Burning Man's 2007 effigy up in flames four days ahead of schedule

After Burning Man's signature effigy went up in flames four days ahead of schedule, festival-goers vowed to come together to rebuild the 12-metre icon by Saturday's (1er septembre 2007) planned climax.

But not everyone was disappointed by Tuesday's premature incineration.

The alleged torching of the wood-and-neon figure by a San Francisco performance artist has cast light on the disillusionment of many in the city who believe the annual celebration of radical self-expression has lost touch with its spontaneous, subversive roots long ago.

"People have been trying to set that thing on fire for years", said Hugh D'Andrade, a San Francisco artist who attended the festival for many years. "This is not a new phenomenon."

Organizers trace the first Burning Man back to a 1986 party on a San Francisco beach where Larry Harvey, who still heads the festival, set ablaze a crude 2 1/2-metre wooden figure.

Since then, the event has evolved into a weeklong gathering of nearly 40,000 people who descend on the northern Nevada's Black Rock Desert around Labour Day every year for a massive display of countercultural creativity.

In San Francisco especially, Burning Man has emerged as a kind of underground high holiday as legions of so-called Burners devote the rest of the year to choreographing fire dances, decorating art cars and building elaborate interactive sculptures.

The event has become such a mainstay of the city's cultural calendar that Burner parents in 2005 unsuccessfully urged the San Francisco school board to postpone the first day of school so their children could attend.

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