Somerville Sculptors Are Building a Climbable, Mind-Bending Structure for Burning Man Festival

The Penrose Triangle will be on display during the festival in the Nevada desert—then it could come back to Boston.

Photo via

Photo via

Things are going to get trippy at this year’s Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada when two area sculptors introduce a giant piece of man-made geometry, fitted with customized lighting, to the open space where event attendees roam.

Blake Courter and Blake Courtney were selected to build a Burning Man 2013 Honorarium Project, an opportunity bestowed upon a handful of artisans to create thought-provoking works to put on display in the playa during the festivities in the Nevada desert.

Every year Burning Man allocates a percentage of its revenue from ticket sales to funding select art projects that are collaborative, community-oriented and interactive, according to event organizers. To meet those standards, Courter and Courtney, decided to tackle a project that will mess with the minds of those viewing it from any angle, and give them an activity to enjoy at the same time.

“We want to show the world the impossible is possible,” the duo says of the metal structure they’re piecing together prior to the August festival. “From afar, it is an illusion. When one stumbles upon it, it is 17-foot climbable steel sculpture evoking the childlike wonderment discovered in the playgrounds of our past. Some will see a complex jungle gym. Others will regard it as a postmodern reimagining of a conventional truss structure.”

That structure is known as a “Penrose Triangle,” a “3D illusion offering an escape from rigidity within straight lines,” that often plays tricks on the eyes of those staring straight at it.

Penrose Triangle

While Courter and Courtney have received some funding from the organization to complete the project and haul it from Massachusetts to Nevada, they are looking for additional money to make it a worthwhile structure that can possibly return to their home state and go on display in Boston following Burning Man.

Melinda Green, who has been helping the artists build a buzz around their metal “illusion,” said they have turned to Kickstarter to generate extra support. “They will build it, then deconstruct it, and then bring it to Burning Man on a truck. Ideally, afterwards, we would like to get placement for it in Boston,” she said.

Courter and Courtney have been documenting their time in a Somerville studio, as they bend, shape, and weld massive pieces of metal together to construct the Penrose Triangle with the help of other artists. Once complete, it will be retrofitted with various, multi-colored LED lights, which will wrap around the metal poles, creating a different form based on where someone is standing while looking at it, Green said. “It’s basically impossible geometry.”

Here’s how the artists describe how the lights will add to the illusion:

At night, the illusion deepens as LEDs color the mind and confuse our judgments, a cerebral carnival begging for further exploration. Much like Black Rock City itself, the Penrose Triangle celebrates both visceral immediacy, and our own personal transformations that occur when we choose to examine and embrace what we see from more than one angle.

To see all of the progress they have made so far, follow along on their blog dedicated to the project. Below is a video explaining how a Penrose Triangle, and the process of building a climbable one, works: