Where is the Bathroom? Functional and Fun Playa Art


Don Owen Rider is a self-proclaimed tech nerd. Don has continuously attended Burning Man since 2007 and through the years his passion for both Burning Man and electronics have simultaneously grown.  A NYC-based, IT project management consultant by trade, Don is continuously inspired by the cool blinkiness of Burning Man, to delve deeper into technology and discover exactly how these electronics work. This year, Don decided to really challenge himself with his project Bathroom Beacons. The Bathroom Beacon site describes the project best, “Born out of frustration in attempts to find the porta-potties on the inner playa at night, the Bathroom Beacons project creates a conversation among participants about the importance of finding your way to the porta-potties, and helps address this problem with five unique art installations located at the banks of porta-potties at 2:00 & A, 10:00 & A, the Temple and the 3:00 and 9:00 promenades.”

While Don was initially driven to design the five LED signs as a means to solidify his own journey in building electronics, he quickly realized he would need some help. By December, Don assembled a team of four artists, each of which is designing their own bathroom beacon. There are five port-a-potty banks on the inner playa making Don’s team one artist short. Don’s fifth and final artist came to the team in a classic Burning Man serendipitous way.

Another set of burner artisians were working on a light installation for porta-potties completely separate from Don.  Although one of the leads from the light project, Jill Brown, and Don had actually worked together to build Shadyvil on playa in 2011, neither one of them knew about each other’s 2012 projects. Through word of mouth, the two were alerted to their similar art installations and decided to join forces, creating the complete Bathroom Beacons team. The final team consists of: Ben Grambergu & Jill Brown (Thrones of BRC), Tracy Gillan (Toilet Bowl), Gaylen Hamilton (Welcome to Fabulous), Jen Upchurch (Hollywood BATHROOM) and of course, Don Rider (First Word). All of these art installations will be interactive, as well as a shining example of civic responsibility, for all you small bladdered burners out there.

Don’s beacon, First Words, is an interactive game and sculpture with an LED scrolling sign at the top. The sign will scroll “Where is the bathroom?” in twenty five different languages. Beneath the display will be a globe with various buttons that participants can press to guess which country corresponds to the scrolling language above. Originally Don just wanted to do something interactive, but while filling out his Burning Man grant application, he realized the philosophical impact of this multi-cultural installation. “’Where is the bathroom?’ is one of the first phrases that we learn when we’re learning a new language, whether it’s as a toddler, or a tourist, or a visitor in a strange land, it’s one of the basic things we need to know…this is just sort of like an homage to that universal problem that we have. No matter where a burner might be hailing from at the event, everybody has the same problem no matter how they say it and that is, ‘Where is the bathroom?’”

Don’s project will remind everyone that the bathroom is one of humanities ultimate unifiers but first he has to figure out how to represent foreign alphabets on the sign. That’s the entire intention of the project –  to push Don to learn new things, meet new people and to gift back to the playa that’s inspired him for so many years. Keep your eyes peeled for our second article on the Bathroom Beacons where we reveal the other amazing Beacons that you’ll be praising on playa! The Bathroom Beacons are also looking for volunteers, if you live in New York City and you’d like to get involved, fill out the volunteer form on the project website. Unfortunately, Bathroom Beacons did not receive their Burning Man art grant so they’ll be crowdfunding through Kickstarter soon! Check their Facebook and website to stay updated on this fun and helpful project.

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