Burning Man Live | Episode 72 | 07|08|2023

Brody Scotland: Art From the Inside Out

Guests: Brody Scotland, Stuart Mangrum

How would you overcome shyness at BRC?

How would you break people’s brains at SantaCon?

How would you acculturate museum docents to Burner culture?

Brody Scotland shares how she did it, and how she went from hating Black Rock City to working year round in the Burning Man Art department.

Brody and Stuart delve into the uncommon common sense of self-care and “feelings” in the emo roller coaster of BRC. They explore a style of pranking where no one is the butt of the joke. And they celebrate “Shit Dave X Says.”

From hand-crafting iconic costumes, to logistics-crafting “weird little odd art,” this is a string of lively stories about Brody’s bespoke approach to increasing happiness in the world.

Brody Scotland (Burning Man Journal)

Brody Scotland (Burning Man Staff)

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man (Smithsonian Institution)

Dave X (Burning Man Journal) & Shit Dave X Says


BRODY: Anytime you put Burning Man in a museum it’s not going to do it justice. But I think one of the things that it’s really good for is: If you’re a Burner and your parents don’t understand about Burning Man, that’s something you can either take them to or you can point at and be like, “Look, the Smithsonian is doing an art exhibition of Burning Man. It’s not just sex, drugs and techno. So we do what we can with what we have.

STUART: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Burning Man Live. I’m Stuart Mangram and I’m here today with a friend from, well, from many places, but most recently from the Burning Man Arts Department. Her bio lists her as a native Californian and recovering shy person, so let’s just have a quick moment of thank you for not being shy today. And, I love this, her two great desires in life are to create more happiness in the world, and to learn how to carve a bear with a chainsaw. My guest is Brody Q Scotland. Hi Brody.

BRODY: Hi, Stuart. How’s it going?

STUART: I’m doing great and I too have always been fascinated with chainsaw carving, but do you wanna do it like in redwood, non-sustainable wood, or ice? They do it in ice too, right?

BRODY: I think wood. There are companies that will cut down trees that need to be cut down like urban forestry. Perhaps I could obtain some urban forestry wood and make it out of that if one needed to be extra sustainable.

STUART: In your work in Burning Man’s Art department, have you ever encountered chainsaw art, there? Surely there must be a chainsaw artist who brings work to the playa.

BRODY: I have not, in my 12 years working here, met a chainsaw artist that I know of on playa yet. I keep my tendrils out, but I have yet to find one. I’ve had a couple good leads, but nothing has panned out.

STUART: And you do have tendrils. Your role in the Art department is, this is off your Slack profile: Lord of the Files. Are you a spreadsheet maven? Is that what you do?

BRODY: I am. I do mostly logistics for the Art department, which of course means spreadsheets and data and all of the things. So I operate with all of my tendrils behind the scenes of the Art department, reaching and grasping and gifting and giving and pulling, to make things go in the Art department.

STUART: And there is a lot going on in the Art department. We had Katie Hazard on the program a little bit back talking about all of the honoraria programs, but I’m not sure our listeners know that the honoraria art grants are just the tip of the chainsaw iceberg here, right? How many projects in total are we gonna place on the playa this year, or do we know yet?

BRODY: We do know. We have closed our art installation questionnaire. We have a little over 300 registered art pieces that are non-honoraria art pieces. So we have the 75 pieces that we fund every year, but then the majority of the projects that come to Burning Man come under their own steam, completely on their own in terms of funding.

So yeah, that’s a little over 300 and there’s all kinds of wild things this year, thanks to the theme.

STUART: Oh. Do tell. Animal art? Is that what we’re saying?

BRODY: There might be some animals. Yeah, there’s some cat scratching-posts. There’s all kinds of creatures, both real and imagined.

A couple of my favorites are Trust which is by Paige Tashner and it is a circle of cats with their butts in the air, ah, because apparently when cats trust you, they will kind of arch their back and stick their butt in your face. And each of the cats will have different light up buttholes. So you’ll be able to go have a cat butthole experience and do some trust exercises in the center of the string of cats while you’re there.

STUART: Like a trust fall surrounded by a bunch of cat assholes. 

BRODY: Yeah. It’s funnier if you say buttholes for some reason.

STUART: Okay. There are quite a few euphemisms. Of course, in writing, the word cat butthole one simply uses the character of the asterisk.

BRODY: Of course, the ass-terisk.

STUART: Oh, oh, I didn’t even know… That is supposed to be where the word comes from! So what else do you see that we should look forward to seeing out in Black Rock City this year?

BRODY: Well, one of my other favorite projects isn’t quite creature related, but it’s whimsical and it’s strange. It’s called Sparkle Bonies, by Meredith Braden. It is two 12 foot skeletons, like those 12 foot skeletons that you see on people’s lawns; like the big fancy Halloween 12-foot sold-out-everywhere skeletons. 

STUART: The extravagant Halloween display. Okay.

BRODY: Yes. And they will be on playa on a little stage, dressed up in various costumes every day that kind of poke fun at various groups of Burners. So, if you show up one day and you think it’s funny, if you show up the next day, they might look like you and maybe that will be less funny or more funny. It depends on your ego, I suppose.

STUART: I get it, it’s the interpretation thereof through costumery.

