The annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada is subject to equal parts fascination and derision. Started in 1986 and described by the tagline: A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers, it gathers tens of thousands each year for an experiment in temporary community-building and artistic practice, informed by a set of 10 principles that lay claim to “radical inclusion,” the gift economy, self-expression, communal ethos, and notions of “immediacy.” While many who participate evangelize over its personal-transformative effects and celebrate its effort to make space for radical difference, a cottage “think-piece” industry has grown up around criticisms of the festival as an unexamined bulwark of cultural, economic, gendered, and raced privilege rife with contradiction.
Less reported are regional, local, and hyper-local efforts to reproduce Burning Man-style gatherings. A Madison-based dance music DJ-duo, known together as Surf n’ Turf—inspired by their respective monikers, Dr. Lobster and Bobby Beefcake—lead one of these small efforts with a two-day camping trip and dance party they call, Burning Lobster. A bit tongue-and cheek, having played the Burning Man circuit, they share with participants a glimpse of some of the best parts of Burning Man, if stripped of the scale and infrastructure, of the Silicon Valley “tech bros,” and imbued with more intention and discussion about the limits, possibilities, and contradictions of these endeavors.
They invite even their most skeptical and buttoned-up friends—maybe especially their most skeptical and buttoned-up friends—to join in camping, performance, music, costumery, absurdity, conversation, sharing, acceptance, support. . . and yes, there is dancing.
A nod to the elaborately constructed “Man” set on fire in Nevada, Dr. Lobster builds none other than a large crustacean companion, fabricated, DIY-style, of cardboard and wire, and a generous amount of red tempera paint, all in his basement in Madison. The lobster burns at midnight, and these photographs document the preparation.
Note: while Dr. Lobster is prominently featured here, Bobby Beefcake is regrettably out of shot, dancing somewhere in the dark and, appropriately, beefing up.