Thursday, May 18, 2017

Burning Man's plane art: mile-high ambition or corporate takeoff?


In 2015, a group of artists and engineers worked together to transform a Boeing 747 airplane into an interactive art project. Salvaging parts from an aircraft boneyard, they re-imagined the fuselage as a fur-lined, LED-lit lounge and transported it to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for the Burning Man festival. This August, the plane returns in its entirety with a full set of wheels, both wings, and a second-floor DJ booth. The project co-founder, Ken Feldman, first attended Burning Man in 2008 and caught what he calls the “the art car bug”. “Mutant vehicles”, or art cars, form an unconventional transit system that carries people across the desert. When Feldman brought a flame-spitting, purple unicorn inspired by the popular YouTube video Charlie the Unicorn to the festival in 2011, he gathered a small following. The next year, he saw a bicycle comprised of airplane parts and “something just clicked”, he explains, and he thought “why don’t we build an art car out of an airplane?” Feldman identifies as a “serial entrepreneur” and before working on the 747 project full-time founded several cloud storage companies. At the Mojave desert build site, he works alongside a retired nuclear power plant technician and high-ranking engineers from Nasa’s jet propulsion lab. Stationed at an aerospace test center where rocket motors are frequently tested and wind turbines dot the hills, volunteers weld together aluminum plates and brainstorm elaborate wing-reattachment plans. Supported by a fundraising campaign that raised nearly $90,000 – Feldman established the nonprofit organization Big Imagination to fund the 747 project. Crowdsourced funds, however, account for less than a quarter of their overall budget. The project is buoyed by deep-pocketed investors such as venture capitalist Jonathan Teo, a former manager at Google and early investor in Snapchat. So far, the 747 project is the sole recipient of funds...more

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