Burning Man 20xx Project

Update: April 11, 2020. With yesterday’s announcement that Black Rock City 2020 has been cancelled, work on this project has been suspended.

Last year’s Burning Man project was a bit—morbid. Mortorious (2019) dealt with death, and so I thought that I’d do something happier this year. I was hopeful, having made a bit of progress in that direction involving cute, animated animals, but I realized that it would take more work than I have time for this year. And so when I discovered a partially developed idea that I had filed away in my laptop’s Burning Man 2020 folder, I decided to switch to it. That project is Imbalance.

During every second, more than four people are born and nearly two people die worldwide. Imbalance viscerally reveals these factors of human population growth as a balance scale with digital counters whose values show the number of worldwide births and deaths since the gate opened. The balance scale compares two large metal weights whose sizes represent these relative birth and death rates. The base that supports the balance scale is painted with a world map. The colors of the countries on the map indicate where human population increases or decreases. By the end of Burning Man 2020, Imbalance’s counters will report over 3,300,000 worldwide births and nearly 1,400,000 deaths.

Physical description from the Burning Man 2020 Art Installation Form for Imbalance.

So it looks like we’ve got deaths again, but to help balance them (sorry) we’ve also got births. This is going to be another collaborative project, with help from Victoria and Rebecca (who were key contributors to Mortorious). So this should be fun!

The basic drawings are done, and the electronics already have been designed. PDF


Here’s a checklist of what’s left to do. (Last updated April 1, 2020.)


☒ Develop and define the basic idea of the playa-art project
☒ Create and Submit a Burning Man 2020 Art Installation Form

World Map

☒ Find a KML dataset of country boundaries
☒ Write a KML data-reduction program
☒ Write a map-projection program
☒ Find a dataset of birth and death rates by country
☒ Label the birth/death dataset with ISO country codes
☒ Create a PDF of a choropleth map of the world (painting guide)
☒ Create laser-cutter/engraver vector data for the map
☐ Cut/engrave the map(s)
☐ Paint the map(s)


☒ Design the electronics
☒ Buy parts for the electronics
☐ Assemble the electronics
☐ Write programs for the counters

Physical Construction

☒ Complete AutoCAD drawings of the exterior
☐ Complete AutoCAD drawings of the interior
☐ Construct the table
☐ Construct the balance
☐ Construct the counter boxes
☐ Construct the weights
☐ Final Assembly