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For one week of the year nearly 50,000 individuals make the pilgrimage to the desolate Black Rock Desert in Northwestern Nevada to participate in the creation of culture. As an experiment in ephemeral Bohemia, the Burning Man Project (BMP) provides a space for unbridled creative expression. This festal gathering seeks to replace commodified with communified material culture. The latter works to move beyond the capitalist “disconnect” between production and consumption, toward a model that bridges the two.
The BMP is a work in progress, with a reflexive awareness of the challenges involved in integrating collective participation and a gift economy with spontaneity, self-reliance, and radical self-expression. An ethnography that involved photographing and interviewing 250 men revealed how textiles become a prominent means for communicating the stories of a temporary community and its citizens. This reminds us of the “text” within textiles, and the degree to which cultural texts are stories that continue to unfold.
Men in the contemporary U.S. tend to be restricted by social expectations of dominant masculinity, which becomes framed as a way of being restrictively or as being seen as “unmarked.” The BMP provides a safe space for men to express themselves as part of a community through design process; collectively, they explore what it means to be “marked” as masculine. Walter Benjamin (1999) writes that, “Image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation” (p. 462). Likewise, the texts and adornments fashioned by men in the BMP community reference the past and combine with the spontaneous moment, creating a constellation of community and culture.