How We Got Here:
• The exhibition, which aims to tell the story of the playa’s limitless creativity, is a close collaboration between Burning Man Project and the Renwick Gallery that started in 2016.
• Large and small-scale Burning Man pieces will be spread throughout the gallery floors and the surrounding Washington D.C. neighborhood.
• “No Spectators” will feature installation art, jewelry, costumes, and photography, some of which were drawn from a call out to the Burning Man community by the Civic Arts department with the help of volunteer Affinity Mingle.
• The exhibition will be on display from March 30, 2018 – January 21, 2019.
This is the third post in a series about “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” the upcoming exhibition at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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August 26, 2017
“Are you from Washington, D.C.?”
I’m standing in line for the noon Burner Express (BXB) bus at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. I just introduced myself as Nexus to a new friend in line, which had prompted the inquiry.
“Yes,” I reply.
“Awesome! Two of my colleagues attended the screening of Taking My Parents to Burning Man you presented a couple of weeks ago. I work at the Renwick.”
First of all, whoa, small frickin’ world. Second, as you may have guessed (if you’ve been keeping up with this series), the person I had just met was Renwick curator Nora Atkinson. And third, whoa, small frickin’ world!!
Not only had we booked the same BXB departure time, specifically one with a shopping trip stop, but we just happened to end up standing right next to each other in line. Our conversation lasted the entire ride to Black Rock City.
After just marveling at chance or fate or serendipity or whatever you want to call it that directed our paths to cross, I remarked that, in my Burning Man experience, this is just going to keep happening. As if by magic, one will often end up at the right place at the right time to meet the people, whether old friends or new ones, that one seems meant to meet.
We also talked about how this doesn’t have to end when the event does. Nora had already begun dipping her toe into the global community, and I extolled how active and engaged our local community is the other fifty-one weeks of the year. We considered how that community could be a resource to help bring the “No Spectators” exhibition to life in a way that might expand beyond the initial concept.
It was an earnest dialogue in getting to know each other and trying to figure out what happens next. Neither of us was acting as a representative or spokesperson for our respective institution or community. But at the same time, relationships between such bodies can be built on conversations like this.
February 1, 2018
“I’m here for a 4 pm meeting with Karyn.”
I am a couple minutes late for a meeting at the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (BID). They are partners with the Renwick for “No Spectators” and will be installing six Burning Man sculptures on the streets of the Golden Triangle area, which is basically the heart of K Street in Washington, D.C.
I am joining two of D.C.’s Regional Contacts to explore how the local Burner community (and through us the regional, national, and possibly global ones) can contribute to this programming.
We were also there to figure out how to convey that information to our community. We asked about the parameters of spaces and times, power and permits, and all the other logistics questions involved with event production in public spaces. Karyn Miller, Public Space Activation Curator at the Golden Triangle BID, shared some idea of how we could fit into the existing programming, but we also had time for a generative discussion about the kind of events Burners could implement if simply given the space.
One question was how Burners and Burner aesthetics could be incorporated into walking tours of the sculptures to be installed. It could be anything from having a bin or rack of costumes for attendees to wear to having Burners participate or even lead tours while sharing personal stories related to the pieces. Another idea had to do with a program the BID calls Farragut Fridays, where the park invites people to hang out all day with some activities and programming. We’re tentatively trying to find a date on which Burners can takeover and provide the music, workshops, and other activities, so stay tuned.
Throughout all these conversations with exhibition organizers, I’ve appreciated the invitation to make room for the local community to come in, be heard, and participate. That makes this feel truly Burning Man. While we’re still figuring the details and next steps, it’s exciting to be able to activate the D.C. Burner community in somewhat “mainstream” spaces in yet another way, building on the presence and history of events like Figment DC and Catharsis on the Mall.
March 30, 2018
“I’m here for the opening of ‘No Spectators!’”
The exhibition opens today, and the line wraps around the block. I just walked over from the Golden Triangle area, where local Theme Camps have set up chill spaces, small-scale interactive art, contact and flow workshops, and a DJ booth with world beats blasting from the speakers. And I’ve managed to find a way to write a blog post from the future and send it back in time!
But in all seriousness, I cannot wait for this exhibition to open. And while I would’ve been stoked about it regardless, I’m thrilled by the degree to which the organizations and institutions presenting this exhibition have welcomed the Burner community to be active participants in figuring out how to infuse the art and the events with the local culture.
The planning conversations weren’t simply us asking for permission to do things. They’ve been engaging, robust discussions about actively partnering with the local community — What does that mean? How does it look? As Burners, we know what “No Spectators” means. It’s great to be in a position to help the Renwick Gallery and Golden Triangle BID not just tell their visitors about the concept, but have people in our local community who’ve lived it show them as well.