Meet The Artist: Christopher Schardt on Nova” for No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man”

  • Sculptor, musician, and computer programmer, Christopher Schardt, talks about "Nova," his installation of programmable LED lights that respond in psychedelic patterns to classical musical accompaniment for No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man

    CHRISTOPHER SCHARDT: My name is Christopher Schardt. I am an LED sculptor, and I created this piece, which is called “Nova.” It is here at the Renwick Gallery as part of an exhibition called “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” I started doing LED work in 2013, but 2015 is when I made my first LED piece for Burning Man. That’s the one I’m most well-known for, which is called “Firmament.” It’s a 52-foot diameter dome of LEDs, 21,600 of them.

    This piece is called “Nova.” I built it just for its own sake, but then I realized when I was done, oh, it’s a scale model of “Firmament.” This piece is ten feet across and the LEDs are about that big. In “Firmament” its 50 feet across and the LEDs are about that big. It ended up being this perfect scale model of the big piece. We are trying to set up that immersive experience that people enjoyed at Burning Man by having four speakers in this room surrounding everyone with classical music at a fairly high volume so they can’t hear anything else. We actually have here a rug for people to lay down on and I hear there are these cushions that look like stones that people can lay down on. We are going to see if Washington D.C. will lay down on the floor for art.

    I would love it if they would give it some time. If they would immerse themselves, if they would sit or lay down and just be here a while and see what moves them. There’s a lot of different pieces, there are about two and a half hours of very classical pieces and one modern piece.

    I’m very pleased that in addition to making my own pieces, I also created the iPad app that controls this. It’s called LED Lab. Anyone can use it, and I’m very pleased to know that I have thousands of users worldwide. I’m very, very excited not only for the honor of being here, but I’m also very excited to see the effect of Burning Man art on the wider world. I think we are moving towards having art that is if not self-explanatory, at least you get something out of it from your first view. You don’t have to have it explained, you don’t have to have a complicated rational justification. The tradition at Burning Man is the art lives and dies on what it is, not what you say it is. I’m really thrilled that we are having this infectious effect on the art world, and a show at the Smithsonian is a huge part of taking that forward.