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Making a Mutant Vehicle

RISD studentsGenevieve Marsh BARch 16, Caitlyn Au 15 GL, Denali Schmidt 15 FAV and Joshua Shiau 15 ID are on a mission to create a cool art car for this summer’sBurning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada. Using Kickstarter, they’re hoping to raise $3,800 by March 31 to fund the venture, which they callProject Pinwheel.

Festival art cars are painted, decorated and altered vehicles – often fancifully transformed into pirate ships, lobsters, cupcakes or anything else creative types cook up – and are the only motorized transportation allowed at Burning Man. Each one must qualify for a DMV sticker – signifying authorization from the “Department of Mutant Vehicles” – in order to be driven at the festival.

First held in 1986, Burning Man started as a small annual fire party at Baker Beach in San Francisco and has since grown into a pop-up city in the desert “dedicated to radical self-reliance, radical self-expression and art.” The event takes place on an ancient lakebed – known as the playa – where 48,000 people do radically creative things together for one week each August.

Using a 1993 Previa minivan as the underlying structure, Marsh and her team will create a huge mobile sculpture adorned with pinwheels created by contributors. An 8.5” square pinwheel template is available to download from theRISD art car website, so that anyone who is interested can create his or her own moving artwork to help the Mutant Vehicle live up to its name.

The aim of Project Pinwheel is to “create the space for people to share themselves creatively” and to “give the power of the message back to the people,” Marsh says. That ethos jibes with Burning Man’s philosophy of “radical inclusion,” and the team’s plan to minimize their environmental impact by building their sculpture out of found objects and recyclable materials reflects the festival’s core premise: leave no trace. The four students plan to drive their art car out to Nevada and use it as a living space during the festival.

A successful Kickstarter campaign will enable Marsh to exercise her leadership skills as well as her sensitivity to form in crafting the art car, while Shiau is taking responsibility for feasibility, functionality, visual impact and interactivity. Schmidt will make a documentary film about the transformative elements of the piece, and Au is charged with keeping the car building and the team’s practices true to the principles of Burning Man.

Full of energy and optimism, the Project Pinwheel team says their overall goal is to “make a statement with public art in a global community” while tooling across the desert with “the pinwheels of contributors fluttering in the breeze.”

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