Destination: Kiwiburn08, Feb 1-4, Whakamaru Domain

Whoa. It’s been a week since we left the festival and the mind reels. What just happened? Who would have thought that Kiwiburn could have been better than last year? It was. Wow.

Kiwiburn07 was pretty darn good – many of us felt the event achieved the essence of Burning Man. At only 120 attendees and only a small amount of theme camps, we were able to meet practically everyone and everyone seemed to move en masse together and shared similar experiences. It was delightful. But this year, we exceeded expectations. For a relatively small festival (180 in attendance), we participants really stepped up to the plate and delivered a remarkable array of theme camps and art. So much so, that one had to actually choose what they wanted to do and one could not do everything. Just like at Burning Man.

Many of the folks who’d been part of fledgling camps in ’07 came back with a vengeance this year. The Tauranga firespinners created Balrogs Playpen and dazzled us each evening with their exciting pyrotechnic skills. Pink Moa came with a lineup of pink-haired DJ’s including Helix, Jet Pilot, and Rich D’Rich, and really pinked it out, creating an circular dance space under the stars complete with beanbag filled chill space. HiDive totally upped The Sheep End this year with an amazing sound system set upon a hilltop paddock (ironically which was full of sheep) which pumped out tunes in the wee hours of the morn. More important was his mobile sound system – the black tricked out van, complete with a 4 foot paper mache black sheep head with solar-lamps for eyes perched on front – which careened across the paddock day and night pumping out tunes and creating an immediate dance party wherever he parked. HiDive’s mobile Sheep End saved the day many a time when other camps’ sound systems crashed. Roy and Alfred’s small chill space of ’07 morphed into The Drop Zone this year with centralized paddock placement. Offering a 24 hr chill space, they provided lovely tranquil indian/middle eastern music by day and a movie zone by night. Urs & David brought us B-Movie Camp which featured a variety of, well, B-Movies, and brought a smile to my face as I paused to watch for a few minutes each time I was on my way to the loo. The Jafab group came with a mighty crew and provided us with The Skullfu*k Bar & Dance Zone featuring DJ’s Linus and Dave and often pumped out heavy metal to accompany Anne Bonny’s Thunder Ditch battles (last year we had Thunder Dome, this year, Thunder Ditch). Hippie Tim came with a group of friends and formed Camp Pedro, featuring disco music and cheap wine. Not always the music of choice of attendees when psytrance and dubstep were being offered a short walk away; however, one or two happy folks could periodically be seen dancing and twirling under their marquee. Loveable nonetheless. Polly’s Put The Kettle On provided many of us with our daily intake of tea and coffee and could always be seen from anywhere in the paddock with its giant yellow 10 foot teapot frontage. I have unending respect for Trailer Trash camp which morphed into Los Caravanos de les Muertos (Caravans of the Dead). Jen and Ants and Scotto, Jess, Allan, Hana, Lily, Poppy, Cora, and all the other lovely ladies of the camp worked tirelessly throughout the year to make gorgeous paper mache skulls, 6’ tall cacti, a chapel, and a float all fully decorated with Day of The Dead themed items. The detailing that went into their camp was remarkable. And of course, Cass, Jeremy, Bruce, & I brought back The Green Fairy, our black-light lounge complete with delicious libations, tasty treats, and music, which seems to bring smiles to so many. As soon as the flouro-lights were turned on, we could always expect a few people or a crew to pop on in.

As for art, well, let me tell you. Dr. Windy outdid herself yet again with The Wendy Box, a 12’ x 12’ x 7’ covered cube which one had to climb up a ladder and descend into, and which was full of hundreds and hundreds of balloons. Oh the laugher and giggles that came out of the Wendy Box as a group went in and furiously kicked around and popped the balloons. I think everyone managed to get into Wendy’s box that weekend which brought a huge smile to her face. Rich outdid us all and brought us the thing we’d all talked about and hoped for: a floating art boat. And not just any old art boat, but a full fledged pirate ship, aptly named the Dodgy Roger, complete with mast, pirate flag, and, quite often, a pirate or two! Moored at the lake’s edge, the Dodgy Roger was often host to the children of Kiwiburn who found delight in diving/jumping off the deck. Ian brought us The Impossible Triangle — three 10’ long x 1’ x 1’ wooden boxes, joined at two sides with the third side not connected. The ‘almost’ triangle was perched on a 5’ pole and the whole thing rotated. The idea was to maneuver the triangle sides in such a way so that, from a distance, it looked like a perfect triangle. Ian had written ‘clues’ on the ground for people to follow. It was quite cool. Shelley and Abbey brought back The Cookie Tree – made from found branches and formed into a tree from which little baggies of tasty cookies were hung. They also added The Candy Tree which was conveniently placed on the path between all the dance camps. Many plucked late night sugary sustenance from its boughs. Mark “Yonderman” brought us Cincophoria, a 6’ tall ‘friendship circle’ comprised of six stick-figured men with covered halogen solar lamps for heads and which glowed at night. This art piece was a tribute to Kiwiburn’s 5th year and to Kiwiburn08’s theme: CombustInUnity, whereby all participants were encouraged to make ‘man’ icon art pieces to display and the burn with the Man.

