Fertility 2.0: To Theme or Not To Theme? [NSFW]

Fertility 2.0, the theme for Burning Man 2012, has caused quite a stir within the community. Is this a failed attempt that should be ignored? Or can we salvage something to create with? Becca Levy and Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee battle it out to see if Fertility 2.0 is capable of inspiring a 50,000 person art party in the desert.

Fertility 2.0
Image by Becca Levy with Satellite Image by GeoEye

Fertility |fərˈtilitē| two |toō| point |point| zero |ˈzi(ə)rō |



1 the soil is fertile: fecund, fruitful, productive, high-yielding, rich, lush.

2 fertile couples: able to conceive, able to have children; technical fecund. ANTONYMS barren.

3 a fertile brain: imaginative, inventive, innovative, creative, visionary, original, ingenious; productive, prolific. ANTONYMS unimaginative.


The possibilities are endless. Being fertile is having the capacity to create. This creation can be a person, a tree, or even an old school bus that turns into a shark/land-boat/DJ booth. Self-labeled ‘Burners’ are generally a creative people. Upon hearing the word fertility, most jump right to an image of a fetus or genitalia. There is much more to it than that, though.

Alkaline dust does not make for the most fertile ground in most cases. If an animal or plant is placed in the desert without any form of care, it will disintegrate at a rapid pace. The land is not meant to be fertile. We were not meant to grow there. It is not there to sustain us. But thanks to a seed that Larry Harvey planted in the Black Rock Desert, a community grows and lives annually in this spot.

Fertility is a theme that graced the Burning Man event in 1997. At that point, the event was held at Hualapai flat, close to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert which is now considered an annual home to approximately 50,000 people. At that time, there were ten thousand attendees, a mere twenty percent of the population attending today. 1997 was the second year that Burning Man planned an official theme. It was the first year that streets were gridded, and the 5 mph rule came into effect for art cars. There were far more rules and regulations, which some people felt took away from the original anarchistic feeling of Burning Man.

Seeing as though Fertility [1.0] made such a large impact on how we ‘burn’ today, I imagine 2.0 will affect Burning Man in a similar manner. There is already a new ticket system, tickets are selling out, and it seems that most people in the default world know what a person is talking about when Burning Man is mentioned. Fertility 2.0 is a theme that promotes growth and creation, two ideas that could not be more relevant to this festival.

Fertility 2.0 is also a celebration of life. Our biological parents were capable of conceiving, and now we celebrate the continuation of this life. Sometimes it is easy to forget how fortunate we are to be alive. It is important to remember that the Playa is NOT the only place to celebrate being alive, and to participate with a community through self-reliance.

It seems ironic that the ticket lottery system is making people give up hope. “The man is getting us down.” However, this is not what the principles dictate. Giving up is not a measure of self-reliance. The official Burning Man Website stated before that the ‘winners’ were randomly selected and that there were an average of 1.7 tickets requested per person. While some are scalping these tickets for outrageous prices, I would like to think that those who understand the ten principles will gift a ticket to a friend or a stranger.

Fertilization is when sperm meets egg. Fertilizer is a chemical added to the ground to assist a plant’s growth. While coming from a similar root, these are not the same as the theme. Fertility is the capability to produce. It is not the conception, but the ability to conceive. I believe that Fertility and Immediacy will be good friends. People will be able to bring excitement to others and their productions. It is part of what makes this community great. There is such an enthusiasm manifested among these people to create together and experience each other’s hopes, dreams, and lives.


My New Penis Art Car Project
Art Car Concept by Bust 'Rod' Steam

“Everything is penises and hearts,” Burners Joe Campbell and Dave Wade Brann of Philadelphia’s Frank’s Kitchens joked about the Burning Man 2012, theme Fertility 2.0 during a recent interview. This year’s theme seems to set a precedent for an influx of even more genitalia-themed projects on playa. Surely, most burners will transcend the obvious and accomplish something beautiful and inspiring at Burning Man 2012, yet the allure of the phallic imagery already seems too good to pass up for many. Occasional penis art cars, theme camps and installations aren’t the issue. What’s amiss is a theme that may inspire penis art as the dominant feature this year.

Following the strong themes of Metropolis and Rites of Passage, which lent themselves to a multitude of interpretations and inspiration, Fertility 2.0 has fallen flat. The terminology itself emits a wishy-washy feel trying desperately to mash-up the ancient idea of fertility with the gimmicky technology buzzword of 2.0. The overwhelming response from anti-Fertility 2.0 burners is, “Just pretend it’s a different theme”.  Although many burners do set a specific intention for each Burn that differs from the Burning Man theme, it’s hard to just pretend that Fertility 2.0 is not happening. Obviously Burning Man art projects are not required to be theme based, yet the theme does affect every aspect of the Burn -from camps to installations.

If only Fertility 2.0 was presented and explained in a mesmerizing dialogue of creative intention! Unfortunately, the official Burning Man write-up on Fertility 2.0 leaves something to be desired. Its simplicity does it a disservice, completely lacking a direct address or breakdown of Fertility 2.0. Instead, it only references the “petri dish” nature of Black Rock City. Yes, Burning Man does embody fertility and “the tendency of any being or living system to create abundant life.” Why not release Fertility from the burden of 2.0 and allow the term to embody its true form? Or take a more artistic and aesthetically pleasing approach with Fertility: Revisited.

My personal disappointment regarding Fertility 2.0 does not stem from the concept of fertility itself. As an avid nature lover, spiritual worker, and future mother, I am full of an appreciation for the power of fertility. However, the slapdash theme of Fertility 2.0 is an outdated bastardization of a very beautiful and sacred concept. Fertility 2.0 sounds like a cheesy 80’s movie about two teenage boy nerds who use their “sick computer skillz” to transcend the digital, and create a real life super model dream girl. The 2.0 has marred Fertility, alerting everyone to the fact that it’s recycled and giving nothing back in return. Fertility was the 1997 Burning Man theme when the event was held at Hualapai flat in Black Rock Country, but not in the same location that we now call home.  Although there have only been seventeen Burning Man themes, the BM organizers have already chosen to repeat one of them. While Fertility is fruitful enough to be revisited and redeveloped, it still seems a bit unimaginative. In such a diverse and creative community there is really no need to reuse themes, at least not this early.

The reuse aside, Fertility 2.0 is still garish and flimsy, especially when more elegant and thought provoking solutions are so readily available. Reawakening or Rebirth could encapsulate the same meaning, while holding a stronger power. They provide a transformative and strong vision. There’s nothing rich, interesting or appealing about Fertility 2.0. It’s not the foundation for a 52,000 person art party in the desert. It is not particularly inspiring. It doesn’t give back to the community and expand it. It’s just a wet noodle.

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