In this, the last of 3 posts remembering Jason Avery, I want to reflect on Jason’s role in bringing me within the fold of the Burning Man community in terms of my own growing awareness of the Festival.
In the late 1990’s I was based at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and was very much part of the global Internet art scene. Once, I was in Los Angeles for a conference and I met Mark Pesce who was a progenitor of desktop VR (Mark had been among those who spearheaded the standardization of 3D on the Web). As we socialized one evening, I was surprised to find him espousing the virtues of what sounded to me like a neo-pagan gathering in the desert. This was the first time I had heard of the Burning Man festival (Mark would, in 2003, pen a stinging critique of the cultification of the festival … but that is another story).
Some years later, in 2006 – 07, as faculty at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University, Canada, I supervised an MA dissertation titled ‘The return of the gift society: Traditional relations of exchange and trust in contemporary technological society’. My student, Efrat Ben-Yehuda was a burner and, as I helped her frame her thesis in terms of traditional and technological discourses, I learned about the lived experience of the festival. I was enthralled but still not drawn towards participating in the event .
Then, as outlined in my previous post, following my reunion with Jason in 2017, I was educated, encouraged, entreated, enlisted and eventually enabled to come to the festival, bringing along both my art and my family. Just as an artist must be able to visualize the work in order to realize it, a community builder must imagine the society he or she wants to bring into fruition. Jason was just such a builder. He envisioned how my art would align with the festival and, beyond my own wildest imaginings, he saw how joining [The Camp With No Name] as a family would would be a rewarding experience for us. Jason enabled both a wonderful family experience as well as the production of the Anugraham series of the Koboi Project.
‘Anugraham’ means ‘grace’ and this work celebrates the gifting ethos that informs the Burning Man Festival, the sense of giving as receiving, that Jason knew so well.