Radical Self-Expression – What is it and how do we do it?

Nov 23, 2020 | Consent, The 10 Principles, Uncategorized

Kia ora, all you beautiful Burners! Thanks for showing up and participating! 

The aim of this Blog post is to cast a wide lens across one of our most favourite principles: Radical Self-Expression. We all know it, but do we really?? Do we? 

Burning Man describes Radical Self-Expression as arising from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

What Radical Self-Expression means to one of us could vary drastically from what it means to another. Thus, we reached out to the community to enrich our broader understanding and acceptance of this Principle.

So, without further ado, let’s meet our awesome participants and find out a bit more about them!

King Shota advertising for Burners to touch his toes.
King Shota

My first Burn event was Kiwiburn 2015. My friends from the US told me about an event called Kiwiburn and asked if I wanted to come. I had absolutely no idea what Kiwiburn was and my friends only told me there is ‘camping and music’. So, I didn’t even do a web search to see what Kiwiburn was about. I just showed up! As it turned out, Kiwiburn is much more than just a festival…

An artistic self-portrait.
An Anonymous Gate Goblin

After knowing about Kiwiburn for nine years I finally knew some friendly faces to attend with in 2018. Since then, I attended Ignition and Kiwiburn in 2020 and plan on attending both Burns this coming year. I’m all in.

An artistic self-portrait.
Tinker

I came to my first Burn in 2015 and haven’t been able to miss it ever since. I’ve made the journey to the big Burn once, but other than that it’s been Kiwiburn for me. I was enthusiastic (but unsure) when I first arrived and was lucky to be under the wing of some very experienced Burners. It didn’t take me long to quickly settle in and realise that this was home for me. My real enthusiasm kicked in as I began planning what I could make and bring to contribute in future years. 

An interviewee portrait in full costume.
Infinite Confetti | Bel

I am a Burner. I’ve been a Burner my whole life – I just didn’t know it and I didn’t attend any actual Burn events until my 40th lap around the sun. Since then I’ve been to several big Burns in Nevada, as well as Afrikaburn and Blazing Swan. Next January will be my first home Burn on Aotearoa whenua.

An interviewee portrait in costume.
 Jarred Taylor | Jayman | Captain J

I first heard about Burning Man around 2007 from my younger brother (deceased 2008). When I next heard about it in 2011 from a friend, I remembered what my brother had shared with me and took it a little bit more seriously. I did my first burn in 2012. In order to analyse and assess an early hypothesis, I have since been to 30 official Burning Man regional events across the world. A final research report is still pending.

An interviewee in two different costumes.
Lady Pineapple | Piripi

I have attended three Burns. Kiwiburn 2021 will be my fourth. At my first Burn, I was…overwhelmed. There’s a lot to take in! At my second Burn (Ignition), I wanted to be more involved. I wanted to experience more. I wanted to be more. This time around, I knew what I was in for. I got out and about, attended workshops, made friends, went to parties, and ran naked around the effigy. At my third Burn – I could not have been more ready! I just let my freak flag fly and loved every moment of it. In summary: the first Burn, I observed. The second Burn, I experienced. The third Burn, I radically self-expressed. 

An art piece made up of binary code.
Photo Credit: Rob Tangent

What does Radical Self-Expression mean to you?

 | Radical Self-Expression means expressing your authentic self. Not the self the default world might mould you into being, not the self that others have perceived you to be, but your true self and what you bring to the table. The Paddock has been an amazing space for me to realise myself, and to realise that people do genuinely enjoy me and what I am. I feel like I’ve come into myself more in terms of my openness, how I dress, and what I do. I’m proud of the efforts I bring to the Paddock, and it feels good to know that my kind of brain and skill set has a place in building this community. – An Anonymous Gate Goblin

 | It is one of the most abused and misunderstood of the 10 Principles. Too many people believe Radical Self-Expression is an excuse to do or say whatever you believe you are ‘radically’ entitled to do, irrespective of the impact on others. –  Jarred Taylor | Jayman | Captain J

 | Of all the Principles, Radical Self-Expression is the most potent and influential for me. I sometimes feel that there is no room for the full expression of my outrageous self in an ever-contracting, appropriateness-centric world. And I am also a hypersensitive human in most aspects of my life. I care deeply about how people feel and how they experience the world, so I am acutely cognisant of how my words and actions may influence people. But in the same breath, being weird, munty, and exploring the dark, murky shadow aspects of myself is pivotal to my self-inquiry journey, and it helps to bring light to the yet-to-be-embraced-and-loved parts of myself. – Infinite Confetti | Bel

 | Radical Self-Expression means allowing yourself to let go, let go of all the inhibitions that come from the corporate structure in which we live and just be your true, authentic self. Realising that we are, in fact, the true gift that we are offering. – Lady Pineapple | Piripi

 | Radical Self-Expression is the ability to be the deepest and loudest version of myself and know that I’ll be met with love rather than judgement. It combines with a few of the other Principles to form one of my favourite parts of Burns, which is that everything around you is brought out of love and is a pure expression from the people bringing it. It’s unmarred by commercial influence or having to adjust plans to fit the expectations of those running the festival, allowing people to bring and gift whatever they want, exactly as they imagined it. – Tinker

 | Just being true to yourself. Anything you want to try or be – maybe it’s time for you to shine! – King Shota

An art piece consisting of long striped bendy poles with pom poms on top.
Photo Credit: Alice Peperell

How have you demonstrated Radical Self-Expression on your Burn journey thus far?