Costumey is something you know a little bit about. I gotta say, before I even met you, I think I first met you by seeing a photograph of you at, well, I’ll just say it, at SantaCon, which anybody who’s listened to this program knows that I have mixed feelings about. Burning Man’s evil sibling — that other event that was popped out of the hide of the expiring Cacophony Society. But the photo is classic. It’s probably the most famous SantaCon photo ever because, out of a sea of red and white Santas, there’s one Santa in black and white. It appears to be a Photoshop hack. Tell us a little bit about that little escapade of yours.

BRODY: Well, this was 10 years ago before SantaCon finished circling the drain all of the way. It was still kind of trying to do some interactive, you know, “let’s hang out with the normies” kind of stuff.

And I got tired of my standard Santa options, which as a woman are pretty much like slutty Santa, slutty elf, slutty reindeer. I was like, “Eh, this is boring. I want something different.” And I thought, “Well, what if I look just like a regular non slutty Santa, but just black and white, like I just stepped out of some black and white movie, that might hurt people’s brains a little bit. That would be fun.” 

So I wandered the aisles of the fabric store looking for just the right gray that looked like red, but desaturated. And I made myself a custom Santa suit, and I got gray contact lenses on some sketchy site online. And I got a gray wig and I went to the fantastic body paint store Krylon in San Francisco where all the fabulous drag queens go, and I got a gray face paint which looked just like my skin, but desaturated, and like did the whole thing. And so I had this very classic Santa suit, but it was gray, and I was gray, and my eyes were gray.

I got there in person and it just blew people’s minds. It was like being a celebrity. And as someone who is a recovering shy person and an introvert, I didn’t know how much I would be on stage all day. At one point I remember hiding in an alley just trying to like shove a pork bun in my mouth because I was so hungry and people wouldn’t leave me alone.

It was great in person, but then when I got home, It ended up on Reddit, and this enormous thing started where everyone thought it was Photoshopped and it was just like these giant arguments back and forth about, “Oh, it’s Photoshop, I can tell by the pixels. You know, if you zoom in on her, whatever, it looks terrible.” And it got to the point where Roger Ebert Twittered about it. So yeah, it was a fun project.

STUART: That is a moment of fame. It was truly an awesome feat of costumey.

Santa Con, I stopped going after the first three or four years, but somewhere in the early 2000s wasn’t there a funeral for SantaCon?

BRODY: Around 2011 there were some folks who desperately wanted to believe that SantaCon was over, and it was over for them by that point. There had been sort of a seismic shift in the non-organization organization behind San Francisco SantaCon, and that had been handed over several times to various people. It had kind of gotten past the point where it was anything but a drunken pub crawl without much of anything else behind it. I’m not quite very familiar with whoever did the funeral for Santa, but I am shocked to see that SantaCon actually still does go on every year.

STUART: It’s unkillable. Drive a holly stake through its cold black heart, and it still keeps pumping black blood. 

BRODY: I feel really happy to have been involved back in the day and to have a really fun costume that, you know, will still surface on Reddit and people still fight over whether or not it’s Photoshopped. If I have to be Googleable for something, at least it’s a creative art project. But as SantaCon gets worse and worse, I keep having to say “No, no, no. This was back when it was still at least a little bit interesting or cool.”

STUART: People made their own costumes, Desaturated Santa, although I gotta say in the first year, we all just bought ’em.

BRODY: Yeah, I mean, “Cheap Suit Santa” was… 

STUART: Was the name of the event, actually. It was the first year, I think it was in the Rough Draft, Cacophony newsletter, it was called Cheap Suit Santas.

BRODY: Well you have to have a certain mass of the cheap suit Santas to have other Santas or it dilutes it. You know, you still have to have that core of cheap suit Santas. 

STUART: I dunno, it just turned into a pick excuse to, as you said, to spread holiday cheer? No, that’s not what it is. It was never about holiday cheer. Let’s be real. It was a drinking party from the beginning.

BRODY: It was, but there were other things. I remember when we would sort of parade through San Francisco and stop, and there would be events for Santa to do, and jump rope, and people did little obstacle courses. And we attended a giant beautiful wedding in North Beach at some point. You know, the couple came out, down the steps of this amazing, beautiful, expensive-looking church, and all of a sudden there was like hundreds and hundreds of Santas who all just turned, you know, like their heads just all turned and looked and saw the bride in the groom. And the Santas just ran for the couple. And they looked terrified. But they got into it eventually and they ended up with this enormous photo of all of the Santas on the steps, and then the bride and the groom looking happy, yet a little bit confused, in the center. And that’s, you know, not something you can pay for on your wedding day.

STUART: Yeah. The only activity I remember, Brody, was: we hung Santa in Union Square.

BRODY: Right. And then rode the escalators in the mall. 

STUART: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t like we had a set piece activity set up for us other than, you know, running a police gauntlet. That was the highlight of SantaCon 2, was when we filled up one of those double accordion buses on the Geary Line, and finally at one of the stops got pulled over. And a witness to some sort of Santa debauchery sat there with a policeman as Santas got off the bus one by one and said, “Is it him? Is it him? Is it him..? Is it him?”

