Wurst Storm Rising

The Cacophonous Roots and Dadaist Legacy of Burning Man

Authors

  • Graham St John University of Fribourg
  • Botond Vitos University of Fribourg

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.33823/jfs.2021.3.1.57

Keywords:

Burning Man, Dada, Surrealism, Alfred Jarry, Cacophony Society

Abstract

Our subject is the legacy of Dada implicit to the Burning Man phenomenon. Animate in the provocative output of fin-de-siècle French Symbolist writer and puppeteer Alfred Jarry, and filtered through the antics of the San Francisco Cacophony Society, Dada is foundational to the cultural aesthetic of Burning Man, by which we mean the event in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert playa (Black Rock City) and a global network of “burn” events. We address the significance of the Cacophony Society expedition that inaugurated the desert phase of Burning Man in 1990, “Zone Trip # 4: Bad Day at Black Rock.” Integral to the surreal tourism ventured by Cacophonists prior to the inception of Burning Man, and pivotal to its desert phase, the Zone Trip kindled “Burner” culture on the Black Rock playa and abroad. Exploring the Dadaist impulse affecting Black Rock City and woven into a worldwide network, informed by interpretative and applied methods, the article addresses art projects (including those designed and implemented by Vitos) at three regional events—Israel’s Midburn and Germany’s Burning Bär and Kiez Burn—visited in 2018 and 2019 as part of a multisited ethnography of the Burning Man movement. As these projects illustrate, the ghost of Jarry haunts, as the spirit of Dada animates, the transnational “burnscape.”

Author Biographies

Graham St John, University of Fribourg

Graham St John (PhD) is a cultural anthropologist specialising in transformational events, movements, and figures. He is a forthcoming Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Fellow at the University of Huddersfield and recently Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Social Sciences, University of Fribourg, Switzerland. His latest book is an intellectual biography of Terence McKenna (forthcoming with MIT Press). Graham is Executive Editor of Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture. Website: http://www.edgecentral.net/.

Botond Vitos, University of Fribourg

Botond Vitos (PhD) is a cultural anthropologist with research interests in event-cultures, the Burning Man movement, popular music studies, electronic dance music culture, and the mediations of aesthetic experiences. He is part of the editorial team at Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture.

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Published

2021-12-31

How to Cite

St John, Graham, and Botond Vitos. 2021. “Wurst Storm Rising: The Cacophonous Roots and Dadaist Legacy of Burning Man”. Journal of Festive Studies 3 (1):177-99. https://doi.org/10.33823/jfs.2021.3.1.57.