Waiting in the dark for the lights to come on, Kate Raudenbush urged the small crowd on the side of USA Parkway to be patient. People had traveled from all over—mostly Reno and New York—to Storey County for the unveiling of Transition Portal, the New York artist’s 30-foot steel sculpture, a symbolic gateway to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, and, with any luck, a bright and harmonious technological future.
“I want to wait for the lights—they should come on any minute,” Raudenbush said.
They didn’t, so someone tripped the solar switch, and dozens of LEDs flooded the metal panels, causing a glowing hieroglyphic effect and collective crowd gasp.
Commissioned by the Nevada Department of Transportation, “Transition Portal” is part doorway, part gothic cathedral, and part space station. It is flanked by two curving, rust-colored steel “wings” that reference Nevada’s mining history.
The tiered doorway—made of cool, gray steel—emerges as a series of Fibonacci-spaced arches that bring to mind papal hats and giant phalluses. Raudenbush’s lacy, laser-cut designs cast source-code-like patterns on the rusty wings and light the piece from within, creating a portal that is imposing but legible. Literally, you can read the machine-cut petroglyphs like characters on a giant tome.
The message? An origin-story-meets-future-prophecy that documents everything from the Big Bang and Mother Earth to all of humanity and technology.
It is a Big Piece. And to the artist’s credit, it avoids the sand traps that public art often succumbs to: bad design, bad execution, and the artistic equivalent of tokenism. The first two pitfalls are cleared by talent and hard work. The last one depends on just how compatible the art and its environment really are. (Raudenbush is a Burning Man artist whose work could be seen as giving moral license to the technology park it is placed in.)
On the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) side, a large-scale Burning Man sculpture is pretty on-brand. Dubbed the “next Silicon Valley” by TRIC rep Dean Haymore, Burning Man looms large over TRIC’s 100,000+ acre campus and its influential residents, who include Tesla, Switch and Google. A visual tie to Burning Man is one reminder for TRIC residents of the creative expression and sustainable transformation they aim for.
For Raudenbush, Burning Man and technology are part of “the same playground.” Over the past 13 years, she has created 10 large-scale Burning Man sculptures that meet at the intersection between people, planet and technology—from her “Garden of Eden” lotus sculpture in 2007, now outside the Nevada Museum of Art, to the overgrown circuitry of “Future’s Past” in 2010, the artist has always found common ideological ground between art and tech.
“I think it all starts with invention,” said Raudenbush. “Creativity and art take an enormous amount of original thinking and invention, and so does the tech world in its best moments.”
Soon, a plaque will be installed underneath “Transition Portal” that reads, “A symbolic rite of passage to honor humanity’s transition to a sustainable and harmonious technological future.” It’s a strong message—and for a place that always has signal, a needed one.