Speaking of the Man, builder Kiwi volunteered to make him and came up with an intricate design whereby the 10’ tall Man would sit perched in a chair throughout the festival until the day of the burn, at which time he would stand up and raise his hands towards the sky. Lots of moveable parts. Kiwi worked on his design and model for several months at his place on Waiheke Island. Finally ready for Kiwiburn, Kiwi and his MPW (ministry of public works) crew of young, strong, teens and twenty-somethings, worked tirelessly for days to build a burn platform, and then build a square, pyramidal-shaped base on which the 10’ Man was placed. Not satisfied with just a plain décor for the Man, burner Arno took it under his wing to ‘trick out’ the Man and he, Dougal, and others spent the entire week cutting, painting, and fitting with el-wire, various shapes which were added onto the Man, so that by the last day, The Man was a colorful, glowing, beautiful art piece featured centrally in the main paddock. Many people found enjoyment sitting on the staircase-like base, watching the goings-on of the festival.

And then there was the Temple of Unity, an interactive, spiritually based art piece created by the collaboration of Kiwi and Bruce. Bruce, for the last year or so, has been exploring the nature of orgone accumulators, orgonite, orgone generators, and merkabas. What’s that you say? Let’s see if I can explain in one short paragraph. Orgone is related to life energy, prana, chi, good vibrations, etc; an orgone accumulator concentrates positive or negative orgone; orgonite is a passive device made from metal pieces, polyester resin and quartz and converts negative orgone into positive orgone. A merkaba is a three-dimensional structure of two nested triangles, one inverted over the other. The overlapping of the triangles represent an integration of spirit and mind with body and soul. It is said that if you sit in one, it can take spirit and body (or one’s interpretation of reality) from one world or dimension to another. Got it?

Featured as the Temple’s altar was Bruce’s 10’ tall merkaba complete with orgone accumulator material, orgonite, an orgone generator and a platform at its center from which one person could sit. Surrounding the merkaba, at each of its six anchoring points, were 8’tall x 3’ wide pyramid-cubbies. Everyone was invited to decorate the pyramids. I took one, and with the help of Purple, Lady Steph, Cass, and Jeremy, created the “Temple of Remembrance”, dedicated to those who have passed on as we’ve been touched by many, many friends who have lost loved ones in the preceding few months. I was pleased. But back to the merkaba. One afternoon several of us were out in the hot sun building the merkaba and pyramids. I approached the center of the merkaba and discerned a slight drop in temperature. It felt cooler and just a little less humid. Many of us there could feel the difference. Bruce left a journal for people to record their experiences and the theme that emerged was that people felt calmer, more peaceful. It was, and is, a powerful structure and the Temple of Unity offered a calm oasis away from the sea of chaos and bacchanalia that framed most of the festival.

There was no lack of performance art as well. The most memorable, because it had been talked up for months, and ended up being quite short, was the marriage ceremony of the Jafab and Trailer Trash camps. The two Auckland based groups formed a strong friendship over the year and decided to make their ‘union’ official by having a full weekend wedding celebration complete with hen party, stag party, and civil ceremony. Preparing all day Saturday, the brides and grooms were quite, let’s say, ‘under the influence’ by the time the ceremony rolled along. They raucously delighted the guests along with officiant Kiwi, who, trying through the bullhorn to perform the marriage ceremony, could often be heard yelling ‘shut the f*ck up’ to the excited brides and grooms. Performance art at its finest. I was particularly pleased with the Kostume Korner which was set up in the main marquee as a clothing ‘storefront’, stocked with bags and bags of opp shop found burner attire, and which was available to anyone and everyone. On Saturday afternoon, Janet , Dougal and I morphed into the fashion police, complete with mobile clothing rack, and spent an hour or so roving the paddocks citing people for their fashion faux pas, the fine for which was to be dressed by us in lingerie or other appropriate apparel. This segued into the first ever Kiwiburn fashion show. MC’d by Helix and featuring a wooden catwalk under the main marquee, the lovely band of paddock-fabulous dressed contestants entertained and dazzled the equally well-frocked audience. Those of us watching may never forget the acrobatic flare and derrière of one nameless participant from Camp Scrumpy. Hilarious! Oh, and there was more. Throughout Saturday morning we were treated to mellow music performed by various burners; Jez and Andrea offered lessons on The Silks – an acrobatic ‘rope-climbing’ art of sorts; Jodi offered hula-hoop lessons. We had the ‘hug me’ guy, a burner with a sign which read ‘free hugs’ and who was bombarded with endless burner love. And last, but not least, brought back by unpopular demand, was our lovable, and sometimes hateable, DJ Helix, offering us Radio Insomnia, a 7:30 am Sunday morning ‘breakfast show’ of sorts, blaring loud music and inconsequential blabbing to an already sleep-deprived, not-too-happy captive audience of now wide-awake paddock-filled burners. There has been some debate as to whether this ‘performance art’ falls under the burning man ethos of radical self-expression or whether it constitutes blatant badgering; perhaps next year there will be a radical ‘performance art’ kidnapping of said DJ and the paddock will be able to slumber in peace! Beware, Helix (we love you no matter what you know)!

