounter."

Rereading this paragraph I wrote a while back and finding myself sitting in the pale winter sun on a Saterday afternoon in the suburbs of Stellenbosch, I have decided  it's been a long time coming and here you have it. another blagh post for your reading pleasure.

So for you non-South African readers, I'm going to tell you a bit about a trip (pun intended) a couple of mad one's and I took to a little big gathering called 'AfrikaBurn' in the middle of 'nothing', 'nowhere' and 'even less', i.e. the dreamscape region known as the Tankwa Karoo. (For those of you who are native to this amazing country, this post should inspire you to attend the 2014 Burn - cosh ish laaik amashing)

Tankwa Karoo National Park
Whuddup AB
This six day festival is best described on the official website as follows, "AfrikaBurn is the spectacular result of the creative expression of participants who gather once a year in the Tankwa Karoo to create a temporary city of art, theme camps, costume, music and performance"...and not to mention the mutant vehicle that cruise around TankwaTown. So maybe some of you might know about the annual 'Burning Man Festival' held in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas? Here is a video to demostrate what it looks like there

Well AfrikaBurn is a regional offshoot of Burning Man and started up in 2007, and has since then, fast become one of South Africa's leading alternative arts and communal living events. Its really not a simple trance party and 'drug fest', like some people (who have evidently never been) come to believe. There is a lot of live music happening, but other than some of the more 'commercial' festivals, AfrikaBurn is a space where social hierarchies don't exist, there is no distinction made between 'spectator' or 'participant'. There are no celebrity DJs or artists who come to perform under a name, there is no branding, no money, nothing profitable and everything is completely self-made in the name of all things temporary. Even most of the artworks and sculptures made for the event get burned on the last couple of days in accordance with the AB slogan, "Leave No Trace"

Chris, Ernst and Rick viewing a 'burn' - Thanks Michael for the image
“An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water has flowed for centuries … the longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that the water will return to its old bed”   -  Carl Jung

Hiya Carl
The theme of the 2013 Burn was ‘Archetypes’, which references the celebration of ancient myths and legends which have come to shape our way of living, doing, classifying and interacting since the dawn of time. In relation to the actual location of the event, the theme ties in (quite perfectly) with humbling experience of engaging with this most austere and sublime environment. HAH and as one Burner remarked, “It is out and out the best thing to hit the Tankwa since the dinosaurs.” seriously

So, really not to sound like some pretentious bastard (although I am studying continental philosophy) one could really tie the guiding principles of this event to the 20th century Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of the 'carnivalesque'. He writes about the tradition and rituals of local carnivals held in town squares in Medieval Europe and opens his text titled, "Carnival and Carnivalesque" by noting that the carnival is not a performance, and does not differentiate the spectator from the performer. All people who take part in the carnival "live it" but it is not an extension of the "real world" or "real life" but rather, as Bakhtin puts it, "the world standing on its head", the world upside down. The carnival for Bakhtin is an event in which all rules, inhibitions, restrictions and regulations which determine the course of everyday life are suspended, and especially all form of hierarchy in society.

Privet Mikhail!
 He writes about the performative aspect of Carnival life and how it came to influence the plebs of the time, and I just completely fell for his theories and decided that AfrikaBurn is a modern day version of the 'carnivalesque', a means to escape the mundane routines and normative behavioural codes of social life and to experience an alternative reality, a completely new way of interacting with strangers and friends. And suprisingly enough, I came returned from AfrikaBurn not hating society and wanting to go Alexander Supertramping...

But instead I got a really good, new perspective on how to approach what we see to be the banal habits and conventions of our middle-class existence. Although I must admit, it's a quite a bourgeois luxury to even be able to take the time off, have the money and all the equipment (car, food, tent, sleepbag, etc) to make the trek for a six day 'break' from a life that really isn't even comparable to most of the world's suffering, but it really take a lot to go for this experience. The money, the planning, the packing, the driving, setting's not as breezy as one might think and it always bugs me when people say, "Oh but you're so so lucky to have gone...[on vacation to Mozambique, a student exchange to Amsterdam, AfrikaBurn]" but what some don't get is the fact that it takes more time to do the admin before such an excursion than the time spent on the excursion. And if one really wants to, one can always go...time can always be made and if not, then next year there is something to look forward to. Anyway, I'm going off on a tangent here.

So, each year ‘Burners’ gather in the heart of the beautiful yet vastly arid Tankwa Karoo to create a temporary city, aptly named ‘Tankwa Town’, as means to provide and allow for an alternative approach to social interaction and communal effort. Here are the guiding principles of AfrikaBurn: communal effort, civic responsibilty, immediacy, gifting, leave no trace, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, participation and decommodification. Oh just to contextualise the notions of 'gifting', 'decommodification', 'participation' and 'communal effort', AfrikaBurn is a space which is wholly dependent on the effort and sincere enthusiasm of the artists, performers, theme campers, ‘Burners’, children, eccentric ‘Ooms and Tannies’, nudist flash mobs and every other member who contributes to the alchemy of the event.You as a (temporary) local of TankwaTown are expected to take part, to join in and to provide for those around you.It's quite incredible what people get up to and how groups construct entire 'theme camps' to entertain and include you as a fellow citizen of the community. An all time favourite was aptly named, 'The Seven Deadly Gins’ camp where the procedure went as follows. You were made to queue to enter a 'confessional booth' and once inside, you are required to confess a sin to a 'pseudo-priest' who continues to reward you with a gin drink for the declaration of your personal misdemeanour. Needless to say, by the end of the festival, the Karangas were completely guilt-free and ginned up sundrunk, heh.

Oh ja, before I forget...Karanga. I guess I need to clear that one up. So 'Karanga' was the name of our group, each member being a 'Karanga', plural (all of us in unison) - 'Karangas', but the title was also used as a kind of a war cry or mating call depending on the circumstances and series of events which would come to follow. This cry came in handy at most during our flash mob night time endeavours, but I won't go into any details there (aha)

the Karangas of Mangolia
Despite the carnivalesque atmosphere, one gains a sense of enormous well-being as this event offers an opportunity to occupy and function in a space of infinite possibility, free from judgements, restrictions or transcendental reason, where Kerouac’s words sound a prophecy as we acceded to, “Burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 

So wherever you may be, try find the nearest regional Burning Man event and make the effort to attend. You will not regret this experience, I can almost guarantee...Even if you do get an eye-infection and have to walk around with severe vertigo (due to the fact that you have to now wear a pirate patch 24/7) for the duration of the festival...its really so worth it. and the medical facilities are the bomb-diggidy. believe me, I would know (I feel you Malcolm)

Just remember to take all the meds you can and go Karanga-ing into the sunset! Alioop

Here are some images I took with my little canon point and shoot - enjoy

'Mangolia' our home base

Chris double-time suiping some Argentinian mate

In the dome tent we felt (and sometimes even looked) ethereal

The Victoria curve

Sister Brumhilda and Sister X gathering some much needed dirt for our gourmet cooking endeavours

dossing like pro's at Mangolia

and the next night, this entire sculpture was reduced to ash and dust

To end off (finally huh), a video to demostrate the 2013 Burn

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