A Temecula group brings deaf culture awareness and enlightenment to this year’s Burning Man Festival. The burning man event, started by Larry Harvey on a beach in San Francisco in 1986, has grown to an 80,000-person, 7-square-mile festival on a dead lake bed in Nevada. This inhospitable nine-day venue encourages self-sufficiency and creativity and draws people in globally as the “in thing” focusing on art, music, fire, survival in dust storms and everything in between.
The core “Deaf Granny’s Kitchen” playa team, which is an insider term for on-desert work, were Temecula locals Eric Feris, Seven and Dr. Jinx. It is common for “burners” to adopt their own unique names and personas for the event. Other participants ranged from Oakland to San Antonio, Texas, and included D-man, Ra and Phildo.
The Temecula group set out to raise deaf cultural awareness on the playa and build bridges of communication and awareness around their cause. The focus of the team’s effort was an interactive performance art project experience. This art is dubbed “Deaf Granny’s Kitchen” and was crafted to create an approachable and effective framework for communication between the team who are deaf and the hearing public which was their audience. This communication occurred without the spoken word as to immerse the participants in the deaf experience through experience learned signing. The team’s interests are inspired by their struggles with understanding and integration into mainstream culture. Despite much progress in these areas, there are still wide gaps in understanding and acceptance. For the deaf, much of the world is still wired like a 1950’s sitcom with no audio. For example, the team’s consumption of the Burning Man event was aided by an interpreter who assisted in interpretation and translating efforts where needed. The key point being, without this bridging the team misses out, and the rest the attendees miss out on their contribution. The team emphasizes the importance of bridging communication differences across all people.
The art installation was a deaf woman character, played by Feris, who teaches some sign and elements of deaf culture to an interactive audience in the setting of a retro-kitchen from the 1950s. Activities such as making a sandwich are used as examples to learn to sign from Granny. The kitchen is a common gathering icon in deaf culture as a bright space of interaction. The kitchen had to be designed and built by the team for portability and assembly at the Burning Man event. Painstaking detail was followed to create a whimsical space that was in line with intent and Burning Man expectations of quality. The performance sparked strong emotions from the participants and spectators, and it was not unusual to see them crying during and after event discussions. The performance venue was awarded a prime location at the Black Rock City festival of 7:30 and F, prime locations like Wilshire Boulevard, on the playa map. Those wishing to get involved with or support the team may do so by engaging them on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/deafgrannyskitchen.