Burn, baby, burn – Taipei Times

Turtle Burn, Taiwan’s spinoff of the avant-garde art festival Burning Man, will take place over the Tomb Sweeping holiday

https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2021/03/26/2003754519

In the mountains of Yilan, far from the confines of everyday life, people gather during the holidays to celebrate. Outlandish costumes are the norm. The fashion styles run from Mad Max-inspired outfits, to anime cosplay, along with colorful makeup and dresses for both men and women.

It’s time for the Turtle Burn, the official “regional Burn” of Taiwan. This is a spinoff of Burning Man, the world’s largest art and music festival held annually in Nevada. For one week a year, over 70,000 people camp out in Black Rock Desert to attend this seminal countercultural event. All over the world, there are also smaller regional Burns, and the Turtle Burn will be a more intimate affair, capping at 150 people.

Although the main Burning Man event was canceled last year due to COVID-19, the Turtle Burn did have a successful opening in 2019 and plans to continue annually. The latest will be from April 2 to April 5, over the Tomb-Sweeping Festival holiday weekend, at Shanlinciji campsite.

Wooden turtle sculpture is set aflame on last night of Turtle Burn, 2019.

The site is filled with several “theme camps,” which groups organize in order to spend time with likeminded friends and to pool resources together. One is the Tavern of Truth, headed by Kate Panzica, which holds a free bar to give drinks to everyone who strolls by.

“Educating both foreigners and locals on the Ten Principles is a net positive,” Panzica says. “I think it’s great for folks to explore themselves and what they want to be in the ‘default world’ as well as a Burn.”

The Ten Principles of Burning Man, written by late founder Larry Harvey in 2004, are: Radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

Attendees gather around a flaming effigy on the last night of Turtle Burn 2019.

These guidelines help to make the event stay as ethical as possible, and people are encouraged to clean up after themselves and promote sustainable living. Radical self-reliance refers to how attendees must bring their own food, cookware, tents and other camping supplies. People are encouraged to contribute to the culture by building their own artistic creations, whether individually or as part of a group. And after the event is over, they must make sure to leave no trace by cleaning up all “MOOP” — matter out of place.

For four days the Turtle Burn will hold a variety of workshops and activities. The gifting principle doesn’t just refer to handing out free drinks or personalized jewelry, although that is also common. It can also be expressed by giving one’s time by hosting workshops.

In the past, these workshops have included improv comedy sessions, where participants learn to play and practice their comedic skills, yoga classes for keeping fit, lip-singing performances, fashion shows on a makeshift runway and even impromptu puppet shows. Some camps contribute at meal-times, cooking pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches to share with the entire community. At night, fire-dancers are a particular attraction of any Burn, dancing to the beat of electronic music and entertaining others as they express their craft.

Shanlinciji campsite overlooking the city of Yilan under a full moon.

“I was part of the Queen of Hearts camp,” said Michi Fu, sharing her experiences. “We had a shared costume closet with a full-length mirror to encourage radical self-expression through costuming. I sang with my furry, lavender bunny ears and turquoise silk robe and we all had hand-cranked ice cream.”

On the final night, tradition dictates that a wooden effigy is to burn. This started in 1986 at the very first Burning Man in San Francisco, as a symbol of how to keep the creative “fire” burning on even after the event concludes. At the Turtle Burn, a two-meter wide wooden turtle sculpture is scheduled to be set aflame. Dale Albanese, Taiwan’s official Burning Man contact, said of the installation: “There’s a sense of buildup and tension, and this sudden quietness and a collective shared spirit. You hear the oohs and the aahs at similar times. There’s a kind of shared attention. We’ve all been busy doing our own thing, and then there’s a pause. A reset. It’s also a moment to open up and say it wasn’t just about me.”

As 150 artists and performers gather their community together to continue the Turtle Burn tradition, they are also planning for next year and beyond. Tickets for this year’s event have already sold out but there is a waiting list. For more information, visit: turtleburn.com.

Preparing for Turtle Burn in 2019, attendees construct a communal dome space.

Turtle Burn 2021 Map.

Taiwan’s very own Burning Man!

I was recently lucky enough to be involved in a regional Burning Man festival, a precompression in fact, here in Taiwan.

I haven’t been since 2008, and I can hardly believe an entire decade has passed. The epic art festival out in Black Rock Desert was a pivotal experience in my life, and I’d always wanted to go again. Or, at least, go to a regional Burn somewhere else in the word.

Luckily, there’s the Turtle Burn!

It was technically called the Spark event which I went to last week, a sort of dry-run rehearsal for the larger burn coming up this June. Over the past few months, I’d met up with the organizers a number of times as we discussed the values and plans for this local Burner community in Taipei.

(And what synchronicity that I just did some comics about my Burn years as well…)

At last, during the Tomb-Sweeping holiday weekend, all was set up. Bronwen and I bought some costumes, reserved a tent and other camping supplies, and volunteered to set up a figure drawing workshop.

Our journey began with a bus to the east-coast country of Yilan, and then we negotiated a taxi to take us up the mountain to the remote 杉林奇蹟 camping ground. Absolutely stunning scenery overlooking the ocean. The family that ran the site were totally supportive, and they even had the cutest beagle. Partying times or not, I definitely recommend the place to everyone.

With only about forty people, it was amazing how much of the true Burning vibe they recreated. There was a free bar to hang out at, only rule is to bring your own cup. And of course, other party favors. There was a dome with pillows for chilling out and massage, a mutant art car, and an outdoor dancefloor complete DJ set as projections lit up the forest. And at last, a bonfire for the final night.

The performances were excellent, with burlesque shows and drag queen lip-singing as well as an impromptu puppet show. Some of the workshops included sign-making for your own camp (we chose to be called Elf Camp as you can see), improv comedy, a modeling lesson, and more.

As per the whole gifting economy, we gave away popcorn and sparklers. Plus, our own contribution to the workshops was in the form of two figure drawing workshops. I’ve been drawing quite a bit of late, so I tried my best to teach the fundamentals of the human form while using various materials to create some hopefully quality sketches… And, it only seemed fair that I modeled myself!

On Sunday we all took down our stuff and cleaned up thoroughly. Leave no trace behind, as they say. A bus was organized to go back down the perilous mountain, and I must admit I was rather tired when I got home that evening.

I was so happy to share the Burning Man experience with Bronwen, and I think most of the “Burgins” there had a great time and valuable introduction to the ethos that make these the best festivals on Earth. I heartily thank all those who helped made this happen, truly the best crowd.

Now, I can’t wait ‘till June!

Check out the website for more information if you’d like to participate in the Turtle Burn:
https://turtleburn.com/