Crowd Control

The Art Car gets ready to roll


The humble pinwheel – that simple, twirling bit of bent paper or plastic – is a symbol of whimsy. It amuses as well as any souped-up toy, but it’s powered by wind, or breath, and it can be made by anyone. It makes perfectly grown-up people want to play. It’s also the inspiration for a summer project being undertaken by four soon-to-be sophomores at RISD, who are creating an Art Car to be displayed at this summer’s Burning Man Festival in Black Rock, Nevada.

Bummed by the lack of collective creativity among social media users on the web – there’s no lack of personal information being shared, but little cooperative creative activity, they explain – this group of classmates decided to go big on a common project. They’ve planned a towering art piece on wheels: the body of a minivan, completely enclosed by a huge, collapsible sun shield, bubble-like-windshield and wooden façades that will be covered in swirling, turning pinwheels. It’ll be twice as tall as the minivan itself, and longer as well. And here’s where the community aspect comes in: every pinwheel will be submitted by an individual; anyone who wants to be part of the project can participate by downloading a simple template, decorating it as they like, and sending it to project headquarters.

Over the summer, the four students – Genevieve Marsh, Caitlyn Au, Denali Schmidt, and Joshua Shiau, – will take off for Auburn, California, where Marsh’s mother’s large metalworking studio will function as a build site. Each group member has a specific area of expertise: Shiau’s is industrial design; Au is a sculptor; Marsh will serve as project manager; and Schmidt will be the project’s publicist and videographer. The four will sort the accumulated pinwheel submissions, search out used and donated building materials (of which the finished Art Car will be entirely composed), refine their building plans, and create the structure, making sure every functional pinwheel makes it to the final structure. They will stick as faithfully as possible to the adorable prototype they’ve created out of Arizona iced tea cans and discarded plastic, wire and wood. Every step is to be documented on video. Finally, they’ll load it all into a big trailer, cross their fingers and meet it in Black Rock for the final assembly.

That’s the logistical part. But the nuts-and-bolts stuff will give way to whimsy as the fully built and blinged-out Art Car makes its maid- en voyage around the Burning Man Festival grounds at a speed of approximately 10 miles per hour. (Any faster, and pinwheel casualties are likely.) The crowd is sure to be dazzled. Bon voyage to the crew – we’ll expect a progress report.