Lighting Your Art Installation

by Steve Boverie AKA Dr Glowire

“Art is hard. Especially when you crash your bicycle into it.” — Will Chase

Congratulations! You are going to put your art on the playa for everyone to see. You made it through the design and construction of your art and you have the transportation set up. You have a plan to secure your art and you have a plan to remove your art from the playa. Starting with the set up and going through take down you will need to make your art noticeable to prevent the destruction of your art as well as injury to others. Making art for display on the playa is a lot of hard work and you don’t want anyone to be hurt or to have your art ruined by someone on a bike or art car because they could not see it. You will be asked about how you will light your art and other things when you check in with the ARTery.

Having a lighting system will enhance the viewing of your art and also help people see your art with enough time to go around it. You should use the 20 second rule, that people should see your lights at least 20 seconds before they arrive at your art placement.

There are many forms of light that you can choose to work with your art. If your art uses light as an integral part then that is great as long as you also have some lights to mark rebar or ropes that are invisible in the dark. Use boundary marking lights if your art is supposed to have low light; the lights on the boundary will get attention for your art and also show where it is.

Note: Chemical light sticks are not appropriate for art installations. The problem is that the chemical light sticks do not last the full night and are not as easily seen as other forms of light.

You can use LEDs, incandescent lights, rope lights, neon or electroluminescent wire as lights to mark your art installation. Popular forms of light are the solar LED lights that come in single lantern style and also as a string of LEDs. Check the gardening section of stores for outdoor lights or check your used Christmas or holiday lights for something that you can use on the playa. A string of lights will do well to mark boundaries for your art and make it noticeable. Bicycle lights are good also; you should use fresh batteries and test these lights to see how long the batteries last.

Incandescent and most rope lights will take more power to stay lit all night. You can use a car battery and an inverter to run AC powered lights. If the power requirements of your lighting system are higher than what can be produced by a car battery then you should consider renting or buying a power generator. If you use a generator, then you should make sure that you have adequate supply of fuel for the generator. You should put the generator or car battery in a box to protect it from the playa weather and also to reduce it from distracting attention away from your art.

You should monitor your art installation a few times per day. You should secure your lights so that they don’t get blown away or stolen. During the day you should make sure that you pick up and remove moop from your installation area and at the same time you should make sure that your lighting system is in good condition (clean dust off of the lenses or LEDs). You should replace batteries before night fall. You should plan to have a set of lights for backup in case your lights are damaged or disappear. It is helpful to check your installation a few times per night to make sure that the lights are working and that your art is intact (playa winds can wreak havoc on things and can cause parts to tear off). A tip about batteries: batteries produce electricity by a chemical reaction, the chemical reaction increases with heat; so the best practice is to keep your batteries in a cool, dry place out of the sun for maximum battery life.

Enhance your lighting system with mirrors or shiny objects that will bounce light around. Blinking or moving light gets more attention than a continuously lit light does. You can also add sound to get some notice; things like wind chimes can make enough noise that can help out during a white out in the daytime.

At the end of the event, you will take down your art. Your lighting system can be reused for the next year and you should think about improving your lighting system to have a reliable system for your next art project. Check for sales of super discounted holiday lights at the end of the year and keep your lighting options in mind through the months waiting for the next Burning Man event. In conclusion, lighting up your art will make it noticeable so that it does not end up damaged at night or cause injury to someone who did not see your art. Lighting should be part of your art, either as a component of your art or at least as boundary markers on rebar and ropes. Use the twenty second rule, your light should be seen by anyone at least twenty seconds away by foot, bicycle or car.

Further Reading: Eyes on Art, a safety team within the Art Department.