For countless centuries, travelers along the Silk Route crossed paths in caravansaries, a network of oases and sanctuaries that dotted the 4,000-mile road from Europe to East Asia. These bustling caravan stops offered more than just shelter from the desert wilderness; they were vital centers of cultural exchange, bringing together traders, pilgrims, monks, nomads, traveling entertainers, and wild-eyed adventurers from all points of the compass to share their stories around a common fire. Though fueled by mercantilism, their legacy to us is a grand commerce of ideas — a swirling exchange of languages, legends, technologies, philosophies and art that helped shape nearly every aspect of our modern world.
This year we will create a caravansary that occupies the crossroads of a dreamland: a bazaar of the bizarre wherein treasures of every sort, from every land and age, flow in and out to be flaunted, lost, exploited and discovered. This is not a tourist destination, but a home for travelers who come here bearing gifts. Amid the twisting and the turnings of its souk, participants will come upon an inexhaustible array of teeming goods and unexpected services. Anyone may pose as ‘merchant’ here, and anyone may play a ‘customer’, but nothing in this strange emporium shall have a purchase price — no quid, no pro, no quo — no trade at all will be allowed in this ambiguous arcade. According to a rule of desert hospitality, the only thing of value in this ‘marketplace’ will be one’s interaction with a fellow human being.
Design by Larry Harvey and Don Clarke, illustration by Andrew Johnstone and Jim Pire
Our desert inn will also be a scene of luxury and cultivated ease. An apron of fine carpets will spread out beneath the shade of portals that surround a courtyard. Here travel-wearied pilgrims may relax, inventing pastimes as they watch the whirling world go by. Workers of great wonders will be welcome here; fakirs, dancers, sadhus, seers and potentates will throng through this performance space, like figures that adorn the fabric of a silk brocade. Finger cymbals, chimes, and music of acoustic instruments will fill the air. By night, bathed in the lambent glow of lanterns gently swaying overhead, fire spinners will perform around the Burning Man. This year’s Man will rise directly from the desert floor and tower many stories high. Its massive torso will evoke a tiered pagoda; its ornate head will be a lamp that welcomes people home.
Like the ancient Silk Route, Burning Man’s communities are also spread worldwide. They form a network stretching all the way from Italy to South Korea, from Lithuania to Brazil. In 2014, we will invite these groups to help create a real-life caravansary that represents their varied cultures. As always, any work of art by anyone, regardless of our theme, is also welcome at the Burning Man event.
If you are planning to do fire art or wish to install a work of art on the open playa FMI:burningman.com