BRODY: And at that point, you wanna be the Santa in the cheap suit rather than the Santa in the really, obviously different garment. I mean, if you’ve done some Santa related crimes, that is.

STUART: Surreal Alley. Well, yes. “‘Crimes,’” triple air quotes for extra irony. Yeah. Like Christmas isn’t a crime… Crime against America! All right, I’m ranting, which means it’s been a good day.

You know, it’s interesting, that idea of the costume for a shy person. I’ve always actually been a little bit on the introverted side, and my experiences in Cacophony, wearing costumes sort of burned that out of me. They made me maybe a little bit less sensitive overall to have people staring at me.

Tell me what you think about this year’s theme Animalia, Brody Q Scotland.

BRODY: It has definitely brought out a lot of creativity. People love animals. It’s, I think, really accessible for a lot of people, both for costumes and for thinking about Mutant Vehicles and thinking about art pieces. It gives everyone really a hook to start thinking about their creativity, which I really love as someone who works in the Art department and loves seeing all the art. Every year when the theme is announced, we try and guess what we will see the most of, based on the theme. You know, some years if it’s like, “Oh, Green Man. Okay, we’re gonna see a lot of trees this year.” You know, that kind of thing. 

And we weren’t able to guess this year because of course it was just, “We will see a lot of animals of all different sorts.” I love a good accessible theme.

STUART: Yay. Well, thank you, thank you. It’s making me nostalgic for one thing about Burning Man that has changed over time. I don’t know if this is right, but it seems like a lot fewer people make homemade costumes for Burning Man. Is that true, do you think? Or is it just that there’s so many more people that the same number do and they just seem fewer? Scarcer?

BRODY: Maybe the same number does, but there’s also so many companies that have popped up making Burner-wear. Before, if you wanted furry leggings, you sure as heck had to make your own furry leggings from a pattern you found on the internet that someone posted on Flicker back in, you know, 2006. That was me, by the way. I have that up there on my Flickr from 2006.

STUART: Oh, thanks for that.

BRODY: Yeah, no problem. Always helping. But now you can type in “Burner gear” and you can find some shiny leggings or a onesie or something like that. So I think a lot of people, if they have easy options, they’re not necessarily going to make the effort to do something homemade unless they have a really specific idea that they can’t find.

STUART: Yeah, it was definitely a stronger influence back in the early Cacophony years. Although honestly, you look at the pictures of the first tears out in the desert, it just looks like a nerd camp-out. Everybody’s wearing fleece and Members Only jackets, I dunno. But there were a few pretty dedicated costume makers, at least in my circle of friends, in Cacophony; people like Louise Dirmillivich who’s a super talented customer. I remember sharing a trailer…the first year we did the newspaper, that trailer was half full of Louise’s costumes and half full of my little newspaper getup.

What else has changed? What do you miss from the old days? You’ve been going since 2004. It’s a lot of change. 20 years of change, there. Are there any old traditions of Burning Man that you’re, I dunno, nostalgic for?

BRODY: Well, I’m nostalgic for the sunset howl, which is one of the things that struck me very strongly when I first started going to Burning Man, I’d never heard that before.

STUART: What was the sunset howl?

BRODY: Well, when the sun hits the mountains, everyone would just howl. So you would hear the whole city and it would just kind of echo around. Maybe this will be a good year to bring it back since it’s animal-themed. 

STUART: Howl like a canine. 

BRODY: Yeah, like some kind of animal what howls. Choose your own howl.

I also miss when people would cover all of their logos, even the ones on their clothes and their backpack and their shoes. Not to mention just the rental cars and trucks, which still happens somewhat. I drive around the city and I still see brands covered up on the big trucks, but I still remember carefully unpicking the seams on all of the applied logos on the backpacks and things that I was going to wear at Burning Man because I didn’t wanna have logos in that place. It felt important, and the way it was taught to me was this was a decommodified space, so we don’t run around with giant Nike Swoosh on our t-shirts. It’s a place to get away from that.

STUART: I still cut the tags off of my clothes. Or take a Sharpie to it, destroy a lot of white text.

BRODY: It hides all crimes. 

STUART: But there I am using a brand name. I didn’t say “marking pen,” I said “Sharpie.” This program brought to you by Sharpie markers. No, it’s not true. 

Okay. Let’s talk more about costumes, because I know you love sewing stuff, making stuff, and you made two costumes for our friend Larry Harvey, back in the day. One of them was for the Caravansary tour. What was that like? 

BRODY: Well, Larry used to wear the guaya… Are they called guayaberas? 

STUART: Yes, they are: the classic Cuban hot weather shirt with four pockets. He always had to have one that had two upfront, two down below pockets, for all of his cigarettes and lighters and sunglasses and all that stuff. But yeah, go on.

BRODY: And so for the Caravansary year, I figured he should have some kind of noble robe of some sort. So I went to one of the now closed thrift stores in the Mission District in San Francisco, and I purchased probably 10 guayabera shirts of various colors and sorts, and I turned them into an enormous super guayabera robe that pretty much reached the ground, and had pockets all the way down and all the way on the inside. I actually sewed two shirts together, with their insides together, so that there were pockets all the way down the insides as well. And it had a beautiful gold collar. It was perfect.

