A Czech Oasis in the American Desert

Czech artists, architects to construct beer-mug effigy at this year's Burning Man event in Nevada

Beginning on August 26th, there will be a refreshing sight in the middle of the sweltering Nevada desert: a massive mug of beer seemingly topped with flowing foam, two and a half times as tall as the people surrounding it. If one goes inside, they will be greeted by the sight of available Czech beer, a bonafide ‘Czech Oasis’ that will potentially serve as a refreshment point for thousands – until it becomes just another inferno among the fiery structures that mark the conclusion of the annual Burning Man event.

“Burning Man is something that you can not really explain,” said Michaela Rygrova, the Prague-based art designer who has led the effort to bring the ‘Czech Oasis’ from its Czech origins all the way around the globe. “It just happens to you. It started for me because I stumbled across these pictures in 2008 [of Burning Man]. These big, beautiful statues. For three days, I just looked at pictures and videos. It was unbelievable. I felt I had to go there.”

Czechs to Burning Man, Burning Man to Czechs

Since its foundation in the early 1990s, Burning Man has intrigued the imagination of all of those that have heard of it. Neither a simple description nor images can fully convey the now-famous flash community that swells to over 50,000 inhabitants throughout a week-long period beginning in the late August heat. Drawn to the effluence of creative energy, Rygrova ventured halfway around the world to experience the mix of designers, artists, engineers, and others with a panache guided by what can only be called a radical need for self-expression.

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“After my first burn [in 2010], I completely fell in love with it,” said Rygrova. “I became kind of addicted to it. I kept coming back every year.”

She added, “I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and suddenly being in Wonderland.”

After a few more trips, the result was an intense desire to not just bring Burning Man back to the Czech Republic, by becoming the event’s regional representative, but also bring the Czech Republic to Burning Man. However, that meant arriving with a structure worthy of being placed next to the impressive feats that many of the other craftsmen there would be constructing.

“I wanted to do a project there,” said Rygrova. “Last year, I joined the Lithuanian team and we were building [their project]. But I wanted to do something with Czech people, have a Czech project there.”

A Czech Oasis in the American Desert

Architectural appeal

By coincidence, Rygrova encountered and partnered with Martin Kloda, an architect with the firm Archwerk who had never before made the trip from Prague to the desert sands and would be leaving behind a family if he did. However, Kloda was won over by Rygrova’s description of the fantastical place.

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Up for the challenge, Kloda laid out and developed designs. They settled on the aforementioned tower of beer, which they agreed was an easy, if expected, introduction to the Czech people.

“The idea was [Rygrova’s], but I thought about it and it’s such a symbol of the Czech country,” said Kloda. 

Rygrova explained, “It’s a start, because you go abroad and so often all people know about the Czech Republic are Václav Havel, some ice hockey players, and beer. And beer everyone will enjoy.”

Once finalized as a concept, this eventually became the ‘Czech Oasis,’ which will be part of the Circle of Regional Effigies (or CORE), and will be the first time the Czech Republic is represented at an event that is quickly becoming considerably international. 

The process will be, more than likely, arduous. The ‘Czech Oasis’ will have to be constructed on-site at the Burning Man grounds known as the ‘playa’ (a reference to the event’s more humble beginnings on a San Francisco beach) and though they have raised over $1,000 for the materials through IndieGoGo.com, most of the financing for both travel and construction will be out of the team’s pockets.

The other participants of the Czech CORE team include Tomáš Feistner, also from Archwerk, and Linda Mikolášková and Pavel Novák from the AMANITAS Fire Theater, though other Czechs have been and will be going to Burning Man on their own.

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Importance of a Czech presence

In return for the expended sweat and currency it will take them to arrive and build a structure, Burning Man offers an event that is built around inclusion and a self-contained community, with rules requiring that only a barter economy is accepted and everyone has to do their part to help the community sustain itself.

“Burning Man offers unique experiences for this country: a massive gathering wherein the audience/performer dichotomy is replaced by a dynamic of total participation and self-determination,” said Anthony Cristofani, a California native and PhD student who has regularly attended Burning Man as well. “That, along with the low-key security, absence of hierarchical control and profit, and the replacement of money with gift-giving, makes it like a little taste of socialism in the desert!”

Michaela Rygrova and the Czech CORE team
Michaela Rygrova and the Czech CORE team

In a way, everyone finds their own reason to be at Burning Man, whether radical self-expression or radical politics. Both Rygrova and Kloda agree that because of this freedom, it is important for Czechs to not only attempt to attend Burning Man, but also ensure a presence by the Czech Republic.

Have you had the Burning Man experience?

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