Burning Man Festival challenges art students


Etienne Blanc, senior in integrated studio arts from France, works on his project named “Une Boufee D’air” [The Foodless Restaurant]. Blanc’s project will be displayed at the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

Katherine Klingseis

A ticket for the Burning Man Festival reads, “You voluntarily assume the risk of serious injury or death by attending, and release Burning Man Festival from any claim arising from this risk.” Even with that warning, 50,000 people travel to the middle of the desert to attend the 7-day event.

This summer, 12 ISU students will be traveling to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada to attend.

The Burning Man Festival is an annual event that begins the week before, and ends on, Labor Day. The event is a mixture of studio and performing arts.

The festival attendees make an entire town in 7 days, and when the festival ends, they destroy the town and leave no remains. The whole event is about giving away one’s artwork or destroying it completely.

The students are in Samantha Krukowski’s, professor of architecture, summer class Shifting Sands: Transient Architecture in the Desert.

“I give them a tabula rasa, a blank slate,” Krukowski said. “I’m asking them to dig deep into their own interests.”

Krukowski has been to the Burning Man Festival two times. Although she just became a professor at Iowa State in January, the College of Design allowed her to begin a class that will eventually go to the event.

“It’s the first time design students will be going to [the Burning Man Festival],” Krukowski said. “It’s amazing.”

All of the students are working on projects to take to the festival. Neena Hayrech, non-degree graduate from Drake, is currently working on a quilt.

“All materials have been found or donated,” Hayrech said. “Even though I am the one making the quilt, it’s more of a collective effort.”

Elizabeth Kief, junior in architecture, is creating a pair of 10-foot towers with a door separating the two. Hannah Fischer, fifth year architecture, works nearby on an 8-foot pyramid.

“After our first project, I became really interested in geometry,” Fischer said. “The pyramid is going to be made of white and brown small triangles. It’s kind of like origami.”

At the event, Megen O’Toole, fifth year architecture, will be collecting things. Although it took her awhile to figure out what she wanted to do for her project, O’Toole is now very excited for it.

“My project is about how you collect things that aren’t tangible,” O’Toole said. “It’s going to be an active participatory experience.”

Etienne Blanc, senior in integrated studio arts, is creating a restaurant. Blanc believes the most important thing about a meal is the people who are at it, not the setting or the food. Because of this belief, Blanc has painted everything white.

“I really want to focus on the social aspect of the meal,” Blanc said. “I want to see if anyone writes or draws on [the tables].”

Emily Brodersen, graduate student in landscape architecture, and Evan Duyvejonck, senior in architecture, plan to create a project that appears like a weeping willow tree. Brodersen is welding steel trees while Duyvejonck is working on hanging ropes.

“We got a lot of inspiration from nature,” Brodersen said. “We asked for a quieter, darker place at the festival.”

Cristian Reyes-Pintor, senior in dairy science, and Casey Alexander, non-degree seeking in design specials, are also working on peaceful, quiet projects.

Reyes-Pintor is working on building a structure with multiple hammocks hanging from it. Alexander’s idea is to build a structure where people can lay on the sand and looking up at the sky.

“It’s a place to get away from the craziness,” Alexander said. “I think it’s about a personal journey as much as it is about going crazy.”

Tracy Bear, on the other hand, is focusing on the freedom the event offers to its participants. Bear, junior in integrated studio arts, is creating animal masks for participants to wear.

“I want to see how the masks and anonymity will change the people wearing them,” Bear said. “I think it will be about self-discovery; how I act.”

Jasmine Singh, junior in architecture, is creating a giant interactive apple, while Kody Barton, senior in integrated studio arts, is painting landscapes and figure paintings to give to fellow Burning Man participants.

“I want to go crazy with the medium of paint,” Barton said. “I hope to learn to be more familiar with paint and with compositional elements and color.”

Krukowski is very proud of the work her students have done. She believes that these students, just by going to the Burning Man Festival, are “taking on an extraordinary endeavor.”

“The desert can kill you,” Krukowski said. “Just to survive is pretty intense.”

Krukowski hopes students will gain confidence and learn how to seek answers to their questions. Krukowski also believes the event will help students learn of their own core set of interests.

“[The Burning Man Festival] allows people to be anyone they want to be,” Krukowski said.

In the future, Krukowski intends to continue having the summer class. She said, “I would like it to be a continuing force [at Iowa State].”