STUART: It was pretty fetching. I was jealous. I’ve always been a fan of those Cubana shirts myself, but I’ve never had an ankle length one before.

BRODY: Well, it is out there somewhere. I’m trying to track it down.

STUART: Put it in the Larry Harvey Museum of Oddities.

BRODY: I’d just wear it. I’d take it back and wear it. Honestly.

STUART: Yeah, the costumey thing. I think about that a lot. When I went to the Smithsonian show, the Burning Man Show at the Renwick. There were some beautiful, beautiful costumes there, I think curated by Jennifer Raiser. You were a part of that show. You were pretty heavily involved in that, that program, weren’t you?

BRODY: Sure. Let’s talk about museums in general, because it’s so fascinating to talk about Burning Man and museums and how weirdly well it has dropped into museum culture, and just blasted through all of the attendance records in every museum we’ve ever been in.

So the Nevada Museum of Art back in 2017 was the first to do, “City of Dust,” I believe it was. They did kind of more like an ephemera, an object show, of Burning Man. And part of that show actually ended up being folded into the Smithsonian show. That was part of the traveling show. But the very first show that did sculptures from Burning Man was a museum out in Norfolk, Virginia called the Hermitage Museum.

And the lore goes that it was just this tiny little museum out there, and the Executive Director had this big book of Burning Man art. And she came in one day to their staff meeting, there were probably like ten staff, and she slammed it down on the thing and said, “What do you think? Do you wanna do an exhibition of Burning Man art?” And everyone was like, “Well, yeah! Let’s do that.” So they brought out big sculptures and they did the whole thing on their beautiful grounds, they had all these big sculptures. And they did not only the art of Burning Man, but they did the culture of Burning Man too. And that was where I got involved.

I went out to help train their docents and sort of figure out how we can not only just bring the art of Burning Man, because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s part of the culture. So we needed to figure out how people could talk about it, people who were not necessarily Burners, and figure out how to do some interaction around that.

They made fabulous decisions in terms of getting Burners to help there also. There’s a big Burner contingent out in that area. They just threw this rocking outdoor opening party and it felt like Burning Man. It was amazing. And they ended up setting a new attendance record for an exhibition.

And then the Renwick, with the Smithsonian, they did their big “No Spectators” show after that, where it was the whole building takeover right near the White House. It was like three floors. And then they had sculptures scattered out through DC as well. They also wanted to think about the culture of Burning Man as well as the art of Burning Man.

So again I found myself on a plane as some sort of subject matter expert now. Apparently I was the subject matter expert of Burning Man in museums because I was the only person who’d done one so far. 

STUART: Yes, there’d only been one. And you’d done it. So you were it!

BRODY: Right! I was it! It’s easy to be an expert when something is new.

I suddenly found myself standing in the Renwick in the Smithsonian staring at all of these docents who were retired east coast elite professors, and all these fancy people. I’m standing here and I’m like, “I’m some girl from California. Who am I?” And my job was to teach them about Burning Man when they had either never heard of Burning Man or never went, or both. And I said, “Has anyone here been to Burning Man?” They just kind of stared at me like I had two heads. 

STUART: I’m reeling here because I mean, to begin with, in Black Rock City, there, of course there are no docents, there’s no even attribution of art. There’s no little white tags, there’s no walls, none of that stuff. How do you take a bunch of retired academics and make them not be didactic about art, and actually talking to people like people? Tell me about your acculturation program for these docents! 

BRODY: Well, it all starts, as many things do, with a PowerPoint presentation.

STUART: Ah, yes. The power of Power… Point. 

BRODY: I ended up with a really visual PowerPoint. I’m not one of those people who puts text on a PowerPoint slide. It was just all images and me talking about it, and it just started with: Where is Black Rock City? The whos and the whats and the wheres and the why, and we kind of zoomed in from like, What is this thing? to Why is this thing? How is this thing? And then sort of Why you should care. 

They were just so fascinated. I could almost see their ‘cultural anthropology professor’ brains kick in where they were like, “Oh, I can see that the rituals of this culture are similar to…” They were just making these connections and they kind of came to it almost like some foreign culture that they’d never heard of, but sounded kind of fun and had really interesting art.

One of the things we did as an acculturation was we did an arts and crafts day where they could take their museum badges and kind of bling them up. We rolled in with, you know, glue guns and some sparkly nighttime stuff. And we’re like, “All right, party on. You know, you can wear a costume. You can not wear a costume, but. It starts with this participation and thinking about how you would like to be seen.”— not to get back to costuming, but… Some people really went for it. They made hats and they made, you know, they used their glue guns and they just kind of got into it. It was a perfect introduction, just this very hands-on, “Let’s make some art together that you can wear to show that you were a docent here.” 

We also moved towards a way of having them ask participants about what they thought about the art rather than just spouting out facts, you know? “This is so-and-so. It was made in 2016 by like blah, blah, blah.” It was “What does this feel like to you? What does this make you think of? Does this resonate in any way with other art that you’ve seen? Does this have influences that you can..?” You know, try and find people at their own level.

STUART: Now that sounds like Burning Man. Was there any Jackassery? Is there any oddness? Our friend Caveat tells a story about, trying to leave a gift in the gift shop and being foiled. Were there any, any unscheduled exhibits?

