Glen Gray, lead event organizer at Virginia Key Beach Park's Love Burn, is riding around in a golf cart, greeting old friends and assessing the progress of the park's transformation. By the end of the week, the park, now just bare bones and building blocks of colorful circus-like tents, will be transformed into another world, or more accurately, dozens of worlds.
"Narnia," "The Temple of Love," and "The Landing of the Mothership" are just some of the names of the utopias that will be constructed by the time the park opens for revelers this Friday night.
Gray, who friends call "Quantum," has been meeting with like-minded burners for 20 years, but he and co-organizer Prosperity began burning in Virginia Key five years ago. They got engaged at Love Burn one year and married at the event another year.
Gray says Love Burn, an official regional Burning Man event and the only one in Florida, is all about giving. Participants take a survivalist approach to the festival, bringing all the food and water they'll need, along with whatever gifts they're willing to offer their fellow burners, whether they be vintage clothes from the Costume Cabana, facial prosthetics and body painting from the Kreaturez camp, or a foam party provided by the Foam Nation crew. A group of burners from Oklahoma provides participants with headphones for free-range silent disco. The music can be heard on the headsets no matter where a burner wanders throughout the park. Another group, called the Ministry of Butterflies, raises butterflies in four geodesic domes and invites burners to release them at the end of the festival. Still another group has lemonade ready to order 24 hours a day. One hundred ten camps are participating in this year's Love Burn.
"There's no trading" or purchasing any of it, Gray says. "It's a gift. There's nothing in return for it."
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It wouldn't be a Burning Man event if it didn't involve large-scale art installations. This year's Love Burn theme is "World's Fair." Installations and camps will put their psychedelic spin on the global innovation showcases. Organizers will set up three main art installations, including a massive hot-air balloon in the shape of a pink elephant. The main piece is called The World's Globe, and an impressive wooden jigsaw puzzle is called The Temple of Love, which is built without the use of nails or screws. Another massive installation, The Hands of Love, will be constructed to look like a pair of hands making the shape of a heart, which people will be able to walk through.
Love Burn participants apply and seek approval for grants to fund their projects. "We're proud to say that this year we've donated $100,000 in art grants to artists," Gray says.
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There are 70 registered art projects at this year's Love Burn, but Gray says the actual number will be much greater. One project, called Cartopia, will be like a game of MarioKart come to life, with levers installed on the cars that allow them to glide; riders will be able to shoot at other cars to give them a bumpy ride. Another installation involves shooting ocean water into the air and projecting images onto it.
Though Love Burn participants will use the park for artistic endeavors, Gray says they take environmental care extremely seriously. "We're a fully leave-no-trace event," he says. "We leave it better than we found it." At the end of the festival, participants will form a human chain and scan the ground for leftover debris or trash and clean it all up. They've also donated an inscribed heart sculpture to the park as a token of gratitude.
Love Burn begins Friday night with the burning of a large-scale installation and an elaborate ceremony with the participation of all the camps. "We're having an opening ceremony; it's kind of like the opening ceremony to the Olympics," Gray says, "but instead we'll be gathering by the beach in our creative universes and we'll be marching."
The Love Burn. Friday, January 26, through Sunday, January 28, in Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami; 305-960-4600; virginiakeybeachpark.net. Tickets cost $225 to $249.99 via brownpapertickets.com.