People came from far and wide to attend the festival, often planned as part of their New Zealand travelling experience. Black Rock Ranger Spice and his partner Sugar hailed all the way from Utah; Fargo Dan and Lady Steph from Reno; Max, Josie, Johnny Payphone, Maria, Janet, Jake, Celine, Adam, Sam, Marie and others from all around the US; Dougal from Scotland; Beave and Matt from the UK; Arno from France; US expat Roby from Italy; Tom & Astrid and their beautiful kids Clara and Linus from Austria; Cass, Jeremy, and MsMeegs from Oz. We were well represented and truly an international event.

And we did not forget the locals, for we are eager to build and connect with the local community inside and outside of the festival. We placed an advert in the local Mangakino paper inviting all the townspeople to come in for free on Sunday afternoon, to see what we’re about, to have a tour around, to have tea with us at Polly’s Put The Kettle On Mad-Hatters tea party. While a few of the younger locals managed to come and participate in the night-time festivities, a group of about 25 people – families and children – came for a couple of hours on Sunday. I think we successfully conveyed the burner philosophy to a few; one trio consisting of a 40-something couple and the wife’s 80 year old mother, whom Bruce & I entertained for tea at The Green Fairy, said that they’d be back next year and the octogenarian offered to cook food for people as her contribution; another two women dispensed with their children and came back that night regaled in their finest paddock-wear and danced the night away at Pink Moa with their new found burner friends. And of course there was Nate-Nate, the farmers right-hand-man, who came day and night and helped out wherever he could and befriended everyone.

And then there was burn night. How do I describe the culmination of the festival with the Sunday evening burn, everyone gathered, everyone partying, two firetrucks and twenty volunteer local fireman with smiles on their faces, all to watch the burning of the man, the burning of the merkaba, the burning of the pyramid cubbies, followed by a walk through Pearl’s fire labyrinth? I don’t. Some things must be left to the imagination and to entice those of you curious-minded-readers-who-didn’t-happen-to-make-it-this-year to come and experience it for yourselves. Words can’t really convey the feeling anyway. Let’s just say the Man kaboomed ; we danced; we released; we enjoyed.

Yes, with all this wonderful art and music and dancing, its hard not to be happy and joyful all the time. But, just like at Burning Man, the constant stimulation and noise can take a toll. People are partying day and night. It’s hard not to be sleep deprived. It’s hard to ‘be on’ and ‘be extroverted’ all the time. It’s hard sometimes not to feel lonely or excluded. We can’t always all be on the same schedule and sometimes one just wants to yell ‘SHUT UP’ (or at least I found myself wanting to several times). One needs to know how to take care of oneself when under such conditions. My ‘this is too much’ moment came late Saturday afternoon – I worked hard all day and just wanted a moment of peace and quiet, a moment to reground and regroup. I couldn’t get it. I started to feel my elevated mood heading for a rapid decline. Best to remove oneself from the environment, so off to bed I went at 9 p.m. and fell into a deep slumber despite all the noise. Wide awake by 2 am, I got up and spent a few hours in The Green Fairy chilling and listening to jazz with a handful of folk, determined to see sunrise which is a special thing to do on the playa. Having outlasted everyone, Bruce & I made our way out to the temple and sat in the merkaba. Silence. Everyone, but one or two, was sleeping. Beautiful scenery. Birdsong. A magical moment.

Someone on the forums asked what was our favorite experience of the event. How does one answer that question when all of the above was present? It boggles the mind at the level of dedication and creativity that was brought and shared by such a small group of burners. Of course, often a moment or two makes an imprint in one’s mind that defines the experience for us. For me, my memorable moment occurred towards the end of the festival when I was having a conversation with two newbies. Chatting along about this and that, they each turned to me and said “Thank you. Thank you for bringing what you brought, for doing what you did. Thank you for making my experience so enjoyable.” I don’t know that it gets any better than that – to know that I made an impact on someone else. And I hope that every one of you was thanked, at least once, if not a hundred times, for your creativity and vision and for being your wonderful selves. You have made an impact on me; you allow me to reach down within myself and find a well of creativity and playfulness; you bring joy to my heart. Thank you!

Kiwiburn09? Bring it on!

PS: I know you readers want photos but I’m still trolling through 500+ of them to find the best. To be added soon…..