BRODY: I don’t think so. There was probably a little this and that and the other thing, but it was so close to the White House that there was a lot of security. So it kind of had this feeling of “one must be careful” because you’d walk out onto the plaza and there’d just be Secret Service agents there. It kind of had a little damper on things a little bit.

STUART: Yes. That was during the tenure of the previous President of the United States who added a lot of additional security, I know, blocked off whole blocks around the people’s house. I was visiting the US Institute of Peace around that time, which is a block or so away, and I felt like I was going into a federal courthouse. It’s a little bit odd to walk into the United States Institute of Peace and have to go through a security cordon that would make TSA blush. 

I did like that there were statues, there were installations, excuse me, outside the museum. So rolling up to it from either side you got some Burning Man art out in the wild, which seems to be, maybe, it’s a more natural environment. I say overall it was a huge success for me, but there were a few of those juxtapositions that didn’t work — like having the temple be constructed inside a ballroom. It was just kind of odd, just the verticality and the weird indoor/outdoor carpet on the crowd — not enough dust!

BRODY: Yeah. They were very much like “No dust. No dust.” I had suggested at one point that we get one of those things you see at the fair, like when you get inside a little booth and there’s money in there spinning around, like you’re in a hurricane, and your thing is to grab the money. I said, “Well, what if we have one of those but it’s full of dust and then people can go in there and get full of dust and experience what it’s like to be in a dust storm?” And they were like, “Absolutely not. No. We will not track dust through our museum. Thank you.” 

It’s an imperfect translation. Anytime you put Burning Man in a museum, it’s not going to do it justice. But I think one of the things that it’s really good for is, if you’re a Burner and your parents don’t understand about Burning Man, that’s something you can either take them to or you can point at, and be like, “Look, the Smithsonian is doing an art exhibition of Burning Man. It’s not just sex, drugs and techno. There’s beautiful art, there’s culture, there’s other things.” I talked to so many people who took their parents to this event and they were like, “Wow. My mom finally understands why I roach off to the desert for a week or two every year. She’s much more accepting of it now that I can take her to see this art.”

So we do what we can with what we have, and it’s not gonna be perfect. But we did break their attendance record at the Renwick. And then we broke the attendance record when the exhibition traveled to the Cincinnati Art Museum. And then we broke the attendance record when it traveled to the Oakland Museum of California.

STUART: …and made a lot of money through the gift shop, right? I mean, that’s the thing for me. Burning Man art, because it was outsider art for so long, was just decommodified by its very nature, right? And when people first started selling these pieces, taking them to the desert and then selling them afterwards, it seemed kinda like, “Oh, okay. I guess so.” But now it seems like sometimes people make art specifically to be sold. They take it out to Burning Man to get provenance for it, so they can sell it for some more. Am I just making that up?

BRODY: You are not making that up. On one hand, it’s fabulous that artists can make a living doing art, and I am never going to be against anything where someone who can make money doing what they love can actually just do it, even if they are, quote unquote, using Burning Man along the way, or their fame comes in part from Burning Man. I think it’s still great when people can make art and someone will give them money for it. It’s way better than working somewhere where you don’t wanna work and just being sad. I mean, that increases the amount of happiness in the world, which is one of my goals in life. So…

STUART: And it’s a noble goal. Don’t get me wrong, I think the starving artist is a trope that should die.

BRODY: Right. I am not a fan, I will say, of big architects coming to Burning Man and doing these giant things that they can sort of schlep around as, “Yes, and we’ve done this thing at Burning Man,” and it’s on their fancy website with all the other stuff they’ve done. I am personally, speaking personally here, more a fan of the weird little odd art that people make in their backyards and with a couple of friends. 

One of the things I do, I manage a small portfolio of projects every year here at Burning Man, as part of my job, and I have ended up with a portfolio of the funny, weird, strange small projects. Some people do international art, some people do big art that needs lots of engineering. I do what I call the Larry Harvey Memorial Art collection art. He always would do this thing where he would just get obsessed with one weird little project every year. And it was all he would talk about sometimes. And everyone else would be like, “Yeah, okay, Larry, that’s, that’s pretty funny.” And he would be like, “No, the yoga robot is amazing. We need to talk about the yoga robot!” Which actually was a thing that he was super excited by. And so all my weird little projects, these are the projects that Larry would’ve liked. We have to still have weird little cool fun stuff at Burning Man. 

STUART: So tell us a little bit more about what your role looks like out in the desert. A lot of people are aware that there is unfunded art, but I don’t think they’re aware of the degree of support that they get from Burning Man’s Art department. What’s your life look like out there? You said you manage a portfolio. What does that mean?

BRODY: It means that mostly pre-playa I assist 10 or 11 projects with all of the details they need to get to Burning Man. We’ll have an initial call and talk about all the various resources that are there and check in and kind of help shepherd them to get to playa.

And we have a team of people here at Burning Man who do that as artist liaisons to help with all of the projects. Everyone who registers at Burning Man for their art piece gets an artist liaison to answer questions and help them get there. So once we’re out there, we live at The ARTery, which is on the Esplanade facing out. And we are basically a resource for artists on playa. We have Art Support Services, we have the Fire Art Safety Team. We have the Arterians who check in all the art projects and go out to place them. It’s a little busy hive of activity out there. And there’s shade. More importantly, there’s shade.

