Burning Man 2023
Black Rock City Honoraria Recipient
Lead Artist: Cody Smith
Large red letters command “NO DANCING” from afar. Closer examination reveals stories from community members, about how rules affect their lives, particularly those receiving a disproportionate share of enforcement. Rebellious energy gives way to genuine contemplation of how rules shape our society.
Part of the goal of this work is to raise awareness of restorative justice as a component of racial justice. We hope people who enjoy this piece will join us in accepting this alternative theory of justice in pursuit of a more equitable society.
Over Ruled is a large red sign composed of 12’ fabric letters supported by a metal frame, readable from 3,600’ day and night. Triangular metal legs hold each letter 8’ aloft for visibility and passage underneath.
Block capitals resemble Gotham Black font, sewn from a single layer of ripstop nylon. The legs also hold perpendicular fabric panels, containing the text of impactful stories collected from the community.
Ground-mounted white spotlights evenly illuminate each letter, making them clearly visible in true color at night. Spotlights also cast enlarged shadows from participants onto the letters, so dancing crowds are sometimes visible on the letters.
Over Ruled features stories of imprisonment, termination, expulsion, and banishment, and the consequences that accrue disproportionately to people of color, reinforcing equity gaps. This is embedded within a piece which seems lighthearted at a distance, specifically to surprise participants when they approach.
We hope this twist ending provokes true contemplation, and openness to alternative theories of justice. Restorative justice is the foremost of these theories, which provides better outcomes for both individuals and communities–but it requires community support to be properly adopted, so popular acceptance is crucial for realizing the benefits.
When first approaching, the piece provokes participants to dance and laugh, propelled by the joy of breaking absurd rules. We expect art cars with large sound systems to utilize the space for large dance parties, where the sign casts an ironic mood.
By night the space between the spotlights and letters becomes a stage of sorts. In this space, participants’ silhouettes will be cast onto the letters, making their movements highly visible, even from across the Playa. We hope these projections encourage folks to experiment with daring and unfamiliar dance moves.
Those who approach the lettering more closely will see the printed stories from the community about their run-ins with rules. Blank sheets of fabric in the support structure and chained Sharpies encourage participants to add their own stories.
If you're interested in volunteering, collaborating, or supporting Over Ruled, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.