MEGA CAKE is a large scale interactive sculpture being built for Burning Man 2019. It is a massive 5-tier birthday cake that will serve as both a singular piece of art and a place to explore and discover art within. Imagine 70,000 people playing together all week on a giant cake and then singing "Happy Birthday" in unison as we watch it burn to the ground!
Architect Thom White of Norfolk’s WPA has designed a 12-sided wood-framed structure resembling a 5-tiered birthday cake. Plywood panels line each faceted tier and have perforations which recall cake icing embellishments while letting wind pass through. Flexible LED light strips are draped along the top of each level, adding to the icing motif. There are 12 candles with propane-fueled flames on the top-most tier; one features a poofer flame effect that will fire off at least once per hour at night. The interior contains a series of chambers with interactive exhibits that relate to birthdays and how we mark the passing of time in our lives. A spiral stair connects the playa to each upper tier and a slide connects the first tier to the ground. Guardrails at each level protect visitors from falls and add structural rigidity.
MEGA CAKE plays with scales of interactivity: on a city-wide scale, it stands as a cheerful beacon to birthdays. On a personal scale, one will be able to record birth dates on cards that will then become part of the piece, transforming it through participation. And, at each tier, visitors will encounter – and become part of – vignettes exploring birthdays over the course of one's life. At the end of the sequence, a slide provides a quick exit and serves as a playful symbol of one's birth.
Our mission has evolved since work began over a year ago. At first, the Cake was thought of primarily as a place to gather, play, and observe Burning Man’s Black Rock City. Then, as the work progressed and construction began, we realized the piece is a singular work of art with vast potential for embedding meaning to be discovered as one explores it. The mission now is to facilitate a journey punctuated by distinct moments that people encounter as they go, much like the experiences along the arc of one's lifetime.
"Happy Birthday" is a universal phrase of optimism and validation, common in every language, and akin to "Welcome Home," "Thank You," and "I Love You." The phrase is a pleasant exchange between two people, creating a point of connection while acknowledging one's unique existence and the passing of time in one's life. The birthday cake is a symbol of celebration. Given to a person on their special day and then shared with friends, it provides a sense of recognition and acceptance within community. We hope to capture this spirit.
From afar, the cake evokes a sense of excitement and may bring back memories of past birthdays. Once inside, it provides a safe and inviting space to go on a journey of reflection about where we began, our growth, and what we'd like to accomplish in our lives.
Our intention is for this piece to celebrate all participants. It is a place of joy. Today is everyone's birthday. This week is everyone's birthday week; Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to us!