STUART: There’s beautiful, beautiful shade. 

Here’s a question. You’ve been going to Burning Man since 2004. I gotta ask you a question I ask a lot of my guests: Why? What do you possibly see in it? Why is it important to you personally, and does it have any larger meaning outside of that? Why have you devoted this much of your life to this thing?

BRODY: This is the thing that I’ve devoted the most of my life to year after year. Um, and I hated Burning Man the first year I went, I just absolutely hated it. I told my friends not to let me go back there ever again.

STUART: Ooh, let’s unpack that a little bit. Why did you hate it?

BRODY: It turns out I hated myself, as as many things, but I did not understand how to talk to human beings, and how – how a place worked when people just kind of did whatever they wanted to and had projects and ran around and talked to each other and did social extrovert-type things.

I ended up biking around quietly looking for something to happen to me, or to be invited into something. I was a spectator. I didn’t understand how to join. So I biked around the entire week looking for something to happen to me and nothing happened. I climbed on some art and I looked at some things, and I had a camp that was actually kind of miserable because they were jerks. And my then partner had pneumonia or something. And so I was like, “Wow, this is hard. And this is lonely and I don’t understand why people like this.”

I went home and I was like, “Never again. Don’t let me go there.” 

All of my friends started preparing for Burning Man again. They’re like, “Oh, we’re gonna do a theme camp and we’ll have a barn. It’s this and it’s that. And won’t that be wonderful? And people will come to us and…” The general excitement was such that I finally was like, “I think I wanna try it again.”

I went back, and I found the Greeters, and I realized that I had to have a job to be happy at Burning Man because it gave me an excuse to talk to humans and it gave me something to do. So that year I bartended at our camp bar and people came to me and wanted something so they would speak to me, which is always important because I didn’t have to just suddenly speak to them. They would come up to me and I would have a thing to give to them. 

And at Greeters – I really do credit Greeters for teaching me how to speak to other humans in the world, and everything I am at Burning Man now is because Greeters just burned out of me any terror I had at speaking to other human beings. 

So a car would come up and it would be full of people who looked at me like I knew what I was talking about, which I may or may not have. And I gave them information and they were happy, and then they went away. If I made some awful mistake or, you know, stuttered or didn’t have the information they wanted, they would just drive away and I would never see them again. And so, you know, four hours of this over and over, and I did it every day. It just burned out that feeling of, “I’m afraid of human beings,” which I pretty much was before Greeters.

STUART: Yeah. It’s hard to be a Greeter without saying something. If you could just smile and smile and wave and hand them the map… but, yeah, I could see it’s kind of a low risk environment to check it out.

BRODY: And it taught me not to take things personally, also. Where, you know, some people wouldn’t want an interaction. Maybe they were introverts themselves or maybe they were tired or maybe, you know, I couldn’t take anything personally that someone coming up to me in a car – some people would just roll their window down the tiniest little bit so I could slide the Greeter book in there and then they would just speed off, which was fine.

And I’m like, “All right, have a good day. Bye.” And I couldn’t take that more personally than I could the people who wanted to get out and be my new best friends and get hugs and whatever. That had nothing to do with me, also. I was just the representative of being there at that point.

STUART: Receiving their energy.

BRODY: Correct. Once I found a job to do and once I burned out being afraid of talking to humans, I realized that Burning Man wasn’t the problem. I was the problem. Which was handy. Sure it’s not for everyone, but it was something that felt interesting and exciting and different enough from the very boring middle class commercial lines insurance broker that I was before my life with Burning Man.

It was much more exciting and the people were way more interesting and didn’t wanna talk about football.

STUART: So it’s the work. You keep coming back for the work.

BRODY: Well, and now I work here, so it’s my actual job. It is literally the work. I volunteered for Greeters for a while and then transitioned to working full-time for Burning Man. And so yeah, now I’m out there three weeks a year for my job, and I get to hold space for other people to have the kind of transformative experiences that I had at Burning Man back in the day.

STUART: Let’s go back to jackassery, because I know you appreciate a good prank. You’re a Cacophonist at heart. What do you think makes a distinctly Burning Man prankish experience?

BRODY: I think the most important part is, no one is a butt of the joke.

STUART: Oh. How does that work?

BRODY: It’s about not being a jerk. There’s so many things where you can still do something with prankster energy that’s unusual or startling or gets people out of their day or whatever, where they’re not feeling personally attacked or hurt or laughed at in a way that might make them uncomfortable.

And that’s what I’ve always appreciated about things like SantaCon or other Cacophony jackassery or going salmon-wise up Bay to Breakers, or any of those kind of things. It’s not making fun of people in a way that makes them unhappy. As someone who’s very sensitive and recovering-shy and introvert, the idea of just someone laughing at me in a mean way is the worst possible thing and just kind of takes me back to elementary school and being bullied. So I think pranks where it’s just, it’s fun and it’s funny and it makes people think differently, that is the most important — rather than just being a dick for engagement or clicks or likes or because it makes you feel better.

STUART: Hey, just because I have a bullhorn doesn’t mean I’m a dick.

