Interview with Rox Scapini – 2009 Honorarium Artist

As an artist who has been creating work to display at the dust fest for well over a decade, I am fascinated by the process of playa art making.  You might not know this but it is truly a unique process which you will not find replicated in the Artworld (captial A artworld).  My Black Rock City artmaking process has been something like this: initial inspiration happens; next, the evolution of the conceptual framework; followed by the process of translating that idea into a proposal (well, most of us do this; Michael Christian doodles on a napkin, but he’s charming and produces provocative work, so he is a special case); then comes the obsessive build, build, build time, and finally struggling with the complications of the desert to install your work.  All of this is done within a six month time frame.

I have been curious how other BRC artists approach their work; what they are inspired by and how they face the challenges of building art on our desert platform.  So to fulfill my own curiosity and to give you some insight, I am randomly interviewing a few of this year’s Honorarium artists for your reading pleasure.

grape_eyesName: Rox Scapini
Project: Bio*Tanical Garden
Project website:
Project Location: Berkeley, CA

Jess Hobbs: Tell me a little bit about yourself.  What might be pertinent to know about the creator of “Bio*tanical Garden”?

Rox Scapini: I’m an artist and I have been making sculptures for 16 years. Sculpture is my favorite form of art because it gives me the possibility of bringing my imaginary world into reality. Sculpture for me is not about materials but physical presence in space. My style is figurative but not realistic, and my sculptures represent something that “might” exist in this world. I have a strong fascination of cyberpunk literature (HR Giger is the artist that most influenced me, indeed) and a cynical view of our world.

JH: Have you produced work for Burning Man before?  If not, what work has affected you the most?

RS: Last year was my first time at Burning Man, and I thought it would have been so much better to actively participate creating something. Then I realized this year’s theme was “Evolution”, which is one of my favorite subjects … because I have so many ideas about possible ways we might evolve! So I presented one of the projects I had in mind, the one that seemed most suitable to be presented on the playa, and it got approved.

Of last year’s artworks, one I liked most was the wishtree (real name Arbor Animus), the tree that had sentences written on little pieces of paper hanging from the branches, and lit in blue. It had a bench inside, so that you could sit and enjoy the magical atmosphere it generated. (JH: This piece had a similar feeling for me to Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree). I also really loved that kind of huge bird cage (Altered State) that everybody could climb and had a swing hanging from the cupola roof. That also created a dream state space.

Arbor Animus by Preston Dane, David Ort and Annie Vainchenker
Photographer: Jared Mechaber
Night time at Altered State by Kate Raudenbush
Photographer: Anthony Peterson

The desert is a very peculiar ambient place to display art. I am still thinking of the challenges it will imply. For my art piece I’m using a lot of silicone, and it tends to pick up dust, so I will have to constantly wash it off. This is a special silicone that really looks like skin, and it´s very expensive. Originally I was thinking about latex because  it’s cheaper, but it shrinks with the heat, so I had to change the plan.  In the beginning I wanted to create a greenhouse space, but I had to face the fact that the heat would have made it impossible to enter it during the day! Glass was also a bad idea…so I decided it would have to be a garden instead, so I didn’t have to worry about making it look like a greenhouse.

JH: Have you produced work outside of Burning Man, not just art, include all creative work (cooking, gardening, design, etc.)?

RS: I’ve been creating art since I was a teenager, and it has always been what I wanted to do. All of my jobs have been related to art: art restorer, painter, set constructor for movies, advertisements and theatre.  I’ve been assisting artists in their projects and worked for big decoration companies in Italy and Spain, where I lived before moving to California.

JH: Give me a brief synopsis about your piece “Bio*tanical Garden”.

RS: It is a 10 x 10 gazebo structure that displays some very peculiar plants: trans-plants in fact! There are different kinds of fauna: human parts that grow from trees (like fruits), organs that are cultivated in soil, and colonies of appendixes growing like fungi from the bark.

For the human parts I cast real people’s hands and ears, and then made them out of silicone to have the texture and consistency of skin. The organs were a little more complicated … I had to model them with clay, cast them and then make them out of silicone. A longer process.

JH: What inspired the proposal for “Bio*tanical Garden”?  For example, when creating Mutopia last year, we were heavily inspired by the World Seed bank that just opened in northern Norway and the atomic history and use of the Nevada landscape.  I’d love to hear your inspirations.

RS: Years ago I read something about cloning semi-human beings as a source of transplant organs.  I found it an abhorrent idea and envisioned a greenhouse producing spare organs. Of course this is a grotesque idea, but really not so far from reality. I wanted to present it in a very direct way that could have a strong impact on the observer, so I made these organs grow out of soil, with all the germs and bacteria that includes. Which is a paradox of course, but the whole concept is. I wanted it to be realistic and repulsive at the same time.hands

JH: How is your project coming along?

RS: I have been able to find many things that I need for a very good price, like the gazebo structure that is going to be the Garden area. Most of the materials needed to create the organs are very expensive, so I need to save money on less important things, elements I can find a good alternative solution for. Most of my team members have been my models for the castings, and some of them are in charge of specific issues, while I am the one creating all the molds and positives.

It’s taking all my free time, but it’s coming along!

I want to say thank you to Rox for taking the time to answer a few questions and give a bit of insight in to her artistic process.  Good Luck and we will see you and your organs out in the desert.

About the author: Jess Hobbs

Jess Hobbs

People have often described Jessica Hobbs as someone trying to lead a compulsively artistic life, which is more or less true. She started off her adventure in a small Sierra Foothill town and eventually meandered her way to the San Francisco Bay Area. Along the way Jess has worn many hats; running and creating community art programs, counseling teenagers, curating, exhibiting, designing, photographing and creating monumental interactive art experiences. She is an MFA graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute and has been wandering and creating in the dust fest for well over a decade. Collaboration is her magic ingredient for success in work, community, art and life. This can be seen through her founding and directing work with the Flux Foundation and All Power Labs.

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