Art installations in the desert: a participant observation study of the art of real life Burning Man and Second Life Burn2
Black Rock City is a temporary city existing for one week in the harsh desert of northern Nevada. It plays host to the Burning Man festival with over 300 large-scale art installations and is considered to be the largest interactive art festival in the world. Besides the main burn, smaller local regional events have developed. These regional events encompass many of the same tenets as Burning Man including the presentation of large-scale art. Burn2 is the regional event held on the virtual world, Second Life. In 2013, both events used the theme of Cargo Cult as a stepping off point for the artists. Through the lens of spectacle, I used art criticism as a way to gain understanding of the artworks.
Art criticism is a means of interpreting and appreciating artwork and is often used in the art classroom. Edmund Feldman's method promotes a deeper understanding of art and consists of four steps: description, formal analysis, interpretation and judgment. Using Feldman's method, I analyzed three artworks from the 2013 Burning Man festival and three works from Burn2. From interviews, photographs, and personal observations I analyzed the artworks. I used external analysis to compare the literature on similar festivals and the artworks with other events held in the real life and virtual world.
I found in both events very similar concepts and themes. Artists had specific subject matter in mind when designing their installations. Artists used the theme as a stepping off point for rationalizing their content. Art made to be displayed at Burning Man was expensive; funding was a concern for all the artists. Burn2 artists were free from funding concerns even though there were expenses to making art in Second Life. Emerging themes were use of building materials and color, use of electronics and computer technology, art installations in festivals, spectacle, collaboration, and interactivity. Further implications included teaching about the engineering of structures, critical thinking about festival themes and the individual art installations, visual culture, and art making with these emerging art forms.