Godspeed Dear Jason 3


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.





Godspeed Dear Jason 2

A Dusty Prayer for Jason

At the end of Burning Man 2017, as my family and I were about to leave Black Rock City, Jason gave me his treasured Top Hat, history, memories and all! Such giving seemed to come easily to Jason. I think he was saying thank you for bringing the koboi project to [The Camp with No Name]. I protested as I knew its history and the memories it held for him and anyhow it was really I who needed to thank Jason for making the Anugraham series of the Koboi Project possible. Still, in the spirit of receiving and with the delight of possessing the thing itself … I accepted graciously. Although I have since dressed the hat to my own liking, I have not actually seen fit to wear it. Now that Jason is gone, it seems right to bring it out and set it on our alter, to light a lamp and to offer a dusty prayer.

Rest in peace Jason.


Godspeed Dear Jason

With Jason Avery and Vicky Byers-Brown, Black Rock City, 2017

In the last few days there have been posts on Facebook about the passing of Jason Avery. Jason was a friend I made at Oakham School in the UK in the 1979, over 40 years ago. I was 17 years old when we met there and we were together for the 2 years of 6th form. Jason was a day boy and I was a boarder. We did not spend much time together but I remember some deep and sensitive conversations. Years later, in early 2017 we connected again, after a 37 year hiatus, and this lead to my bringing the Koboi Project to Burning Man that year. At the heart of this reunion was a wonderful act of generosity from Jason … he spent so much time and energy drawing me in to the idea of bringing my art to the desert, and did so much to support me and my family during the Festival. He encouraged and enabled us to perform the Anugraham series of the Koboi Project.

God spede dear Jason. I have no doubt you will prosper in heaven. I will end this post with words, your own words, that reflect what Jane, Tara and Durga and I experienced of your person – “The one thing from my first burn many years ago. Gifting. The gifting culture has stayed with me now for many years. It’s simple. But it’s hard too!! To gift with no expectation of return … is beautiful. But what is hard, is to receive that gift … and accepting that you have no requirement to return”.




Love on the Playa

fruitseller​In the myth of Krishna and the fruit seller, an old hawker woman selflessly satisfies the god child’s desire for her ripe and aromatic produce, even though he seems to offer her practically nothing in return. In folk representations of this allegory of desire (kama) and devotion (bakthi), such as the terracotta icon described above, the sublime mango often stands, metonymically, for the cornucopia of fruit in the old woman’s basket, which in turn represents the desires and delectations of the material life.

This kama is redolent, or indeed ripe, with soteriological promise in that it can be transmuted into the bakthi of a selfless offering to the Lord. To return to the story … One day a fruit seller came to Vrindavan, the village that is young Krishna’s abode. She was a simple woman, old and poor. Little Krishna heard her call and he ran out to her with a handful of grains to trade for his favorite mango. As he was running, the grains fell out between his little fingers and as he made his offer to the fruit seller, there were hardly any left in his hands.

The poor old lady was, however, so charmed by Krishna’s  beauty that she freely gave him all the fruits he desired. On the way home she noticed the basket was heavy and when she arrived she found that the lord had filled it up with celestial jewels. Thus it is shown how love (bakthi) of the greater self (Brahman), recognized metonymically in the more tangible beauty of the young Lord Krishna has great soteriological effect. It is this salvation by selfless giving  that is both the theme and the message of the myth of Krishna and the fruit seller.


Indians on the Playa


So we did it! My fellows at The Camp With No Name, my family and I – we realized the image I had visualized for Cowboys and Indians at Burning Man. We did one performance on the evening of the 31st August at camp where I presented the Krishna icon, the Thalaivar banner, and the Indian Cowboy image and 40 perfectly ripe mangoes. I told Krishna stories of love and truth to the gathering. Tara played an improvisation on the melody of Joe Ely’s Indian Cowboy on the Cello and Jane read her Poems on the Megaphone. Durga took photographs for future editions of the Koboi Project. The next day on the 1st September, Jane, Tara, Durga, Lucas, Guy, Saren and I took Cowboys and Indians onto the playa. This time we distributed 80 mangoes and interacted with burners as they came by on the their vehicles, their bikes and on foot. We shared love and truth … and mangoes till the sun went down on the Playa.

Burning Man Boots


Going in to Burning Man equipped with my ‘Cowboys and Indians’ boots. One of the unspoken ironies of living in the Americas for Indians of the great subcontinental diaspora is the coincidence of signifieds for the generalizing signifier ‘Indian’. I remember arriving in Vancouver to find that I was referred to as an ‘East’ Indian. I wondered if it was a reference to the historical East India Company that managed that far end of the British empire while this end was being run by the Hudson Bay Company. Yes … its always been a corporate universe … but that is another story! No quite simple I believe that I am ‘East’ Indian in ‘North ‘America’ to to distinguish me from the other Indian – the ‘native Indian’ or as I know them from a childhood of \Cowboys and Indians’ play, the Red Indian’. Indeed, living in the Americas is living with both the nominal and significant consequences of the original hubris and error of Columbus and his ilk.