Finding TAZmania

Houdinis of Bewilderland by Kevan Manwaring Part 7


 Hakim Bey’s well-known theory of ‘pirate utopias’ (temporary autonomous zones, or TAZ for short) suggests that creative energies coalesce in unexpected ways, then disperse, re-emerging somewhere else. In his essay[i] he deliberately resists a definition, but offers the following evocation of its anarchic spirit of uprising:

 The TAZ is an encampment of guerilla ontologists: strike and run away. Keep moving the entire tribe, even if it’s only data in the Web. The TAZ must be capable of defense; but both the “strike” and the “defense” should, if possible, evade the violence of the State, which is no longer a meaningful violence. The strike is made at structures of control, essentially at ideas; the defense is “invisibility,” a martial art, and “invulnerability”–an “occult” art within the martial arts. The “nomadic war machine” conquers without being noticed and moves on before the map can be adjusted. As to the future–Only the autonomous can plan autonomy, organize for it, create it. It’s a bootstrap operation. The first step is somewhat akin to satori–the realization that the TAZ begins with a simple act of realization.[ii]

This was seen in the Rave Culture of the late 80s and early 90s, but had been around since at least the 60s. The Stonehenge Free Festival flourished in this way throughout the 70s, until being irrevocably crushed at the infamous Battle of the Beanfields in 1985. In Nevada, the TAZ spirit flourishes every year with the Burning Man Festival[iii], a Mad Max style art ‘happening’ held in the Nevada desert. No money is allowed and those attending must bring all their own supplies, including water. No trace of the festival must remain afterwards. It inspires participants to create incredible steampunk machines and costumes, art installations and ‘happenings’. Burning Man began on Saturday, 22nd June, 1986, when Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James, spontaneously build an 8 feet tall human effigy from lumber, setting fire to it on Baker Beach, San Francisco. A crowd came to watch as the figure ignited, doused in gasoline. Songs were sung and a woman spontaneously held the figures hand. This grew into the Burning Man Festival. Its co-founder, Larry Harvey, offered in 2004 10 principles as ‘guidelines’ for the then newly-formed regional network. As the website emphasizes: ‘They were crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception.’ The Ten Principles, worth citing for their applicability to almost any artistically collective endeavour are as follows: Radical Inclusion; Gifting; Decommodification; Radical Self-reliance; Radical Self-expression; Communal Effort; Civic Responsibility; Leaving No Trace; Participation; Immediacy. All these are worth looking at in full.

The spirit of the Burning Man Festivals manifests around the world in almost any large-scale creative collaboration. It can be seen in the Beltane Fire Society[iv] of Edinburgh, a community arts performance charity, which gather every year to celebrate the ‘Celtic’ Fire Festivals of Beltane and Samhuinn with wild pagan processions to Calton Hill and events around the city. It happens whenever an artistic collective colonizes an abandoned building or site, create art, then disperse. A recent example of this was in Damien Hirst’s ‘Dismal-Land[v]’, which took over a run-down area of Weston Super Mare to create a satire of Disneyland-type ‘packaged’ culture, the commodified ‘kitsch-scape’ of theme-parks. After Dismal-Land closed, the site was deconstructed and materials were taken to Calais to build 12 dwellings, a community area, and a children’s play area, a humanitarian effort they branded with typical wit, ‘Dismal Aid’.

Perhaps one of the most sobering ‘TAZ’s’ of recent years is the ongoing refugee encampment known as ‘the Jungle’, found outside the port of Calais, in France. Here, in the grimmest conditions, the priorities are inevitably lower down on the needs hierarchy, but nevertheless education and artistic activity does occur. In early February 2016, Shakespeare’s Globe brought their touring production of ‘Hamlet’ to the Jungle,[vi] performing it to a crowd of 300 in bitter cold. The performance was not a scheduled one in their Globe to Globe tour which started in 2014 with the intent of performing Shakespeare in every country in the world. Dominic Dromgoole, the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, said:

“It is a great privilege to play for displaced people in Calais. As a theatre company the only gesture we can offer is this: a show that we hope speaks to the human spirit at its greatest and its darkest moments.”

The play was performed in in a space provided by Good Chance Theatre, set up by Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy to offer some artistic respite from the grim realities of the camp. Afterwards, the temporary space was dismantled and used to make shelters.

TAZmania will continue wherever groups of friends, kindred spirits, visionaries and creative souls gather and conjure something out of nothing, paint, sculpt, sing, write and dance art onto the canvas of reality, and leave nothing but good memories behind.

[i] T. A. Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, By Hakim Bey [accessed 15.02.2016]

[ii] [accessed 15.02.16]

[iii] [accessed 15.02.16]

The Ten Principles: 1. Radical Inclusion Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community. 2. Gifting Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value. 3. Decommodification In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience. 4. Radical Self-reliance Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources. 5. Radical Self-expression Radical self-expression arises 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. 6. Communal Effort Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction. 7. Civic Responsibility We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws. 8. Leaving No Trace Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them. 9. Participation Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart. 10. Immediacy Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.  [accessed 15.02.16]

[iv] Beltane Fire Society: [accessed 16.02.16]

[v] [accessed 15.02.2016]

[vi] [15.02.2016]

Next: A Garden of Stones

Previous: Magic Hat

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2016

This article was commissioned by Doggerland. An alternative version is available in print form in their latest issue, along with other thought-provoking contributions.  Check it out. Available from:

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