The Play Plane Crashground was designed for the Burning Man 2001 festival which took place just a couple of weeks before September 11th, 2001. Because this piece depicts a flaming plane crash, it is difficult to examine the piece outside the context of 9/11 – despite the fact that it was conceived and constructed before that event that permanently altered the course of world politics.
The commercialization of the airplane transformed both trade relations and warfare of nations in the 20th century. Along with the ability to inflict widespread casualties from the air with millions killed this way, aircraft also provided transportation of politicians, business leaders and mail services, further globalizing trade. In the 1960s, air travel became affordable for many, making the world an even smaller place. Tourist travel to destinations that had been solely for the elite was now democratized to a large extent and families could be separated with yearly holiday visits via air.
However, widespread air travel also accelerated many negative aspects of westernization. With a philosophical emphasis on economic growth and consumption often at the expense of the needs of society a crash due to the employment of technology without consideration of its implications seems inevitable.
The installation itself was interactive in nature and consisted of three components: the Ambient Cockpit, the Wing Slide and the Flaming Wreck, all of which were constructed from actual scrap airplane parts.
The Ambient Cockpit provided standard airplane seating and at various intervals, seated passengers were served soda and cocktail nuts. Allen Wilner’s custom soundtrack, which included his own created instruments, ambient electronic noise and the drone of a plane engine, served the purpose of isolating the passengers from the rest of the festival.
The Wing Slide was the most playful component of the three. People were encouraged to climb a ladder and slide down the wing to the ground, simulating an escape after an emergency landing.
The most interactive portion of the installation was at the site of the crash itself. the Flaming Wreck. People stood at a control center where they could operate five mechanical levers, each controlling a different flame source in the engine of the plane. Every once in a while, a large flame cannon was set off inside the engine chassis as well, emphasizing the debris and destruction.
Other artists at the festival used incorporated the installation into their own pieces, including photo shoots, performances as well projecting a reel of The Little Prince against the Ambient Cockpit structure.