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Journeying to Burning Man with a Giant Kaleidoscope

We interview one of the creators of the Giant Kaleidoscope, an interactive art installation that is heading to Black Rock City.

by Jesse Champagne
Sep 1 2015, 3:00pm

Photo by Katherine Holland

"When you look at toys from your childhood, do you ever wonder what it would be like if you could make them gigantic and play inside of them?"

David Fradkin and David (Dave) Abraham are the creators of the Giant Kaleidoscope. They posed that question unto themselves and then they answered it (hint: the answer is a resounding yes), by designing and constructing a 6'x12' structure that is, for lack of a better description, a giant kaleidoscope.

On one end, viewers can peer into the exhibit's colorful depths and spin and shift the images via a wheel. On the other end, people actually serve as additional images. A rotating platform offers passersby the chance to interact and entertain viewers. "After all, art is nice to look at, but we think it's even better when you get to play with it, experience it, relish it... dance in fancy costumes with it."

This year, the Davids are taking the Giant Kaleidoscope to Burning Man to entertain and enrich the experience of 70,000 dust covered explorers. We sat down with David Fradkin to ask him a few questions about the installation's inception, his favourite moments at Burning Man, and his plans for this year's Burn.

All photos by Ennkay Digital.

THUMP: How did you come up with the idea of making a giant Kaleidoscope?
David Fradkin: At Burning Man in 2013. We made some new friends while watching the sunrise. One of the girls had a necklace with a little portable kaleidoscope on it. My crazy South African friend Alon starting playing with it, the little child within him bubbling out in the form of giggles and awe as he spun the little prism around. Later that day he said, "What about a giant kaleidoscope?" A couple of months later I started toying with the idea, building some prototypes and met Dave who was crazy enough to join me in making it a reality. Shortly after, she was born.

How did you build it?
The building process was a mixture of pre-design and figuring shit out as we went along. We knew the aesthetic we wanted, and the functionality, but alas there is no Ikea manual for giant kaleidoscopes! A lot of what we did was trial and error and problem-solving along the way.

Dave [Abraham] is a master carpenter, so the focus of the piece is wood. We use my skill set in metal to fill in the structural and aesthetics that combine the two materials. The inner mirrors are made of mirrored Plexiglas, which gives the piece the durability for people to go inside and have free reign on how they play with it. That's definitely the most important part of it for us, to not limit people on how they play, so the structure was made with that in mind.

You've taken it to a variety of different music and arts festivals, such as Nuit Blanche and Playground. What have people's reactions been like so far?
Oh man, the reactions to the Giant Kaleidoscope vary a lot and we love it. At Nuit Blanche people lined up in a single file to take photos inside of it. At other festivals, kids would love to go inside and be spun like it was a roller coaster. Lots of awesome photos and videos have been shot with it. At one festival, we even found someone who made it his bed for the night and woke up in a sea of reflections. The beautiful thing is, there is no right or wrong way to play. We just made a toy and we're so happy people have found different ways to enjoy it, some of which we never even thought about.

Have you tried to build anything like this before? Are you going to build another structure in the future?
Dave is a carpenter and a designer by trade, so he's had a lot of experience building and fabricating large installations. I've worked on some smaller pieces, but this project was definitely the most unique in the challenges it posed.

David + Dave are definitely going to be building more fun projects. Now that the Kaleidoscope is done, we'll come back from Burning Man and get started on another giant piece...

How are you bringing it down to Burning Man?
Our friend Wulfie is currently driving a U-Haul across the country with the Giant Kaleidoscope. God speed and drive safe!

Will you be burning the Kaleidoscope?
Our original plan was to set the Kaleidoscope on fire at the end of the Burn, but after some talks with the art organizers at Burning Man, it was proposed that we donate the piece to the annual Burning Man Artumnal Auction, where Burning Man art is auctioned off and the proceeds go to funding art projects both on and off the Playa. As fun as it would be to see her burn, we decided this was a much more meaningful end for her to have.

Describe Burning Man to someone who has never been. What does it mean for you as an individual?
Burning Man is... seriously, it's hard to put into words. I think what I've taken away from the Burn is the absolutely humbling and astonishing amount of dedication, passion, work, love, etc. that goes into it. The event itself may only be a week, but the work that people put in—to make beautiful art, to create meaningful experiences, to share themselves, their ideas, and their love with everyone else—is overwhelming. And it's contagious. So in turn you have 70,000 people wanting to give rather than take, and from that, so much beauty is born.

Any wild stories from last year's Burning Man?
On Thursday, a small group of us had just finished our gift—a hair washing and massage salon—and was about to venture out onto the Playa when we realized we were short on bikes. As we were about to step out to take a walking tour, the bleachers art car, which is a giant, moving bleacher stadium equipped with cheerleaders, a scoreboard, and a DJ booth stops at our camp. Our friend Adam is spinning and yells on the mic, "Hey Shantitown, get the fuck on the bleachers!"

Without hesitation, our entire group jumps on, along with 15 human bananas equipped with fresh smoothies. Off we went to the playa, driving around for several hours looking at art, climbing crazy structures, cheering at everyone and anyone, and even stopping by the roller disco rink to be the stadium and score-keepers of the all-American roller derby girls championship happening that day.

As we walked back home through a field of multi-coloured wolves, eating peanut butter, Nutella, and banana sandwiches that we were just gifted from a lovely stranger, we thought to ourselves, "just another average day on the Playa."

Any specific plans at Burning Man 2015, or are you just going to wing it?
You can't really plan anything at the Burn. Even if you do, you'll probably never stick to it. We do however have a wedding party this year, to celebrate the love of four couples at our camp. The ceremony is Wednesday at sunset at the Temple and everyone is welcome! Wear white and join us for the after-party TBD.

Check out the Giant Kaleidoscope on Facebook and, if you're lucky enough, out on the Playa. The Kaleidoscope will be at 6 o'clock between the Man and Center Camp.

Lead image by: Katherine Holland.