Guardian of Eden
I was biking around Black Rock City at Burning Man this year, looking for shade and a way to distract the two crabby little kids antagonizing each other in the Burley trailer I was pulling behind me. I bolted into a little oasis of darkness and stopped fast enough to make the dust-packed brakes squeal, which made my passengers’ moods turn a 180. Little boys really dig jolting halts, especially into 18-foot steel lotus-flower sculptures. I left them in the shade and climbed the leaves, hot-to-the-touch and strategically punctured with wavy holes that made for easy foot-holds.
The sculpture, “Guardian of Eden,” by New Yorker Kate Raudenbush, was moved from Burning Man to the Nevada Museum of Art’s sculpture plaza a couple weeks ago. I wondered how the artist felt about seeing her work in such a different context.
“When the sculpture’s at Burning Man, it takes on the energy of the place and the people around it,” she said. “Because it’s an interactive sculpture, it creates an environment for experience. It’s not just an object; it’s a set-piece for your own experience.”
It was used as a viewing platform (the artist watched the lunar eclipse from there), for napping ("I designed it so the curve [of the petals] would be at a perfect lounging angle,” she says, and even as a nuptial venue. She’s heard reports of four weddings taking place under the sculpture.
“That makes it so much more personal,” says Raudenbush. “People I don’t even know e-mail me telling me, ‘I had the most amazing experience.'”
At the NMA, unlike on the playa, museum rules trump anarchic desires, so you can’t climb the sculpture. But Raudenbush, whose work you’re more likely to find in, say, a Lower East Side gothic-cathedral-turned-concert-hall than in a white-walled gallery, says there are some advantages to having her work in a more controlled setting. It’s unlikely that a museum-goer will break the lights that project a blue circle on the ground at night, which happened twice at Burning Man, and she’s happy to be able to show the surface patina shined up as it’s meant to be seen, with all that monochrome, mocha-colored playa dust washed off.
The idea of bringing Burning Man art out into the real world isn’t a new one. There’s an entire organization, Black Rock Arts Foundation, dedicated to doing just that. BRAF has helped Burner art find its way to public parks in San Francisco and is working on getting a David Best temple erected in Detroit.
“A lot of the work being produced on the playa is stellar examples of large-scale artwork,” says NMA curator Ann Wolfe. “It is truly amazing art that is languishing in storage facilities all over Northern Nevada, in storage sheds, rental units, grandmothers’ barns. It’s all right here in our backyard.”
Raudenbush, who’s reinstalled one playa sculpture on a New York City dance floor and stores another in a rented unit in Sparks, will once again have to contend with storage logistics in January, when her loan contract with the museum expires and “Guardian of Eden” becomes an orphan again.
Meanwhile, it’s there for you to look at, photograph or meditate under (the artist recommends waiting until night time, when the blue lights come on).
But remember, absolutely no climbing!