Catharsis & Sound

Blind Burners was conceived in 2019 as we planned our trip to Black Rock City, Nevada. Our ideas really began to take shape in Spring 2020.

On April 20th, our friends at Burning Man Project (‘BMP’) announced that Black Rock City in 2020 would not be built in the physical world. It would, however, be built in the Multiverse, a virtual Black Rock City. Home.

As BMP noted at the time: “Yes, we are heartbroken. We know you are too. In 2020 we need human connection and Immediacy more than ever. But public health and the well-being of our participants, staff, and neighbors in Nevada are our highest priorities.”

We at Blind Burners felt this need for connection deeply during the early months of lockdown.

Our individual circumstances -heartache, grief, mental health issues- were magnified by hardcore solo lockdowns.

For those of us who are visually impaired, the loss of our ability to reach out and physically touch our friends, our art, and the world around us, felt acute.

To some of us, if we can’t touch something, it doesn’t exist.

One of the first artists to announce their intention was Artur Mamou-Mani, a London-based French architect who takes students to Black Rock City to experience the challenges of building in the desert, and who in 2019 built the fractal-inspired Temple of Galaxia.

Mamou-Mani’s planned project for Black Rock City 2020 was Catharsis, a wooden amphitheatre, inspired by a geometrical figure of a circle made of circles called the Poincaré Disk. The concept inspired him to create a fractal amphitheatre made of smaller amphitheatres that would offer up infinite possibilities to its users. As he explained to dezeen:

“The space in between the circles would rise to the sky and offer labyrinthic galleries for people to place art of any size, allowing for more than just one type of performance, encouraging participation and creativity regardless of backgrounds.

“Catharsis is the purgation of emotions experienced through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. Something needed during lockdown more than ever”.

Announcing his plan to build the project online, Mamou-Mani presented a beautiful short film to illustrate his vision, and called on people with expertise of working with gaming engines to help him realise the temporary structure in a digital space.

Mamou-Mani originally planned to build the amphitheatre with wood, and unlike many such projects at Black Rock City, he planned to disassemble the project and rebuild it in other cities so that people beyond the Burning Man community might experience it.

In 2020 the question of Radical Inclusion felt far more acute. With so much creativity flourishing online… on the one hand, such beauty, such innovation, such indomitable spirit and desire to connect. On the other, the prospect of these exquisite creations being inaccessible to anyone with a visual impairment.

“We would like to create an online experience with the project, using features such as ‘multi-player’ on the game engine Unity to allow people to write or place messages of hope on the structure,” he said.

Reading this announcement we knew three things:

  • Mamou-Mani would or should have access to the leading 3D artists and engineers in the world.
  • The resulting experience had the potential to be magical.
  • We wanted to be able to experience this wonderful, awe-inspiring place of connection ourselves – whether sighted, partially sighted or blind.

In 2019 while preparing for the physical burn we questioned how key Burning Man principles, and in particular Immediacy, translate for visually impaired burners. On the playa, we could TOUCH art. Black Rock City was far better than any art gallery in this respect.

Our dream – to enter Mamou-Mani’s virtual catharsis, as sighted, blind and partially sighted burners; to navigate it independently; to hear exquisitely clear audio descriptions of the exquisite structure as we step into the digital world; to each experience the shifting light patterns rendered on the digital amphitheatre; to be aware of other avatars in the area, of crowds, of open space; and for those of us who are blind to be able to choose a spot that feels right for us, to sit down, take out our guitar, and begin to play.