Christopher Schardt's Nova

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

An image inside of a room with an LED star at the top and cushions for sitting at the bottom.

Christopher Schardt, Nova. Photo by Ron Blunt.

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

In 1998, Christopher Schardt’s first Burning Man experience inspired him to apply his engineering and computer skills to art and he has participated in—and brought a major art project to—the event almost every year since. After four years making kinetic fire sculptures, in 2013 he switched to works using light-emitting diodes (LEDs), echoing the same gradual shift that has taken place in the larger Burning Man culture.

A breakthrough in Schardt’s work came with Firmament in 2015, when he hit upon the power of creating “art places” as opposed to art pieces. Firmament is a massive canopy of programmable LED lights that dance in celestial, earthly, and psychedelic patterns to classical musical accompaniment. In the vastness of the open playa, amid the sea of techno-rave music that dominates Black Rock City, the work becomes a transcendent environment where participants gather, relax, and linger. Closely related to Firmament, Schardt’s Nova, featured here, runs on the same program and features the same number and configuration of LEDs, but is in a condensed format suited to smaller spaces.

Schardt is a sculptor, musician, and computer programmer who earned his B.S.E.E. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985. Now widely known for his LED sculptures, he is also the author of LED Lab, an iPhone/iPad app used by thousands of LED artists worldwide.

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.