A conversation between Wandering Sarah and her friend Dan Stavi...
Sarah: This wasn't your first time at Midburn, right?
Dan: No, I've been at Burning Man in the USA three times, once to AfrikaBurn and last month was my third visit to Midburn. Each of them has a different vibe but basically the camp structures in every country are the same and the root idea is the same - that 'Burning' allows you to be "free to be yourself."
Sarah: Tell me more about what goes on at Midburn in the Negev desert in southern Israel?
Dan: In the day there are a lot of lectures and workshop in the main camp. Endless subjects - last year, I remember going to a lecture on polyamory. Then there are all the different camps, that have their own themes - how to repair something, self-expression, making art...you know. Some of it's interesting, some of it's absurd. Once I remember a 'free love' camp...
Sarah: What's that?
Dan: All kinds of things going on there...orgies even! I don't know - I wasn't there! (Laughter),
Sarah: OK, what about the art?
Dan: There are many installations The biggest - the Man - is sponsored by the Midburn council but it's built by volunteers. There's a Temple too. And the burning of this Man or Temple is a great ritual - a pagan ritual which affects you deeply, even though there's no God behind any of it. There are huge ceremonies before the burnings too - thousands of people attend, there's dancing and music. And when they burn the effigies, you can feel the power of nature.. It's so atmospheric, you feel it's almost holy. A power that's above you.
Sarah: What kind of installations have you seen over the years?
Dan: All kinds. It takes months to build some of them. So much effort and care has gone into them...so much thought. Very creative minds are at work on them! If you're interested in creating art, this is the place for you.
Sarah: What about the gifting aspect of the festival?
Dan: There's something nice about the fact that it's not a barter - you don't give something and get something back in return. And this is a good way of living - being able to give without taking, or take without giving. This is hard by the way...not feeling obligated to someone. It's part of the whole ethos here, helping you throw off social and cultural norms. It helps me do what I feel. It's not like I have no boundaries - it's just that the whole atmosphere makes it much easier to talk to others and act freely. Within reason of course!
Sarah: What's the structure of the festival like?
Dan: There are the 10 cardinal rules you know - radical self-reliance, gifting,, communal effort, leave no trace, participation, etc.
And it's all about immediate experience too... about trying to overcome social and psychological barriers that you deal with all the time in daily life. Going to Midburn is an exercise in being yourself..
Sarah: What about the practical aspects?
Dan: Well, you can 'free camp' or you can join a camp. Then you organise everything together beforehand - your food, shelter, etc. All the free camps are located around the playa...and at night this is where the parties take place, where the installations are. And everyone's trying to be eco-consious too... not just in terms of leaving nothing behind, but behaving responsibly with garbage, water, etc whilst they're in the desert.
Sarah: Are there traces left behind?
Dan: Unfortunately, yes. Look, people are more eco-conscious at Midburn than your average beach goer in Israel at the weekend. Sad but true, But of course, burning things isn't entirely ecological. And this year, for instance, there were many scorpions, and I'm sure they weren't happy about their habitat being disturbed either. Some of them probably got hurt too when people trod on them!
Sarah: And with all of the generators brought in, there's a lot of electricity consumed too? Why not make do with candles?
Dan: There's tonnes of light at night. This is something else - these 'burning' festivals are an excuse to let your hair down - dress up, do drugs. get naked...If you want to have fun, this is the optimum environment.
Sarah: But that's not why you go?
Dan: No. Like I've told you in the past, Midburn is hard to describe. And everyone says this, not just me. Look, it's the opposite of a typical festival - endless music, but no big names. All night parties but no aggressiveness. A lot of art, but completely 'freestyle.' And nothing for sale, because Midburn isn't about consumption. There's a whole ethos around it - a "Burner' culture as they say.
Sarah: Want to enlighten me?
Dan: That's a whole other conversation!
Sarah: Dan, thanks so much for sharing all this.