Tree of Impermanence - CODAworx

Tree of Impermanence

Client: Burning Man Project

Location: Black Rock City, NV, United States

Completion date: 2014

Artwork budget: $60,000

Project Team


Ryan Elmendorf



Nick Geurts



Tree of Impermanence is a 20 foot tall interactive, musical tree. The tree trunk sprouts from a toy piano on the ground, which has 25 keys. The tree branches terminate above your head at 25 suspended, stainless steel bell chimes, each with an LED. Activation of the piano keys by a visitor actuates the corresponding chimes and LEDs, and the tree comes to life. Light and sound along with the whimsy of a toy piano encourage a child-like wonder.


The goals for Tree of Impermanence are to create a temporary, large-scale sculpture to withstand the extreme conditions of the Black Rock desert and to engage the citizens of the temporary city. Stainless steel is chosen because it withstands wide temperature fluxuations and high winds while keeping a polished look and maintaining strength to support the chimes above. The narrow trunk has a smooth texture to discourage climbing and the piano houses the electronics discreetly and with easy access for maintenance. Attracting the attention of visitors and leading them into the engagement is accomplished by the form and design of the artwork. LEDs alongside each chime and the piano help to inspire excitement from afar and draw people in. The organic form of the tree is universally relatable. The piece is identifiable as a tree, (or maybe an umbrella) but curiously, it has chimes instead of leaves on the branches. The toy piano is reminiscent of childhood and transports visitors back to a time where they were curious and unafraid to experiment, to play without hesitation.


Ryan Elmendorf and Nick Geurts are the main collaborators along with members of the Burning Man Project (BMP) staff and a group of local community members. Conceptually, Geurts and Elmendorf (E/G) worked together to design the form and function of the artwork. The BMP granted the project a Black Rock City honorarium to build and transport the piece 1,000 miles for the week-long event. On site, the BMP collaborated with E/G to coordinate heavy machinery and related logistics for installation. Structural and electromechanical engineering as well as fabrication was done by the E/G team in-house. Various members of the local community collaborated on parts of the build, over the 6-month timeline. Significant community contributions were made to the modular design for transportation and temporary installation, fabrication and the electrical system. Original support from Black Rock City Honorarium. After temporary installations at Black Rock City, the Denver Performing Arts Complex and Children’s Hospital, the piece has been permanently sited at the Shiloh House in Denver, Colorado.

Additional Information

Materials:Stainless Steel, LEDs, Midi Controlled Dimensions: 20’ x 8’ x 8’