Burning Man art set ablaze at Gun Creek

Community sees potential in event

The Burning Man did not become The Drowning Man on the weekend despite heavy rainfall in the southern interior.

Instead, a group of approximately 60 people cheered as the 27-foot-tall art installation was set ablaze at a remote location near Gold Bridge.

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Setting fire to The Burning Man was the highlight of the Cascadia Burn - "it's not a festival, it's barely an event" - organized by Vancouver artist Bhak Jolicoeur aka Napalm Dragon.

The burning of the art - a sculpture Jolicoeur calls Baboon Robot - evoked the annual Burning Man new age festival in the U.S., where giant crowds converge in a desert location to celebrate the weird and wonderful.

The event was held at BC Hydro's Gun Creek Campground, 8.5 kilometres northeast of Gold Bridge and 91 kilometres northwest of Lillooet. The weeklong gathering, which invited people to share in celebration and creativity, began June 16 and continued through the summer solstice.

Bralorne Community Association Chair Bruce Simon says community members see potential in developing the Burning Man as a family event and would like to see it happen again.

"We realized that this group was not a bunch of irresponsible partygoers just looking for a place to burn, but are actually responsible artists looking for a venue to share their art in a responsible and respectful way," said Simon. "That is exactly how the event went down. When we visited the site the next morning to retrieve the fire suppression trailer belonging to the Bralorne community, we could not find any evidence of a party or fire of any sort. Short of a bunch of tire tracks in the sand, you would not even know there was an event there."

Although Jolicoeur earlier said the location was so remote "no one cares what we dowe are far away enough from everything that we shall bother no one," concern was initially expressed about the potential fire danger at the event, given the history of recent massive wildfires in the area, and about the lack of consultation involving the new age gathering.

SLRD Area A Director Debbie Demare said last week she received more emails from local residents about the Burning Man than about any other issue since she became Area Director in 2011.

"People are very, very concerned about his (Jolicoeur's) approach and the lack of planning around the event," said Demare. When he says no one cares, that's not true; we have all put a fair amount of money into our homes and we do care - this is our community."

Demare added, "It's not about what he's doing, it's about the way he's doing it. We're not against holding events in the area, but there was no consultation with the local community. If he wants to do this next year, let's get together, let's have some proper planning in place and let's promote it properly."

She said people were also upset that the Kamloops Fire Centre issued an exemption to Jolicoeur, allowing him to circumvent fire regulations.

When contacted by the Lillooet News, the Kamloops Fire Centre referred this newspaper to the Lillooet Fire Zone office. Local Protection Officer Verne Rasmussen said June 18 that Jolicoeur was in the process of applying for a burning permit.

"It's been fairly wet and reasonably cool locally," added Rasmussen. He made his comments prior to last Thursday's downpour.

Jolicoeur described his version of the Burning Man gathering as a "non-commercial experiment in experience over commodification. It's a no-money experiment in creativity and self-discovery." The free-spirited artist counts fire-breathing among his skills.

He said he chose the Gun Creek Campground site because it's "unfettered by the urban rush and concrete trappings."

On his website, Jolicoeur urged participants to support Bridge River Valley communities by dropping into the Mine Shaft pub in Bralorne or the Gold Bridge Hotel.

"Please be respectful," wrote Jolicoeur, who says he loves the area. "We want to forge closer relations with the towns and our friends who live there. We want to respect their home."

He added that he had "always hoped and wanted" to see more collaboration with Gold Bridge and Bralorne, hoping the towns could find a way to share in the event and "capitalize on this somehow."

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