I am grateful to have had the opportunity to join a crew building an art installation for Burning Man 2014. Inspireality Palace is a large interactive installation designed by two Los Angeles-based artists assisted by a large crew of people from all around the United States. I have always loved installations, but living in the city in a small apartment doesn’t give me many chances to create large work. I joined the project in the spring of 2014 and volunteered my time through the summer.
Adventures with Power Tools
Every weekend offered up a new challenge and new skills to learn. We started off working on the project in the artists’ backyard. Prior to this project I did not have any experience with power tools or construction work. With a lot of help from others I quickly started using nail guns, table saws and grinders, and learned how to create jigs for cutting wood pieces. I was particularly interested in learning more about electronics and LED’s. The artist in charge of the electronics gave me an introduction and soon I was helping him prep the lights and projectors for the project. This has been a catalyst for me to explore working on my own with LED’s and programming wearable tech such as the Arduino Flora. As the project went on I was able to use my newly acquired construction skills to teach other volunteers and using table saws and grinders like a pro!
Giant Metal Arches
Around June the project outgrew the backyard and we moved to a worksite in the desert. Because of its large scale we needed a lot of volunteers, especially volunteers who knew how to weld and work with metal. We had 26 metal arches (some of which were over 26 feet tall) that needed to be cut, welded, finished and painted. They were so large that a team of at least eight people was needed to lift them and move them around the work site. The artists had an expert teach a welding workshop and many of the volunteers, myself included, learned welding for the first time. I spent a lot of time finishing the welded pieces with grinders and managing all of the individual metal parts so the welding crew could work faster. As our end-of-August deadline approached we worked long weekends to finish the project. A week before the event the project was packed up into a few trucks and driven with the crew to the desert outside Reno, Nevada.
Off to Burning Man
Building in the desert provides its own unique set of challenges. It’s hot, dusty, windy and dry in one of the most inhospitable areas imaginable. It’s very easy to get dehydrated and tired in the hot sun. We would often attempt to sleep during the heat of the day and work late into the night. In addition to the environmental challenges, there were challenges with equipment; these problems are harder to solve in a place where you don’t have a hardware store around the corner. As a crew we worked together to find solutions to the various problems that cropped up. The weather was harsh this year and a rain and thunderstorm delayed many of the projects early on. There was an additional rain storm that shut the city down for 24 hours; reports came out of one person getting hit by lightning, and many people were turned around at the front entrance and sent back to Reno.
Despite struggling with the weather, harsh climate and strained resources, Burning Man opened back up and the project was finished. Modifications were made from the original plans but it still turned out impressive. By far the biggest reward of this project was seeing the impact installation had on others. Biking up to it in the early morning and seeing the sunrise glint off the black tiles was breathtaking. It has been delightful hearing other people’s stories of their time inside the art installation, and I’m so happy others have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed building it. Here is a first time burner’s story of his time with Inspireality Palace. I left the project happy to have found such an amazing crew of people, excited to continue to learn more and inspired to create my own art installation in the future.