The Act of Being Together: The Connective Magic of Interactive Art at Chatsworth

While some were still de-dusting and decompressing from what, by many accounts, was a particularly challenging and all-consuming Black Rock City 2022, our friends across the pond were coming to the end of their own Burning Man project.

Read the rest of this three-part Chatsworth series here.

From April to October 2022, Radical Horizons: the Art of Burning Man at Chatsworth transformed a 1,000-acre public park in the English countryside into a playful, provocative, and interactive art park featuring 12 Burning Man sculptures, four of which were built in collaboration with local children and volunteers. 

More than 500,000 people of all ages experienced the exhibition, which provided visitors an opportunity to delight in the magic of Burning Man in their own backyards. In response to the high volume of visitors, Roger Shelley, Trusts and Foundations Manager at Chatsworth House Trust observed, “We are fairly confident that we have changed people’s lives here. We’ve changed the way that they think.”

Chatsworth is the traditional seat of the 12th Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish, who enthusiastically embraced the exhibition’s focus on interactivity and community. “It’s really pulling people in, perhaps a lot of people who have not been to Chatsworth before, which is so exciting,” the Duke noted. “Four hundred and ninety-five children have been involved in the participatory builds, and that was very much part of the ethos of the whole idea, to bring young people in and local communities in at every level.”

“The Flybrary” by Christina Sporrong, 2019 (Photo by Frances Milburn)

While it may seem incongruous that a culture known for exploring new creative frontiers is collaborating with an English country estate, Kim Cook, Burning Man Project’s Director Creative Initiatives notes, “When you inquire about things that seem to be disparate, and then you discover they in fact have things in common, and that larger human metaphor was super important to me. Radical Horizons is as much about a radical return and how we reinvestigate the role and responsibilities of an estate in a modern sense as it is about a radical horizon that’s out there somewhere.”

During the exhibition, half a million people explored the landscape, sought out art and built connections in much the same way as we do in Black Rock City and Burning Man spaces around the world. Visitors who were completely new to Burning Man wanted to know more about the culture that produced these artworks. They explored with fresh eyes and open minds, delighted in the moment and embraced us, Burning Man culture, and the art.

This depth of curiosity and participation was a direct result of Burning Man Project’s engagement strategies, which encouraged visitors to interact with and collectively build art. Our approach changed the practice at Chatsworth; during Radical Horizons the estate worked with us to reinvent their engagement strategies. This led to more meaningful exchanges between visitors and the landscape through the art installations.

(Photo by Frances Milburn)

The closing reception was a joyous affair with costuming, random acts of kindness, spontaneous expressions of creativity, and more than a few stories shared. People experienced the power of ritual as Rebekah Waites’ sculpture “Relevé” went up in flames. Participants gathered round for a large scale art burn, paraded, made music, spun fire, and basked in the warm glow of work, play, and new connections made, experiences co-created and shared.

Harley K. Dubois, co-founder and Chief Culture Officer of Burning Man Project, addressed the crowd as they excitedly gathered for the closing burn. “One of the things I love about ceremony is to see how you as an individual fit into the context of the greater whole. That’s the opportunity we have tonight with the burning of ‘Relevé’… We’re stopping the past and we’re stopping the future, and we’re going to have a moment to be together.”

Whether in a vast desert or the English countryside, with the closing act of gathering round for a large scale burn we find common ground. These experiences light a spark, help us all remember why interactive human connection is fundamental to our purpose and shared journey on this planet.

(Photo by Frances Milburn)

 Cover image of “Wings of Wind” by Bryan Tedrick, 2021 (Photo by Frances Milburn)

About the author: Megan Miller

Megan Miller

Megan is an accomplished communications professional with experience in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. She’s a skilled leader, writer, editor, public speaker, and strategic adviser. Megan is passionate about the art of sharing information in creative and impactful ways, and believes in the power of ideas and authentic self-expression to change the world for the better. Before joining the year-round Burning Man staff in 2012, Megan spent ten years working for environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, political campaigns, and the United States Senate. Born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, Megan earned a Bachelor’s degree in English & Art History from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and is a 2007 graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs. She is also a certified yoga instructor who loves shaking it loose on the dance floor.