05/5/14

Interactive Art and Science

by Phoenix della Mare

 

I’ve always found it interesting watching children play, particularly the ways they move and manipulate the world to understand it. A few years ago, I worked at a children’s museum that would teach science through interactive exhibits. I loved seeing their faces light up as they would spend hours playing with the various exhibits. I worked at a smaller museum, but there are museums that do the same thing on a larger scale. The best example that I know of is the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Spending a day in this museum, you can see children of all ages delight and learn through manipulation. More importantly this is about how interactive art, and specifically the Mars Rover Art Car, can engage children and excite them in STEM disciplines.

It’s hard to get most children excited about abstract concepts. It’s something that children don’t necessarily understand at a young age. Children start learning the ability to understand abstracts between the ages of 7-12, most falling in the median age of 9.5. Before that, most children start to understand the world through manipulation. How can they move this or touch that.

It’s during these early years that interactive art with a STEM bent can stoke a young child’s imagination. They’re capable of seeing concepts that you learn about in the hard sciences. Dropping a ball down the stairs, for instance, then doing the same with balls of two different sizes, to start teaching a rudimentary understanding of gravity. Playing with a Rube Goldberg machine at an interactive science museum… these are things that can engage younger children.

If a child can go up to something and see it, play with it, it can go a long way in getting a child to understand the hard sciences. It starts a child’s brain to begin to understand the physical principles that govern the world. In an era where some people still believe we live in a geocentric universe, making science more digestible to children is an ideal way to get them interested.

So, where do pieces like the Mars Rover Art Car come in?

It can easily act as an intermediary to showing children what engineering and science can create. They can appreciate in a real and physical sense what the hard sciences have to teach them. It’s part of what museums like the Exploratorium have done for many years.

The more that we create interactive art with a science bent, the more we can get children enthused about science.

02/26/14

MRAC Takes On LA Decompression Party

by Phoenix della Mare

 

In the Burning Man community we have a cycle, much like the seasons. Unlike our seasons which change due to weather patterns and our relative distance to the sun, Burning Man’s seasons are: build-up to the event, the event, and recovery.

Events related to Burning Man occur within this cycle. There are a series of pre-Burning Man events such as Precompression, Burnal Equinox, fundraisers for various theme camps and art projects, and so on.

And then there’s the post-event event, the thing we call Decompression. It’s a chance to have one last hurrah and wind down from the year’s Burning Man event. It generally takes place about a month after Burning Man (depending on region). The main Decompression event that is put on by the Burning Man Project is in San Francisco, but most regions have a decompression event. This allows artists to bring out their projects one more time and share it with their local community. For people who cannot attend Burning Man, this is a great way to participate. For people returning from Burning Man, the regional decompression gives them a chance to share their work again.

I generally go to the San Francisco Decompression party. I’ve made the trip to Santa Cruz for their Decompression party, as well. These are both local to me so they are easier to get to.

Last year I decided to make a bit more of a trip. I went to LA Decompression to help out where I could with the Mars Rover Art Car, which was nicely placed between the Human Spirit and the Flow Arts stage, not too far away from the entrance.

LA Decom was much larger than I expected. It ran the length of LA Historical Park, not too far away from Little Tokyo and Chinatown in Los Angeles. The size of the event was impressive, considering that San Francisco Decom is only a few blocks long. For someone used to smaller scale events, LA Decom can be a bit overwhelming.

The amount of interest in the MRAC was truly awesome. In the time that I was there, we had quite a few people who came over to check it out. They asked various questions which were answered by the members of the crew. The overall vibe was chill and Camp Envy shenanigans were happening as the MRAC was streamed over the Camp Envy website.

While my health made it difficult for me to stay as long as I had wanted (I learned some important lessons so I won’t repeat the same mistakes again), going and supporting MRAC at LA Decompression was a lot of fun. The people were great to talk to. Overall, it was a great time.

