Nothing should be more clandestine than a crazy party. It is the only way to prevent society’s most judgmental from trying to turn up and ruining everyone else’s readiness to get weird.
Say you want to drive away from the prying eyes of town for a few days, and try a dance that’s never previously been done before. Getting fabulously twisted out of your usual square shape, with a few close mates and a host of strangers that you are unlikely to ever see again. If that sounds like you, you’re in luck. Blazing Swan is the untraceable carnival of unrecognisable kicks to your conservative self.
Now in its third year, I spoke with Blazing Swan’s arts coordinator, Frank Mitchell, who also holds the position of regional coordinator of the WA branch of the Burning Man festival, the annual event famously held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Burning Man originated in San Francisco in the 1980s and in 2015 had an attendance of approximately 70,000 people.
Franks maintains that you cannot describe the nature of the partying that goes down at Blazing Swan – you simply have to experience it. If you like the sound of a wild, wilderness sabbatical I can confirm that Blazing Swan has a very small list of terms and conditions. You accept personal liability and must knowingly and voluntarily assume the potential risk of losing all clothing, sobriety and previously mistaken notions of dignity.
Blazing Swan is more than just a party though. It is a laboratory of experimental art and participatory culture that is designed to emit energy sufficient to activate the expressive production reagents subsiding in all of us.
I picked Frank’s brain, and here’s what he shared.
Reuben Wylie: The original festivals can be described as an escape from the crass consumerism and commerciality of the 1980s and the celebration of a participatory, creative and producer culture. Would you say that the spirit of Blazing Swan 2016 is much different from those original festivals?
Frank Mitchell: Most people would be able to find such an escape at Blazing Swan. The feeling of consumerism is lost through the gifting and sharing and the realisation that there is a community here where people are happy to share. However, in 2016 I don’t think that everyone who comes to Jilakin Rock City is so concerned with escaping from the commerciality of society. So many people get so many different experiences out of a Burning Man or regional Burning Man event that it is hard to pigeonhole why people go to this festival.
I know one guy at a past festival who spent a huge amount of time inside a teahouse, and had such an amazing experience meeting others inside the tent that he never felt the urge to see much more of the festival.
The art created during the festival is not supposed to be commoditised or coveted. It would take away the value of other art productions and prevent people from being encouraged to create and gift artwork and expression. Is this why you burn some of the art at the end of the festival?
I think the feeling of immediacy and mortality of the festival created by burning parts of it makes people want to engage more readily with the artwork, knowing it will not be around for very long and that you have been one of the few people to see it in the flesh. It also gives the festival a primordial, nomadic feeling which is very unique.
What do you get out of the festival?
Personally, the feeling that has burned inside me since I experienced Burning Man in 2012 is a total sense of freedom to express myself and create. I get a buzz from being able to meet other like-minded busy-bees that want to express themselves and participate in other people’s expression.
What is expected of a person when they attend Blazing Swan, other than participation in the art?
I think simply that a person who has a mentality where they feel the need to be participative is enough to ensure that they will have a sound experience at Blazing Swan. A lot of people are just blown away by the energy, and by seeing the effort that went into making some of the art. That experience alone will make them want to be a part of it.
There is a lot of encouragement to participate, and it’s impossible to ignore the energy of people getting involved. But at the end of the day it’s up to you to ensure you have a good time. If you’re not willing to express yourself, you’re going to miss out. Don’t just sit around drinking cans of beer… all day that is!
Words by Reuben Wylie
Blazing Swan 2016: Illumination runs 23-29 March, Kulin, WA. Tickets available here.