I'm Coyote and I build art traps.
For years I didn't know what I was hunting: the odd buck, a flagrant mistress, a pat on the head. Then two years ago I met a strange bird atop an mutant vehicle outside Gigsville and everything changed, she trapped me. I chased her all week, learning from my pitfalls and growing as a person- er cough cough umm Coyote! And two weeks later, only after laying down all my traps did this Sparrow fly into my arms. She came into my home and made me realize I laid traps everywhere. All the bright beautiful art I made was covered in broken glass. The house I built was all wrong proportions like a movie set that looks right until you realize it's just facade. Then she fell into my most dangerous trap. For years instead of building a proper step into my bedroom, one stepped down onto a loose apple box. One night she stepped onto it, it flew out from under her and almost broke her back. This morning there were knives face up in the dish rack, and she stabbed her hand on them. Ironic that the woman I love most is at most at risk of my dangers.
So now I am learning, I'm a Coyote, I trap things, small animals mostly. By embracing who I am completely, I can transform my destruction into beauty.
We wish to test the entrapping elements of art, and observe the behavior of participants who surrender their freedom. We want to build an art trap.
For our first and most ambitious art trap, we will prepare a social experiment only possible at Burning Man.
The piece will be a two part cage where one door can open at a time, when one door locks the other opens. This will test what happens when one person is locked in a cage, knowing that the only way to free oneself is to trap another. How do people react when they perceive their freedom to be at risk? What does self-expression look like with radical constraints? What does giving look like if it requires sacrifice?
We will place this next to the esplanade so the continuous flow of participants guarantees no one is locked in alone for long. We can prioritize safety by installing multiple emergency release systems, and setting time limits on how long someone is locked in.
Principle 3 of Coyote’s trap building handbook is: know your prey!
What bait do they like? What will get them to enter the trap and kick off the experiment? ‘Burners’ under observation are attracted to obvious symbolism and rainbows, so we are constructing this trap in the shape of a Prism. The Prism prison, henceforth known as the Prism’n!
This will look like a classical triangular prism, the kind found on t-shirts that commodify Pink Floyd. Take two equilateral triangles and translate them away from each other, then connect their vertices with lines, that’s a triangular prism!
A prism is utilized to disperse light into its spectral components, typically as observed in a rainbow. The structure will be built with inward facing aluminum c-channel, filled with pixel mapped LEDs. The channels will be spaced 5” apart, the Illinois State regulation for prison bar spacing. Standing outside you will see black bars and beautiful rainbow patterns shining out from the inside. The desire to go in and get a better look will be irresistible.
There will be a 10’ pole with a spotlight on either side of the cage, illuminating the locked side of the cage. Whomever is locked in will have a spotlight on them, to help highlight their plight as they call for help. This helps solidify the visual metaphor, of white light coming in, and rainbow light coming out.
To lock themselves in, a citizen must enter the cage, close the door behind them, and hit the large button in the middle. We will make obvious that to activate the big light show, you need to close the door and hit the button. This triggers the LEDS to perform an orchestrated maneuver of intensity and color, and will lock you in a cage. This then unlocks the other side, releasing the current prisoner. The subject is incentivized to find a victim to replace them in a cage.
In our ideal hypothesis, a person gets locked inside and has to find a way out. Will they easily embrace soliciting another victim, or what path will they choose? Maybe someone will choose to stay inside as self-sacrifice. Maybe a group will get clever and find a stick to reach through the cage to push the button, or climb up and dangle something down through. We will position this on the esplanade to guarantee a constant stream of people. Most likely there will always be so many people around that no one can feel completely alone and stuck.
We’re most curious as to the methods people will elicit to get free. Will people use honesty and explain the trap, will they use trickery, will they beg?
What if a group comes through and one gets trapped? Will they abandon their friend or will they go on a quest to find help? What if two strangers get locked in together?
We hope for a consistent swell of participants, as no one will want to leave anyone trapped alone. Even if someone replaces you, you will stay by and keep the person company until there are enough people around that they aren’t at risk.
We also imagine this art might infuriate people, so we won’t be surprised of vandalism.
We imagine ethical escape with honesty. A stuck participant asks for help, a generous stranger takes their place and is soon rewarded by another taking theirs. Through generosity and communal effort, the experience smoothly transitions and unique connections are made. Traps can become miracles.
People don’t express radically in comfort, true colors show in adversity. People come to BRC expecting struggle, but also expecting liberty and self-reliance. Who do you become when your freedom is threatened? Can you hold your values and respect others? When else do you exchange liberty for commodity?
We want people to look at what they’re drawn to. Last year walking down Bacchus st, a man was giving away, “hot sauerkraut”. He dragged a jar in the sun, offering people eat with their hands. Another man ran up and dug in, my partner and I refused. Just because it’s at burning man doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it is safe. If it looks like an obvious cage, don’t close yourself in.
Building this trap requires substantial material and time investment. We have already applied for a Burning man honorarium grant that would fund a little over a third of this project.
In the next year we will undertake fundraising efforts to account for the rest.