And I’m curious about the thoughts of others who were there. Feel free to send me your thoughts about MRAC at LA Decom, Burning Man or any other local events to risingphoenix13@gmail.com. I might just collect them for a future post.

02/12/14

Do-Ocracy? What Does That Mean?

by Phoenix della Mare

 

Being around the Burning Man community you start to pick up a lot of new words. They are words that could have meaning in every day life, but you would have never thought about prior to that first trip to the Playa. Words like MOOP (matter out of place), using the word radical in front of self-reliance… things like this. One word that I have repeatedly heard over the years is the word “Do-ocracy”.

This is the very core of what makes things tick at Burning Man. If you think something’s missing, if you want to see something at Burning Man, you make it happen. After all, Burning Man is a Do-ocracy.

It’s such an awkward word that has a lot of power behind it. It means you can help form the reality that is Burning Man.

So, what do the Mars Rover Art Car, Black Rock Observatory or Black Rock Astronomical Society have to do with this?

It’s simple. While there have always been quite a few people who would look at the stars while at the event, it was never accessible to the masses.

That is the core of what MRAC, BRO and BRAS want to bring to Burning Man. We seek to bring science and astronomy to the Playa. This is something that hasn’t been done before. We will bring science to more people through a more hands-on and approachable manner.

Sure, it sounds like a lofty goal. It’s also an achievable goal.

It’s also the very essence of Do-ocracy. We saw something that we found lacking at Burning Man. We are making it and filling that void.

The Do-ocracy is part of what makes Burning Man an ever-changing experience. It also makes it continuously unique. The word might sound funny, but it’s part of what helps nurture the creative spirit. MRAC, BRO and BRAS are the essence of the word Do-ocracy.

01/15/14

Mars Rover Art Car and Inclusion

by Phoenix della Mare

 
Burning Man is an interesting experiment in temporary communities. Each year creates a new and unique community structure. While the community itself is both temporary and amorphous, there are a set of rules referred to as “The Ten Principles”. Primary on the list is the idea of “Radical Inclusion”. In short, it means that anybody can take part in Burning Man.

 Not all theme camps are as inclusive as others. It’s rare to find a place that’s willing to be open enough to allow people in. My experience with the Mars Rover Art Car is much different feom those I have experienced with other theme camps.

I should probably start out with a little self-history to explain where I am going with my tale.

I attended my first Burning Man in 2004. I went with a group or people who thought the only correct way to Burn was to do it like them. For them it was about the party and not necessarily about the community. At least that’s what I got out of their experience.

I approach Burning Man differently. I enjoy working and gaining the experience through interpersonal interaction. There’s nothing wrong with either way, they’re just different.

My first year I wound up hooking up with a theme camp that’s local to me (the San Francisco Bay Area). I thoroughly enjoyed the years that I had with them.

In 2009 I had no job and couldn’t afford to go back to Black Rock City. It was at that point that I stumbled upon a brand new online community of fellow Burners and those that wanted to make the journey to Black Rock to be known as Camp Envy. We envied the experience that everyone out on the Playa were having.

It was through Camp Envy that I met some of the crew of the MRAC, many of them being in Los Angeles.

As you’d expect, it would be difficult for me to participate with actually building the car. It’s more difficult for me to take off for a work weekend as I’m about 5 hours (depending on starting point) north of them.

Regardless of locale, I was accepted with arms open. It’s an inclusion that I felt my first year when I found the theme camp that I wound up with for 3 years. It’s an inclusion that they continue to exceed at now. I may not be able to have a physical presence at work weekends or on Playa, but they have accepted me all the same.

A good theme camp or mutant vehicle crew or art crew, in my mind, treats all its members like family… and not just the red-headed stepchild. This is the inclusion that I found at Burning Man in 2004. This is what inclusion should be.

I may not be able to go to every work weekend. I may not be able to be a part of the flight crew at Burning Man. I am still a part of the crew.