Devotees Robot Heart and Burning Man Make Their NYC Debut

A young man with fairy ears and a pink beard danced shirtless to trance music. Crowds of people sipped Liquid Death, a new watermark sold at festivals, as they waved and chatted with strangers. Bystanders sat on grassy hills for a panoramic view, taking in the colorful scene with intrigue. In one corner, a woman tested a chair with a “sensory experience”, wearing a virtual reality headset as her high-tech chair vibrated vigorously. Candy-scented clouds traveled from vape to mouth to sky.

Welcome to Robot Heart. Organized by the Robot Heart Foundation, which describes itself as a “collective of dreamers and doers,” these parties tend to have a communal, countercultural kind of fun, and are normally held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert during Burning Man festivals.

On this occasion, however, the foundation celebrated its inaugural New York City event, billed as Fare Forward, at Wollman Rink in Central Park. The merriment was a tad more controlled in the new urban environment. Police officers kept an eye on the scene and all the action started at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday and ended at 10pm sharp – an acceptable bedtime.

This two-day affair, on April 30 and May 1, was in a sense a return to glory. The pandemic put a hard break on Robot Heart, which debuted in 2008, as did the much larger Burning Man festival. The loss was acutely felt among “Burners” (passionate festival lovers).

This gathering has become a haven for a motley crew, including creative nomads, Bushwick art artists and Silicon Valley techies. At every event, a 1972 ‘Mad Max’-esque Bristol bus, equipped with loudspeakers, the ‘Robot Heart Art Bus’, blasts onto sets by renowned DJs

The sun-filled respite from the outside world was founded and led by George Mueller, known as “Geo,” who died unexpectedly last year of a brain aneurysm. This month’s festival marked the first Robot Heart event since his death, and those in attendance partially let go to honor him.

There was a democratic, egalitarian spirit on the dance floor. Bodies were pressed close together while strangers were bound together. Every once in a while someone would see an old friend they met at Burning Man and say hello. As night fell, colorful LED lights swept across the crowd and garments littered the grounds. Kisses were exchanged here and there.

And there was plenty to do in the VIP area, accessible with tickets. Guests ordered giant plates of sushi (which ranged from $200 to $1,500). A tent for meditation and tarot card readings was set up.

This Robot Heart may not have embodied the full-fledged festival experience that many of those in attendance have longed for. That comes this summer, when Burning Man makes his long-awaited return to Black Rock. But after a two-year hiatus from festival life, the weekend had an important goal that reflects much of this year: back to normal.

Age: 36

By: Washington, DC and New York City

I heard you’re a pageant.

I was the first runner-up of Miss USA in 2012.

Congratulations. What are you doing now?

I work in blockchain at a company founded by the man behind Ethereum.

What brings you here today?

Today is a celebration of life. Robot Heart is one of the best-known camps at Burning Man. If you go to Burning Man, you know Robot Heart.

How many times have you been to Burning Man?

This will be my fifth year. But my first year, I hitchhiked from the airport, found a piece of land, pitched a tent, and lived alone in the desert for a week.

Have you made friends?

Yes absolutely. It really is a journey for yourself whether you are in a camp or not. It has totally changed my life.

What have you learned from that experience?

You really learn what you need to learn in that particular moment. At that time I was really dealing with loneliness. And being alone. So I was alone for a whole week! I’ve learned to finally be okay with being alone. Now I have manifested a huge community here and in other places.

Do you still feel lonely?

New. I have found myself. And the catalyst was Burning Man.

Age: 63

Activity: Writer and entrepreneur

By: Miami Beach, Florida.

Tell me about your outfit.

Today’s inspiration was Walter Mercado meets Endora from “Bewitched”. That’s my daily grind. This isn’t festival wear – I look like this every day. I have never packed for a trip so quickly and with more pleasure.

Where do some pieces come from?

The bag and glasses are from Gucci. The ostrich jacket is from Zac Posen. The ring is Alexander McQueen. Suede cowboy boots my cousin bought me in Texas. Vintage tights. Vintage Napier pendant necklace, probably from the mid 70’s. Tom Ford Beauty Makeup.

Is it reasonable to assume that you are a big fan of vintage clothing?

Yes. I have maximized my saved searches on eBay. They won’t let me in anymore!

What is its number?

Something like 150 I think.

What is the power of fashion for you?

It’s about expressing yourself. But to express yourself, you must know yourself. And to know yourself, you have to love yourself. I know myself very well.

Ages: 41 and 45

Activity: Musicians performing as the Illustrious Blacks.

Tell me about your outfits.

Mankindblack: These are actually our after shows. We played today and had a very different ensemble. But this is more our casual after-performance look. And we bring you purity with the white.

Do your outfits also fit on stage?

Mankindblack: Yes. They were multicolored.

sample: And tight!

Where do you live?

Mankindblack: Planet Brooklyn. We are currently in the Republic of Bed-Stuy. But we are going to travel to the magical land of Flatbush very soon.

Tell me about your music style.

Mankindblack: We call ourselves the ‘afro-electro-disco space punks’.

sample: It ranges from house funk, disco and techno, with a little bit of punk thrown in.

Which shows are coming up that you would like to perform at?

Mankindblack: Lisbon, Portugal! We’re going to celebrate Pride with them there.

Age: 36

What is the meaning behind “Dining Dominatrix”?

I want to spoil you with food, love, consent and pleasure.

Tell me about your outfit.

If you were to take the word “compersion” – which is all about loving other people who are having love and fun – and put it in a kaleidoscope, and then take the color bright pink. Ta-da! It’s an explosion of fun.

Ages: 60 and 44

What are you doing?

Andy: I am a surgeon.

Tell me about your outfits.

Andy: It’s from our suit closet. Which is bigger than our regular closet!

Keke: I wanted something shiny. Something that glistens in the sun as I dance.

What brings you here today?

Andy: We go way back with these people. We have been going to Burning Man for over 10 years. It’s like a family reunion for us. During the pandemic and all that, we haven’t been able to see our friends. You know, people who go to Burning Man like masks, but we’re bad at social distancing. We love to cuddle.

Do festivals play a major role in your marriage?

Andy: No festivals in general. They are more specific festivals, specific events. Many of our friends like to dress up. It’s more of a great party with great people that we happen to meet in the desert.

Age: “timeless”

Activity: Designer

Okay, tell me about the horse support you’re carrying.

Apparently, my genetic female line, according to 23andMe, came from a group in Africa who settled and cared for horses 2,000 years ago. So maybe that’s why I’m attracted to it. I have horses in many colors and I match them with my outfit. But I only take them to places where they’re accepted, like here.

Does he have a name?


How long did it take to get ready?

Not long. I had to dress the horse and some of my friends too.

Age: 34

What are you doing?

I have a costume shop here in New York City. That’s where I got this costume from.

What is it called?

Harmonia NY.

Tell me about your outfit.

I tell a story of happiness, fluidity and celebrating the cause of life, which is why we are all here today. We are here to be happy, to express ourselves. This outfit is spring awakening.

Do you go to Burning Man and other festivals a lot?

Yes, I’ve been gone for five years. I’m also a DJ I run the afterparty.

Did you make new friends today?

I actually know a lot of Burning Man people here. So much has been accomplished. I also have a baby, so before that I was working with him at home. Now the babysitter is watching him.

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