Sierra Nevada College class creates Burning Man audio slideshow
When Savannah Hoover was a senior at Sierra Nevada College last year, she enrolled in an art class designed to build a gigantic installation for display at the Burning Man festival. Burning Man is a cultural festival held over the whole week before and during Labor Day in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, Nevada. Spreading across an ancient, dried-up lakebed, more than 60,000 participants set up “camp” in a pattern of concentric circles they call Black Rock City. The most creative of them spend weeks and months beforehand developing artistic installations that tend to engage viewers by getting them to move or think in a new way. Hoover’s class helped to build the “Project Overlook” installation, then attended Burning Man to see how others interacted with it. Afterward, Hoover made a Soundslides audio slideshow to document the process.
What is the story behind your Burning Man project?
Project Overlook was the creation of Russell Dudley and Logan Lape, my two instructors for Sierra Nevada College’s Burning Man 2012 installation course. Though we were not expected to generate ideas for our own projects of this scale, students were expected to assist through all stages of building, experience and deconstruction. This was meant to show us how to participate in an art-driven community and to reveal the demanding process of creation in such an environment.
What did you hope the installation would achieve?
To quote Russell directly, Project Overlook “… is about questioning context and your point of view, both within Black Rock City and within Black Rock Desert.” From the first viewing platform, if you look toward the city through the screens, you have a fresh yet filtered perspective of the society in which you’re participating. If you look outward toward the desert, you are quickly reminded that you’re actually in the middle of nowhere. By taking you so far away from the city’s thriving center, it makes you reconsider what you want out of an experience such as Burning Man. It makes the line clearer between the desert’s solitude and Burning Man’s party culture.
That’s pretty cool. How did you make it?
The “mirage” was constructed from steel scrims, which are comparable to thin, grate-like screens. The platform and periscope behind the scrims were constructed from wood and steel.
Did you have a favorite moment related to our project at Burning Man?
One night, our entire class marched out under a full moon to see the project at night and compare its subtlety to the city’s sometimes overwhelming illumination. We sat about fifty yards from the project and while discussing it, we saw a few participants ride up and begin exploring the piece. There was something fun about watching someone interact with the art without knowing the creators of it were watching.
It must have been awesome to see so many people enjoying an art installation that you made.
The experience was different for everyone. Some people treated it as an escape, while others treated it as a toy. As with anything at Burning Man, nothing can be expected of an audience, you can only hope they enjoy it.
Read more from Savannah at her blog, Savage Searching.