Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s Gamelatrons

Meet the Artists of No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man

An image of Kuffner's gongs hanging on the wall of a room inside the Renwick Gallery.

Aaron Taylor Kuffner, Gamelatron. Photo by Libby Weiler.

On view from March 30, 2018 to January 21, 2019

Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s Gamelatrons are sonic, kinetic sculptures based on the Indonesian music tradition known as gamelan. For four years, Kuffner immersed himself in the study of the thousand-year-old musical tradition at the Institut Seni Indonesia Yogyakarta and villages in Java and Bali, before embarking on this series, which combines traditionally crafted bronze gongs with robotic technology to create dynamic, site-specific installations.

Trained in painting and sculpture—but having also worked as a DJ and composer—Kuffner gives as much consideration to the aesthetics of his installations as to their sounds Over the past ten years, he has created more than fifty Gamelatron sculptures, which enchant audiences with their elegant forms, movements, and music. They have been exhibited worldwide and make regular appearances at Burning Man; one was installed in the Temple of Transition in 2011, another was in the Temple of Whollyness in 2013, and a third formed the base of the Man in 2017.

In Java and Bali, it is customary to name your Gamelan orchestra; Kuffner carries this tradition forward with his installations. Gamelatron Bidadari draws its name from the Indonesian word for a forest nymph—a reference to its use as the artist’s traveling Gamelatron; in that role it was often set up in the woods. Completely reimagined for the Renwick, this work has evolved to represent the beauty of the trees that hold the bidadari soul; here the artwork has been assembled more vertically to evoke that spirit.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man brings the large-scale, participatory work from this desert gathering to the nation’s capital for the first time. The exhibition takes over the entire Renwick Gallery building and surrounding Golden Triangle neighborhood, bringing alive the maker culture and creative spirit of this cultural movement.

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