BRODY: Very true. You could be saying nothing but loving and kind things through that bullhorn, Stuart.

STUART: And, whispering… Whispering through a bullhorn you can say anything no matter how nice and it sounds really evil and scary. I don’t recommend it. It’s not for everyone.

BRODY: I thought you were gonna say, it sounds really intimate and you can stand across a plaza from someone and just whisper and it just feels like it’s coming through their ear, just like it’s just for them.

STUART: I don’t know. I’d have to get my bullhorn down to demonstrate. But, no. Kids, friends don’t let friends do bullhorn poetry.

BRODY: It’s kind of like running for politics. People who want to run for politics are probably the worst kind of people to run for politics. And people who want a bullhorn are probably the worst kind of people to have a bullhorn.

STUART: Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. It’s for safety. Because I really believe in being safe, or at least not dying. This is funny. This is something else you and I have in common. Each of us have, at one point in time, delivered Burning Man Project’s New Burner Orientation presentation which is kind of a hallowed age-honored tradition associated with the volunteer recruiting process. When I went through it, I went through with survival specs on. I actually retitled it “Thank You For Not Dying at Burning Man.”

When I saw your version very, very different and much more focused on feelings, stuff like that.

But it was awesome. One of the things in there I remember was when you talk about self-care. I use this example all the time. If you meet one person who is an asshole, that’s no big deal. If you meet three people in a row, they’re all assholes, what’s going on here?

BRODY: You’re the asshole.

STUART: You’re the asshole. Tell us a little bit more about what’s in that section of the “How to keep your composure and mental health out on playa.” What are some tips for any folks who are heading out this year?

BRODY: Definitely to take care of yourself first before taking care of other people. I focus on the feelings and the emotional part of Burning Man because it’s really hard, and you can have the best gear and you can have all your water and you can have your whatever, but if you’re miserable inside yourself at Burning Man, you’re still not gonna have a good time. Yeah, if you have blisters, you’re not gonna have a good time. But if your soul has a blister, you’re not gonna have a good time either.

So it definitely needs some thought about: what kind of person are you? Are you an introvert that needs time to recharge? And if so, where at Burning Man are you going to be able to recharge? Is it going to be in your tent with giant noise canceling headphones in your head underneath a pillow while you rock back and forth thinking “Will this music never end?” Or will it be out in deep playa by yourself on a long bike ride? You definitely have to think about that. 

You know, if you’re an extrovert, you’ll gather your energy from other people, and you’ll have plenty of that at Burning Man. But even extroverts, I think, can stand with a little bit of gear change sometimes at Burning Man. 

Relationships are an entire other box of frogs, for sure, because not only are you dealing with you, you’re dealing with your partner or your camp, your larger sphere of humans, and those people might be tired and stressed or hungry or… They say H.A.L.T.: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Which one of these things am I at this point? And you can solve for them.

You just kind of have to realize that you will probably have a day where it just feels crummy. And if you go into it thinking, “Well I might have a day that feels crummy. Not every day is going to be the best day of my life,” it allows you to set expectations because expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

But also, most importantly, if you’re wearing a skirt, you gotta put sunblock on your undercarriage because it’ll get burned when the sun bounces off the playa.

STUART: Oooo. Yeah. Note to self. Yeah, that’s super interesting. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever been hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. YES! All at the same time. I tell people it’s, if you have any expectation, you should expect to experience the full range of human emotions. Sometimes in rapid fire, sometimes all at once. That means you’re really at Burning Man. You’re not sure not sure how to feel about your feelings.

BRODY: It’s an emotional marathon, not an emotional sprint. And you will feel all the things, you know, there’s like the, “Oh boy, we’re starting,” and then, “Oh boy, we’re continuing,” and “Will this never end?” and “I am so tired.” But then you ramp back up to Burn Night and you’re like, “Oh no, it’s almost over. I don’t wanna leave.” It’s everything and too many things all at once.

STUART: Unless you already left. I mean, you said it earlier, it’s not for everyone. And I tell people that too. You might have a terrible time. You might not ever want to go back, but at least you’ll know it won’t be somebody else telling you that it sucks. You’ll know yourself that it sucks for you, and that’s okay too. That’s fine.

BRODY: I am a big proponent of maybe trying it twice, as someone who definitely did not like it my first year, and it turned out it was me. So I would say, you know, maybe try it twice.

STUART: Come back for that sophomore year.

BRODY: Yeah, where you try and do too much and have an art project and make all your own costumes and get involved with a giant theme camp your second year; overreach, as the sophomores tend to do.

STUART: Try to bring your succulents along and, you know, not be able to take care of them.

BRODY: There’s no live plants allowed at Burning Man, Stuart.

STUART: Thanks for that. And no dogs, but ferrets are okay, I understand.

BRODY: Chickens?

STUART: Chickens. What other animals are you hoping to see this year?

BRODY: Well we’ve seen little squirrels and snakes and things that end up riding in by accident in people’s trailers.

STUART: Ooh, really? I’ve seen lots of bugs. Were you there for the bug-pocalypse?

BRODY: I was there.

STUART: I got there late and it was a bird-pocalypse. All the birds came in, some giant flock of birds, and ate all the bugs.

