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Burning Man : The Technology Behind the Art
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Burning Man Curatorial Notes

Burning Man is the largest art show on earth. It is located outdoors, in the dessert near Reno, Nevada. It covers over 40 square miles and contains art that burns, glows, moves, art that is often dangerous. Much of the art is temporary. Orchestrated and massive sequences of firebombs illuminate the primarily nighttime activity for a week where over 50,000 “participants” interact with “radical expressionism”. Art cars, some that are several train lengths long, roam about on what was – and will be soon again – a flat, vacant, and sparse desert.

What is going on here? As the organizers of Burning Man would say, the event is an experiment in radical self-expression, radical self-reliance, and community. People are requested to not be spectators, but participants in the experience. Everything from what people where to building fantasic art is an ongoing theme every moment. And then, when it is over, everything is cleaned up with a Leave No Trace doctrine.

Yet, what particularly fascinated us at the Silicon Valley Art Museum is that a large majority of the Burning Man participants originate from the San Francisco Bay area, such as Silicon Valley. Many of these people are highly skilled in computers, engineering, construction, and with all aspects of creating startups. These are the people who are bringing their skills to the desert in the form of art and expression. Most of these people don’t consider themselves as artists during the rest of the year. However, Burning Man gives them an opportunity to create freely using all of their talents.

As an example, when I first went to Burning Man, I rode my bike up to a small utility trailer connected to a large parabolic antenna and asked the person working on it what it was. As a former electronics engineer, I knew that the antenna was tuned to a microwave frequency and that the electronics in the trailer was very sophisticated. It turns out that the person I was talking with operated one of the largest satellite communications facility on earth and he installed video cameras inside the “Man” to view and broadcast the burning – from the inside out – around the world.

So, it seemed that wherever I went, I met aircraft designers who made autonomous flying wings that glow at night, or welders who created a 12 foot tall heart that is used as a fireplace, or electronics engineers who created a maze with lasers. What I realized is that technology was being used as an art form. It was as though a new paradigm was evolving in art: Technology is being used instead of paintbrushes, and the medium now is culture instead of a canvas. And the goal is to interactively experience the art, instead of being a passive witness. Burning Man has become a focal point in one of the most dramatic shifts in the history of art.

Please review the few highlights we found at Burning Man here on our site. We’ve chosen these examples in particular to reveal some of the technology behind the art. Also, read more about what Burning Man at Wikipedia and the official Burning Man website.

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