Jessica Barber and I were neighbors at Burning Man this year. She is loquacious, smart and beautiful. She lives in Atlanta and she studied philosophy at Kennesaw State University. Soon she’ll be applying to Masters degree program in Philosophy.
Jessica was a “virgin” at Burning Man this year and she has a keen eye at observing and understanding how the Playa works. We both enjoy learning how we perceive this world, how Burning Man provides a co-created and unique container for people to safely express themselves. We had lots to talk about so we decided to do a blog photo interview and a nude photo shoot for my next book project, “The Four Elements of the Goddess.”
Kyer: Bill Hicks said “(We have) just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.” As a student of philosophy, what is phenomenology and how can understanding it help us choose love over fear?
Jessica: Phenomenology is a philosophical method that describes how the world is experienced. The history of western philosophy is a discourse of theoretical scaffolds, constructed frameworks for Ethics, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Aesthetics and Logic. These concepts attempt to answer the big questions. What is morality? What is the nature of art? What is real? How do I know? The Phenomenological method asks that we drop all of these arguments and simply describe the world as we experience it, free of judgments, labels and any desire for “Truth”. Phenomenology asks that we first observe, sit with ourselves, feel the present moment of our body in this environment and notice the small habits of the mind that are often overlooked. When we try this, our thoughts, sensations, anticipations and reflections make themselves evident; we begin to see how rosy our rose-tinted glasses are! In a state of fear, we fasten ourselves to an idea or situation we are comfortable with. The only thing that is certain, it seems, is uncertainty. In a state of love, we step outside of the limits erected around us and observe the indeterminate flow of the world, with the curiosity and enthusiasm of a child. By observing and describing the world, we wonder about the world instead of claiming to know it. If we try this with ourselves, we see our potentiality, the microcosm and macrocosm of choices we encounter every day. I find this to be liberating. We can choose fear and build a wall between the world and ourselves, or we can choose love and grow with the ever-changing beauty of everything.
Kyer: Burning Man provides a container for many things: acceptance and self-expression. If we look at the choice of love versus fear, how can experiencing Burning Man bring us closer to love? How has Burning Man changed you or brought you more personal growth?
Jessica: Burning Man is really a verb more than a place. It is a phenomenon of self-creating within a community-self-creating what is possible and meaningful. You can explore the limits of who you are in Black Rock City because of the principles of radical self-expression, radical self- reliance and radical inclusion. I suppose these principles are the “radical” ones because they energize the activity of Burning Man. As a part of this sensory sea of radical freedom, I was encountered with a horizon of choices. Sometimes I chose to wander alone pretending to be an anthropologist observing this curious culture and sometimes I wanted to howl at the moon from a glowing art car with my beautifully dusty friends. I could easily see what I wanted to do, what I didn’t want to do and what I was hesitant to try, where my edges lie. Personal growth was part of what I was seeking when I came to Black Rock City, so I consistently chose opportunities that tested the limits of what I was comfortable with and what I was comfortable sharing with others. Black Rock City really helped me embrace my life and love the uniqueness of everyone I encounter. John Halcyon Styn, in his weekly Hug Nation broadcasts promoting Burning Man Principles in the default world, says “We are all artists” because we are all part of the creation and expression of Burning Man. It was refreshing to see so many exceptional people being themselves and sharing their gifts illuminated with love.
Kyer: You did a photo session with me at Burning Man. That was an edge for you. Can you share your experience in terms of love, fear, shame, body image, nudity, boundaries, sex, healing and your own personal growth or edge?
Jessica: Sometimes I surprise myself; this certainly happened when I met you Kyer and looked through your photographs of Bali and book (Tirta Gangga) Tribal Revival: West Coast Festival Culture. My original intention was to do a philosophical interview with you about Burning Man, but I noticed, while looking at your gorgeous photographs, a boundary of my own: nudity. I am comfortably nude around other women; we have the same parts in a lot of shapes, colors and sizes. It’s not a big deal. However, the thought of being nude around a man, who is not my lover, is terrifying. Part of this body shame stems from the objectification of women’s sexuality, unrealistic definitions of beauty and raunchy nudity in the media. The other part of my shame comes from personal experience. As a child I was sexually abused and lived in terror from my abuser. I also saw my mother objectify herself as a sexual object to manipulate many many men. The fact that I have my mother’s body terrified me for the longest time. I wasn’t comfortable and I used to have such huge personal boundaries that I would feel nauseous if someone stood too close to me, or worse, hugged me. If someone touched me, I felt violated. Thankfully, I have grown a lot since then and give wonderful hugs. I think my regular yoga practice helped a lot to make me feel more confident and sexually alive in my own skin. When I saw your photographs Kyer, I encountered the choice of love and fear. The way you photograph nudes is artistic and empowering; the faces and bodies I saw were all so different, graceful and proud. I was overcome by love and I chose love over fear to let you photograph me. Now, I’m still not the type to run through a crowd naked with combat boots on. That was not the boundary I was pushing that day. The magic of personal growth happens when we push our boundaries at the edge and I feel empowered for pushing my edge with you.
The subjects of these photo blog interviews have approved all the photos and text.
All photos by Kyer Wiltshire