Art No Matter What: Kirsten Berg’s “Compound eye/I” Lands at the SF Exploratorium

It’s shaping up to be a busy summer for some Burning Man artists. Without the event in the desert this year, and with restrictions lifting across the country, people are eager to gather. And wherever they may gather, they want ART.

Luckily, art is happening—right now, all around the world! As previously reported in The Journal, several generous donors have funded the Burning Man Art Honorarium program this year. This gift means all 2021 Honoraria artists are funded to build art anywhere on the planet.

This blog is the first in our new series “Art No Matter What,” highlighting what our 2020/2021 Honoraria artists are creating out in the world.

Absent the end goal of bringing their art to Black Rock City in 2021, the funded artists are choosing a variety of different paths for their art-related efforts this year. Some are slowly building in anticipation of a 2022 event in the desert. Others are completing their pieces and finding places nearer to home to display them. Looking for examples? Artists Julia and David Nelson-Gal installed a portion of their work “Unbound: A Library in Transition” at the San Mateo County Fair, while sculptor Kirsten Berg is taking the opportunity to install pre-existing work.

On July 1, when the Exploratorium in San Francisco reopens to the public, Berg’s 2015 Honorarium project “Compound eye/I” will be on display. All are welcome to experience this work through January 2022. During the installation of her artwork there, Berg graciously agreed to an interview.

Pictured, left to right: “Compound eye/I” at the San Francisco Exploratorium, 2021 (Photo by Brody Scotland) | “Compound eye/I” on the playa, 2015 (Photo by Jason Silverio)

2005 was Berg’s first year on playa. She quickly realized she wanted to make art, but didn’t have a background in sculptural art or construction. After an accidental meeting with Kate Raudenbush at a fabric store in Manhattan’s East Village, Berg looked Kate up online. Berg was impressed by the Burning Man art that Raudenbush had created, despite similarly having no construction background. How did she do it? The key, as anyone who’s built art in Black Rock City may already know, is to assemble a great team and learn along the way. “I set out as if I was going to do it,” Berg said.

She found people in her yoga community who had construction and carpentry backgrounds. Plans came together. Berg submitted an Honorarium application in 2010 and was turned down. She decided she still wanted to create a project that year, so she simplified her plans and brought it anyway. (Side note: the majority of the 400+ art pieces brought to Black Rock City each year are fully funded by the artists themselves.)

That first project was, on the surface, a disaster. “The team mutinied, there were tears, we had to camp in the mud when we arrived. [The project] had a fractal theme, and it fractally unfolded into disasters and then subsets of disasters, and those each had their own little disasters… Wow, this is like a true fractal terrible experience.”

However, as is often the redemption arc of Burning Man projects, positivity emerged. “As soon as I stepped away afterward, I was like, ‘This is amazing. I have to keep doing this.’ All the trouble was worth it, and I saw that this is what I need to do. A team member leaves, someone else comes along and then becomes your crew member for years. There’s so much magic and serendipity on playa,” Berg said.

She continued to grow and deepen her collaborative art community, and brought the piece back for a second, much smoother, year. Her Honorarium application for “Compound eye/I”, the piece installed currently at the Exploratorium, was accepted in 2015. Her second funded piece, “Imago”, made its debut on playa in 2016 and is currently on display in Davis, California.

2D rendering of Kirsten Berg’s “Drishti,” 2021 (Image courtesy of Kirsten Berg)

Berg’s third Honorarium piece, “Drishti”, is one of the 2021 funded artworks in our Honoraria art grant program. It’s a geometrically elegant piece with many domed mirrors that’s thematically resonant with ‘Compound eye/I.’ Here’s how Berg introduces “Drishti” in her artwork description:

“‘Drishti’ (Sanskrit): ‘the focused gaze,’ vision… is a sculptural expression of the philosophical phrase ‘Drishti, Srishti,’ meaning ‘as is your vision, thus is your universe’ — a locus, a reflective symbol of focusing and elevating energies into positive directions in unity, as co-creators of our individual/collective vision and reality.”

Berg’s artwork has been shown at the Reno Discovery Museum, Singapore Art Week, National Museum of Singapore, and the Hermitage Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, as part of the “Art of Burning Man” exhibit in 2017.

Have you had your own redemption arc of a Burning Man art project? Are you looking forward to seeing or creating artwork at an event this year? Please share below in the comments. And stay tuned for more dispatches from the Burning Man Art Department that will highlight the summer of “art no matter what!” as the year progresses.

Want to hear more about what Burning Man artists worldwide have been up to this year? Queue up the recent Burning Man LIVE podcast episode Art Happens, No Matter What, to hear global Honoraria artists discuss their creative process in a year without Black Rock City.

Cover image of Kirsten Berg installing her art piece “Compound eye/I” at the San Francisco Exploratorium, 2021 (Photo by Brody Scotland)

About the author: Burning Man Arts

Through art grants, mentorship, and art management programs, Burning Man Arts supports the creation of impactful, interactive artwork around the world and in Black Rock City, home to the seminal Burning Man event. Burning Man Arts acts on the belief that community-driven, inclusive, and interactive art is vital to a thriving culture. Get inspired and get involved!

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