Blind Burners really began to become a thing in those months of mid-2020 when much of the world was in lockdown, and fierce creative spirits across the world found each other and began re-imagining their culture online.
Evolving from an imaginary campfire hosted by me and Adil from our flats on opposite sides of London, we developed our identity through the expressive dance, performance and gender awareeness of Ebony Rose Dark and Lx Electric, and the kindness and curiosity of our new friends Marimuthu and Tigerlily.
Our recipe was simple. Take a Zoom room full of creative people from across the world, offer a space where performers can bring their art, sometimes curated sometimes more open mic, and just insist that anything of importance that is purely visual, be playfully described or sonified.
As we began to realise our potential to impact people, we started to think of all the skills we needed to develop. Top of the list was to unerstand how to build community. We reached out to a couple of friends – Sangeeta Pillai lander, of Soul Sutras, and Polly Superstar, of Kinky Salon. Both dear friends, and both highly creative powerful leaders. Our project has benefited hugely from early conversations with Polly and Sangeeta. Sangeeta’s steer that this project should “be all about sound” feels obvious, but for me as a very visual person with a background in film, initially my mind and focus had to be dragged kicking and screaming to focus on sound. We’ve made the transition, and in spite of my residual obsession with taking visual pleasure from sights such as golden evening slight reflected on on roiling turquoise waves, we do think a lot more these days about sound, and we recognise too its fundamental role in this universe. And Polly, well… Polly is truly one-of-a-kind. Huge hearted, silly, light years ahead in her field. So someone whose encouragement, like Sangeeta’s meant the world. And on top of all this, Polly dived into working with us to build the very first version of our Blind Burners website.
Back in 2020, our focus was on engaging with the Burning Man organisers and community, to try somehow to influence the eight “metaverse” burns that were taking place on different technology platforms. This was an immense accessibility challenge, and we lacked the connections and resources to get very far. We are now connected with the org, and we know that if ever a similar situation arises, we’d be much more able to get to them early on and help them to address the pervasive accessibility challenges which arise when you try to build ambitious creative tech projects quickly without the benefit of disabled expertise in on your plan.
And back then, we were a fairly punky spiky passionate loving crew.
Like many, we sensed the possibility that our world, our cultures, our economies, could be re-imagined. After decades of losing interest in politics and art, I myself felt a renewed desire to engage with the practical, and at the same time the possibility of being an artist, of working with others to change the world.
So, we built v1 of our website. The visual style was inspired by Ebony Rose Dark’s perspective as a partically sighted human being. Some clear contrasts of black and white, no “creative” design areas where text and images are blended into a mess that cannot be read by someone with partial sight. And some images that evoked this perspective of blurry images as being something worthy of art in itself.
By 2021 our project had developed to successful engagements with leading tech companies, where our approach to building Virtual Reality worlds, and to organising communities to bring together sighted and non-sighted creatives around new technology and art.
Microsoft in particular, the company whose VR platform we chose to engage with, responded with surprising (to us at the time!) openness. They engaged with our artists, heard our feedback, and at no point did they seem defensive about the issues we brought to their attention. Things didn’t always go the way we wanted, and AltspaceVR has sadly been sunset, but we are optimistic about Microsoft’s future online/spatial/Metaverse efforts, and this optimism is driven above all be knowledge of the people who are still working there, even after the recent layoffs which led to many allies moving on to new elsehwere.
To provide a clear structure for our developing activities, we decided to set up as a Community Interest Company, a particular form of organisation that’s not quite a charity or non-profit in the sense of US 501c3 corporations, but an entity which states in its Articles of Association WHO it is for, and what benefit it serves. We will share these details in a separate post, and they can also be found online at Companies House in the UK, where Blind Burners is registered. Further down the line, we may convert to a registered charity, or even set up as a 501c3 in the US, helping us to engage with the world of philanthropic funding, which can often require such a structure.
We don’t yet have a board of trustees, but we’re supported by some very knowledgeable folks from the worlds of accessibility, inclusive technology, gaming and film.
Until now Blind Burners’ development has ebbed and flowed in line with opportunities and our own energies. We feel we stand now at the head of an incredible opportunity to build out our project and our organisation to impact the world. By building our own creative experiments in VR, by championing our community of blind and low vision artists and game developers in pursuing their goals, by nurturing communities of folk with shared interests in sound, dance, art and tech, and by getting better at orghanising ourselves and communicating, we feel excited for what will come next.
And so, as we begin updating this website, and re-fashioning our identity, to reflect the organisation we now hope to build, we wanted to preserve herein, the original statement of intent, our “Vision”, as drafted sometime in Summer of 2020. With huge thanks to Polly, Sangeeta, and all our early supporters.
About Us -2020 Version
Blind Burners is a group of blind, partially sighted and sighted artists and performers.
At our core we are group of friends around the world, focused on shared joy, vulnerability, and nudging ourselves and each other gently out of our comfort zones.
We play with art forms, dancing art into sound, celebrating touch, sensuality, poetry, instinct, alternative means of perception.
We host wildly creative and connective parties online throughout the Burning Man multiverse, as part of the magnificent Co-Reality Collective and the unstoppable BRCVR.
We have three rules. One: if you’ve met one blind person, you’ve met one blind person. We are all different. Anything you wanna know, please ask. Two: Subject to the experiential and aesthetic preferences of those Visually Impaired Participants present, anything of importance that is purely visual, gets described or sonified, to the best of your abilities. Three, we will look after you. That’s a promise!
Our group was conceived in the run up to Burning Man 2019 and born in the Multiverse burns of 2020.
In 2021 the group is back in Co-Reality Collective’s Sparkleverse, and also with a pioneering camp in BRCVR.
The BRCVR camp is a visually stunning oasis, and a playground for innovative sound design aimed at challenging the silent assumption that VR is a visual medium and therefore not “for” or “by” blind participants and creators.
As an art-driven project, Blind Burners’ camp will showcase DJ’s, talks, and galleries of art, photography and cabaret performances by visually impaired artists and sighted friends. Expect dancing, descriptions, sonic play, vulnerability and joy.
We focus our Art, our Playfulness and the Creativity of our Community to engage people in transforming accessibility in all areas of life.
We burn through the dead wood of inaccessible information, lazy assumptions about what blind people can do, and experiences that were built without Blind Burners in mind
Vision – 2023 Version
We see a world…
… where the assumption that human culture is primarily visual is challenged until it dissolves, along with the entwined racism, patriarchy, misogyny, homophobic bullshit, other limiting beliefs and destructive economic systems
…where the assumption that VR is a predominantly visual medium, not “for” or “by” visually impaired participants, is kicked to the kerb. Help us course correct the development of this critical mode in which our future selves will live, work, love, play.
…where accessibility techniques such as audio description extend deep into the richer reaches of art forms and cultural identities
…. where audio describers are not afraid to describe the weird and the wonderful, and who have the cultural insight to respectfully describe any human being
…where creation tools, arts education and access are provided to ensure equal access for all those who are otherwise excluded or disadvantaged by a disability
…where Burning Man art, culture, and event information is accessible to visually impaired participants.
… where visually impaired participants can navigate physical and digital Burning Man experiences independently or with easy, on-demand assistance.
… where visually impaired participants and other excluded Burners are able to make the same independent choices as sighted participants.
…where those who are blind and deaf are not forgotten, and are embraced as creators too
… where all this is considered foundational to Burning Man culture.
In short, a world built for all of us.
It is something we see, and with your help will make real.