 | I am really enjoying expanding my Kiwiburn family. I enjoy observing other peoples’ Radical Self-Expression. It is always nice for me to bear witness to the different perspectives everyone has and consider how I can learn from them to help me be a better version of myself. – King Shota

 | Seeing other people radically self-express without a worry in the world is one of the factors that helped me to let go and do the same. This helped me to act and be and dress without judgement or ridicule, I knew I was in a safe space and I let it all go. – Lady Pineapple | Piripi

| My volunteering contributions are a big part of my self-expression – they are my gifts to the Paddock. – An Anonymous Gate Goblin

 | This principle is the one that has helped me the most in my daily life, it is the one that allowed me to truly accept my sexuality and live my authentic self in the outside world. – Lady Pineapple | Piripi

 | I increasingly wear practical clothing and sun protection. – Jarred Taylor | Jayman | Captain J

 | Art, costuming, Theme Camp offerings, and the friendships made along the way. I think being able to be open and fully myself has allowed some beautiful connections for me. – Tinker

| When I arrive at Kiwiburn, I forget about the ‘real world’ and focus on the thing right in front of me and live in my most present moment. I flow as opposed to plan. I react and respond as opposed to influencing the situation. – Lady Pineapple | Piripi

 | Wearing less clothes! Nudity, while never really frowned on when I grew up, was something that grew shameful to me when I put on weight as a tween and was bullied for it (both in the home and at school). I have a complex relationship with my body and suffer from body dysmorphia. Nudity, and its normalisation on the Paddock, has made me appreciate myself more and all the wonderful ways that humans are built. – An Anonymous Gate Goblin

 | For me, Radical Self-Expression can be difficult to achieve and/or maintain in the default world. I have, and continue to, mostly live by the beige-flavoured rules of mainstream society, lest I be rejected and cast out, especially amid the new ‘cancel culture’ era. Even seemingly simple choices such as “what do I want to wear today?” are governed by so many conditions. Most of the time I’d love to get around in just fishnet stockings, motorcycle boots, and a creepy Halloween mask. I also seek out safe places where I can bring my full, unabashed, unleashed self. Of course, I surround myself with fellow weirdos who love me for the Barbie doll-murderess that I am, but Burns are one of my primary re-charging outlets. – Infinite Confetti | Bel

An art piece that is a woman's bodice dressed with feathers, goat horns, and metal adornment.
Photo Credit: Rob Tangent

Do you think that Radical Self-Expression has any limits?

 | Self-expression is important, but it should be contextualised within the other Principles. As an easy example – you may wish to express yourself through an outfit that has lots of MOOP, which contradicts the Leave No Trace Principle. So, I think self-expression should always be viewed through the lens of the other Principles, and how they intersect. I also think sometimes we forget that part of Radical Self-Expression is ‘respecting the rights and liberties of the recipient.’ – An Anonymous Gate Goblin

 | There are nine other Principles. If your own version of “radical self-expression” has no reference to how it aligns rationally and sensibly with at least four other Principles, then you should ‘radically’ reconsider your version of self-expression. Self-expression does not exist in a vacuum. No Principle on its own can be used to legitimise and validate inappropriate behaviour. Before the 10 Principles even came into consideration, Larry Harvey (co-founder and Chief Philosophic Officer of Burning Man) always assumed that people knew what basic human decency was. – Jarred Taylor | Jayman | Captain J

 | As an artist, the ability to trust that people will respect the boundaries put in place is an important thing and has contributed to me feeling safe to express myself in this way. I feel like the expectation of decency and respect from each other and our community allows much more room for Radical Self-Expression. – Tinker

| Radical Self-Expression can delve into the world of sexualisation and this, for me, is when it begins to blur. I mean, sexualisation is fine but there is a point we reach where it should be moved to a discussion or a private space amongst consenting people. – Lady Pineapple | Piripi

 | Firstly, there’s the obvious point of consent. Don’t ‘radically express’ yourself all over someone who’s not comfortable with it. Don’t break or “improve” someone’s art and claim that it’s your freedom to express yourself. Don’t touch people in ways they’re not comfortable with and claim it’s just your expression. Just don’t be a jerk. Just as freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequence, neither should Radical Self-Expression if it’s hurting others. – Tinker

 | Yes. When it begins to affect other people negatively, but this must be within reason and, then, how do we police it? My version of Radical Self-Expression could be insensitive to another and we should be conscious of this as a community and individuals. – Lady Pineapple | Piripi

 | It’s important to note that a respectful community is needed for this Principle to work. Making participants feel comfortable to freely express themselves without concern of damage or disrespect to themselves or their offerings is challenging. – Tinker

 | Some people like apples, some people don’t. I feel that we all still need to respect each other while expressing ourselves. Everyone is different and unique, and I believe that is what makes Kiwiburn a special place to be. – King Shota

A fire spinner.
Photo Credit: Andy Flint

What are your future intentions for expressing Radical Self-Expression on the Paddock this year, at any other Burn, or within the Burn Community?

 | I am always looking for ways to push how I experience the Paddock and keep learning, and that’s a huge part of myself and who I am. – An Anonymous Gate Goblin

 | My main areas of Radical Self-Expression are through our Theme Camp, my costuming, and my art. I’ve been slowly building some new costumes both for sharing and for myself, and I’m as enthusiastic as ever about helping where I can with camp. – Tinker

 | I really want Burner events and culture to be more accessible and inclusive of the wider community.  I would like to find ways for us to radically express our need and desire for a strong community.  The past year has been an incredible reminder of how fragile our communities can be in times of hardship and, yet, also capable of unexpected awesomeness.  I also hope that we can continue to build our local Burner communities and connect deeply with other like-minded communities. –  Jarred Taylor | Jayman | Captain J 

| I plan to continue volunteering year-round as well as on the Paddock to keep things running so that we can keep creating the magic of Kiwiburn. – An Anonymous Gate Goblin

A big shout out to our radical participants for sharing their thoughts and experiences. Also, a collective thank you to our beautiful community for creating a safe space for us all to radically express ourselves!

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