Isn't it About Time? Collaboratively Built Structure Heads to Burning Man

Isn't it About Time? Collaboratively Built Structure Heads to Burning Man

What’s a 15-foot high wooden pyramid, complemented by spaces that hold intriguing, interchangeable discs, going to be doing in Black Rock City from August 25 to September 2?

Hint: It’s all About Time.

That’s the name of an eye-catching structure that will serve as a sundial … but not just any sundial. It’s an ambitious project that University of San Diego professors from different disciplines committed to. It was brought to fruition by student and community volunteers, donations large and small and the support of multiple USD deans.

About Time will be on display at Burning Man, an annual event/temporary city in the Northern Nevada desert that draws tens of thousands of people each year. They come together every year to be a part of experience that is dedicated to anti-consumerism and self-expression; it’s a celebration that creates a like-minded, yet unique, community.

“For me, the reason to go to Burning Man is that there are few places on the planet with the kind of outpouring of creative energy that it has,” says Nate Parde, MFA, assistant professor and production manager for USD's Department of Theatre. “You can see art created by engineers and architects who’ve finished a skyscraper in Beijing, and then 100 paces away, there will be something that two people made in their backyard over the summer. It’s truly a celebration of both levels of creativity.”

Creating About Time

Parde, Integrated Engineering Assistant Professor Gordon Hoople, PhD, Associate Professor of Peace Studies Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, PhD and Mathematics Professor Diane Hoffoss, PhD, are at the forefront of this year’s USD contribution to the Burning Man experience.

“We came about this idea because we’re all slaves to time. So much of our day is what’s on our calendar to be at X place or doing Y thing,” Hoople says. “We soon realized we really wanted to make an art piece that forces people to think about it. We came up with the sundial to ask, ‘What is time? What does it mean to be slaves to these ideas of time?’”

Last year, Hoffoss and her math professor colleague Satyan Devadoss — along with students, alumni, community members and faculty partners, including Hoople, Parde and Theology of Religious Studies Professor Susie Babka — created a 12-by-30-foot interactive sculpture called Unfolding Humanity. That project called attention to the connection between humanity and technology.

Burning Man has a new theme every year. The 2019 theme, Metamorphoses, is a good match with About Time. The spaces on the sculpture allow visitors to come to their own understanding of time.

“Any time you visit (About Time) it will be a different, unique experience. It will never be the same,” Hopple says. “We invite the Burning Man community to participate in the creation of this art piece. I’m very excited to see how people change the symbols. The disks represent different cultures and ideologies and there are words people can use to spell out phrases or write messages to each other.”

Choi-Fitzpatrick is also enthusiastic for what’s to come. “You have these big ideas, and the question is, ‘How do you translate them into something that's tangible? Something physical and something people can interface with, engage with, know generally what it's about, but also has them create their own meanings around it?’”

After lots of sketching, conversation and designs, Hoople, Choi-Fitzpatrick, Parde and Hoffoss decided that building a sundial made sense.

“It’s a sundial that tells two different kinds of time," Choi-Fitzpatrick explains. “The first is on the face of the sundial, which has the shadow that sweeps around to tell you Burning Man time. But the pyramid itself casts a shadow that goes across an entire other sundial. The hour markers have interchangeable discs, so that people can walk up and swap the discs out to say what time it is on their own. We like the idea of, ‘What is not only time, but how do we interface with time? How do we play with time? How do we put art into time and take art from time?’”

About Time - SundialBM

A Big Question Back Home

While coming up with answers to those questions may occur at Burning Man, doing a project of this size and the level of commitment involved — especially in the summer when faculty have the option of taking time off — invites a different question: How can projects like this transcend Burning Man and become a regular opportunity to educate students and have more collaboration across campus? Choi-Fitzpatrick, Hoople and Parde see About Time and Unfolding Humanity as examples of a larger vision.

“We're doing this work and other projects under the name ArtBuilds. It's an informal collaboration between a lot of us who work across many different disciplines at USD,” Choi-Fitzpatrick says. “We believe in our own disciplines as well as the arts. We believe in bringing art into our disciplines if we're not already doing it. For those in the arts, then it’s about getting out and being with other people and learning about their interests and backgrounds. About Time explores these intersections between creativity, artistic endeavors and our disciplines.”

Parde says his work on both Burning Man projects were the first introduction to working with this particular group of faculty colleagues. Hoople and Choi-Fitzpatrick have team-taught a class on drones and using them for social good.

“One thing I’ve discovered is that we saw these as passion projects,” Hoople says. “We loved it and each of us has thought about why we’re doing it and how we can tie it back to our everyday, in-classroom lives. I realized, after two projects, that this is what integrated engineering is really about. It’s founded on the ethos that engineering is really broad, that we need to bring ideas from art, from theatre, theology and other fields into the engineering design process. These huge art projects offer an incredible opportunity for me, for my students and the community to really have those conversations about what it means to be an engineer and what is the role of all these other factors in engineering.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

Professors Hoople, Choi-Fitzpatrick, Padre and Hoffoss wish to thank About Time volunteers: Students — Carlos De La Rosa, Chadmond Wu, Zane Deck, Javier Vasquez, Danna Alamer, Narayan Gossai, Julian Luparia, Sean Hough and Kelli Kufta; Assistant Professor of Philosophy Nick Riggle; Support from USD Deans: College of Arts and Sciences (Noelle Norton), Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering (Chell Roberts) and Kroc School (Patricia Marquez); Community members Jeffrey Denenberg, Max Mellette, Rachel Nishimura, Max Elliott and Sandy Parde. Hoople says more community members are at Burning Man to help put About Time up prior to Sunday’s noon opening.

Learn about ArtBuilds on its social media platforms, Instagram and Facebook.

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