Festival review: Blazing Swan, Perth

A seven-day festival dedicated to themes of self-expression and self-reliance.

It feels somewhat reductive to call Australia’s Burning Man event a festival. Blazing Swan was a seven-day immersive community that called for participation as you co-created with the experiences that welcome you – from silently scribing on the temporary pine temple, to joining a kazoo choir or a handstand workshop.

With participation as one of the event’s 11 guiding principles, there were no expectations to be entertained via passive observation. It was everyone’s responsibility to bring their individual gifts to the communal table. 

Described as an experiment in temporary community and art, the event began with a ceremonial entry, where the 11 principles were bestowed: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, civic responsibility, communal effort, leaving no trace, participation, immediacy and consent. Then, you crossed the elaborately decorated threshold into Jilakin Rock City – the temporary empire erected and dismantled each year – with an instruction to leave your carefully constructed ‘self’ outside the city (the first act of decommodification) and merge with the week. 

For 2023’s Blaze, the principles of radical self-expression and radical self-reliance were in focus, alongside the theme of Poseidon’s Flame. Then there was the nationalistic black swan symbol (that pushed its way into the event theme with a parable of a phoenix-turned-swan, alchemised into a scaled water creature) and the borrowed heritage of the event’s origin, Burning Man. This collection of intentions, while not conflicting in any way, diluted the potential for a creative focus. 

While some blazers rode the underwater theme in costume and mutant vehicle designs, others stayed true to their group’s annual self-expression with lampshade headdresses and fairy-tale adornments. So perhaps the event’s abundant set of themes created a wider tapestry for self-expression – the theme that trumped them all.

Blazing Swan was held in the vast landscape of Western Australia’s Kulin – a land that has the ability to appear timeless if it weren’t for the ritualistic gathering of sunset admirers atop one of the landmark rock formations. From this vantage point, one of the most poignant silences took place. 

Here 3000 people sat in stillness while the temple art installation was burnt to the ground. The artist, Clinton Matthews, drew inspiration from the mathematical sequencing of the ancient Greek concept of Phi, a shape that represents the wholeness, balance and harmony of all things. Having walked through the twisted temple in the days prior, contributing words to adorn the structure, this burn was unexpectedly emotional, for me and many other dazed onlookers.

The peaked energy from the nights prior – thanks to endless dance parties hosted at God Says No, House of Orb, Tree Tops,and FunKazba – calmed like post-storm settlement on the ocean floor. We watched. Cried. And wandered slowly to the ashed embankment of embers, unwilling to leave the last big burn of the event.

While the temple burn was somewhat of a salve, the Saturday night effigy burn was an ignition for the night that followed. Artist, Angus Priest, conceptualised the Pillars of Poseidon with surrounding swans in a statement of renewal. The fire itself did most of the work in birthing this intention, another act of co-creation – this time with art and element. 

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On the seventh day, the entire city of esoteric theme camps and art installations was dismantled, and the earth was left without a trace of the week that was. Jilakin Rock City went back to a Kulin working farm. And Blazing Swan remained a temporary experiment, left to live on in the fables of blazers.

Blazing Swan: Poseidon’s Flame
Kulin, Perth
Blazing Swan occurred on 5-11 April 2023.

Clare Reid is an author and feature writer based in Perth. Long-listed for the Fish Anthology short story prize and, with published work in The Nasiona and Change Seven Magazine, Clare is just beginning her career as an author. She is a senior copywriter and holds a MA in Transnational Creative Writing from Stockholm University.