But around the edges of the playa, I saw the biggest tarantula spider I have ever seen in my life, out in the cracked edges where the water came down. It might have been somebody’s pet that got away. I don’t know if tarantulas are even native to that, but by God I saw it. I wasn’t even really tripping that hard.

BRODY: …that hard.

STUART: So among other interesting side projects you have, Brody, I know one of them is being the curator of a collection called “Shit Dave X Says.” Longtime listeners of the show will know Dave X is our premier pyro professional prognosticator. He’s the dude with his lighter on the fuse, and the head of Burning Man’s Fire Safety Team, and sometimes gems fall out of his mouth like out of Yogi Berra’s or the original Will Rogers. Why did you feel the need to start a web collection called “Shit Dave X Says”?

BRODY: Sir, the anonymous Burner, who runs that website…

STUART: Oh, I understand you know the anonymous Burner Who runs the “Shit Dave X Says” website. Tell us about that.

BRODY: So the anonymous Burner that, uh, runs the “Shit Dave X Says” website sat next to Dave X for years and years in the office, and the things that come out of that man’s mouth needed to be written down. Concepts, thoughts, quotes, the very idea of No-Friends Monday, for example, a very strong idea which needs to live in everyone’s head… Burn Night Saturday, everyone’s doing great, Sunday, Temple Burn, everyone’s kind of starting to pack up and there’s that feeling of, “Oh no, summer camp is ending. We’re leaving.” Then come Monday, everyone just wants to get the hell out of Black Rock City and it is absolutely No-Friends Monday. There is no one who cares about you as a human being anymore. Everyone for themselves.


BRODY: It’s like the people flipping off each other outside of the church parking lot in the traffic jam.

STUART: It’s not just flipping each other off in traffic. It’s just like, “Oh, we’re all brothers. Amen. Fuck you.”

Dave X, actually a veteran of this program. We’ll have to bring him back pretty soon to get more Shit Dave X Says. I think we probably have an example though from one of those programs.

Cue insert. 

STUART: So I’m going through Shit Dave X Says here, and there’s a couple of things I just wanna… Did you really say..? “If I have to go into the hills and gnaw the throat out of a wild boar, I’m gonna do it.”

DAVE X: I did say that. Again. It was tied to a shortage of bacon. 

STUART: A bacon shortage. Okay. How about..? “Don’t throw empty propane cans into the fire. That’s dangerous. Propane cans are for shooting with road flares at the gun range.”

DAVE X: Well, that’s right, and it sounds like a ridiculous statement, but I will tell you from experience over the years that…

STUART: Dave X, the man, the myth, the legend. 

BRODY: Yeah. So before I go Stuart, there’s just one more thing I wanna tell you and I want people at Burning Man to think about. 

STUART: What’s on your mind, Brody?

BRODY: I still remember when I first went to Burning Man and was waiting for things to happen to me, and if I’d had just known to talk to strangers and get involved with other humans and what they were doing, I would’ve had a much better time.

I just want everyone to remember to talk to each other. You know, if you’re standing in line for something at Burning Man — which, one, is kind of sad to stand in line for something at Burning Man, but that means it’s awesome, so it’s worth standing in line for — you turn around and you talk to the people in line with you. You don’t stand there like you’re just waiting for the subway. You talk to the other humans around you because they’re all interesting and they’ve all had some kind of wild ride to get to Burning Man. So why not hear their stories and figure out who they are and say hey, and ask them “What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen today?”

So if I leave you with one thing, just ask people “What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen today?” Works at Burning Man. Works in the real world. Works everywhere. Who cares what to do for a living.

STUART: Participation, my friends. It’s about being, not seeing. Well, thank you for that. And I will always keep that in mind too, because those awkward moments don’t have to be awkward.

My guest today has been a formerly shy person and now an essential member of the Burning Man Art Squad, Brody Scotland. Thanks for joining us, Brody.

BRODY: Well, thank you. This was fun. 

STUART: See ya out there. Alright.

BRODY: Alright. 

STUART: Great.

BRODY: Ok, bye! 

STUART: So we’ll probably lose everything about BLEEP. 

DAVE X: That’s the Burning Man of the old days. 

STUART: That was just a real eye opener for me, Dave, when I learned this BLEEP. It seems so unlikely. 

DAVE X: It was beautiful when you and BLEEP, and stuff. Mmm…

STUART: Burning Man Live is a production of the Philosophical Center of Burning Man Project produced by a small but determined army of, uh, humans, superhumans, cats, but no robots (No robots were used to produce this show) in our highly unusual, unorthodox, underground podcast studio at an undisclosed location.

I want to thank everyone who helped put this one together. Thanks as always to Michael Vav, our magnificent story editor and technical wiz. Thanks to producer Andie Grace. Thanks to Molly V, to kbot. 

If you wanna join in the thank you parade and send your appreciations or your notes, or whatever, you can always drop us an email at live@burningman.org. We actually read them and sometimes they even end up on the show in one way or another. 

And of course, if you find a little extra change between the couch cushions and you don’t know what to do with it, you’re always welcome to go to donate.burningman.org and slip us a buck or two. Burning Man Project is a nonprofit. We do this for love. We love doing it, and we love you. That’s it for our show this week. 

Thanks, Larry.