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Performing Black Rock City : : Theatre of Affect and Burning Man


When heading out to the Black Rock Desert to participate in the manifestation of Black Rock City--otherwise known as Burning Man--images of the vast desert, interactive installation art; dusty, naked, or costumed people bicycling; all manner of parties, unusual encounters, and large structural fires float dream-like through the mind. Only a few of these images can be activated without the host space of the desert. In 2013, the Burning Man Project launched its non-profit organization in an effort to spread Burning Man cultural ethos on a global scale by using the Ten Principles to guide their organization. Performing Black Rock City examines the cultural production of Burning Man from two points of entry. It illuminates an ecocritical discourse about the ways environmental affective flows shape the culture. It also examines how these affects are framed via performance creating what I call Theatre of Affect. Performing Black Rock City argues that because there are "no spectators" at Burning Man every participant is both a spectator and an actor--spect-actors--who access scenarios available in what Diana Taylor defines as the repertoire, and create what I call encounter-scenes. Specifically, it reveals how Burning Man participants are ghosting nineteenth century expansionist discourse through cross-temporal gestures that performatively frame the affective flows of the desert; and how large-scale art burns, and psychonautic consciousness explorations activate personal catharsis and contribute to the narrative that Burning Man transforms lives. Lastly, it reveals that Black Rock City is not an ephemeral performance as many suggest, but instead is a nomadic city that mutates throughout the year into regional, cyber, and other spaces returning home to the Black Rock Desert annually to reify and cultivate Burning Man culture. Performing Black Rock City asserts that if the culture is birthed from the city--then the Burning Man Project faces the paradoxical conundrum of how to manage the loss of the desert, fire, and psychonautic affects used to create the culture present in Black Rock City, as they transition into the playa-adjacent world

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