The Rise of Mobile Art – aka Mutant Art Cars Rule

Sep 7, 2020 | Art, Kiwiburn

Mutant art cars rule and we need more of them! We caught up with Lumos, long time Mobile Art enthusiast and contributor, to find out more. Aside from building Art Cars (and ships!), Lumos is well-known for fire spinning (huge balls of fire!) and has dedicated heaps of time to the community, offering inspiration, guidance, and suggestions around a broad array of topics.

In the USA (in the default world!) you register your car at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Many Burns have copied this acronym, creating the “Department of Mutant Vehicles” (also DMV). My personal belief is: why copy? Why not be unique? The Pirate Ship, created in 2008, was not really a traditional “vehicle”, as they are often categorised as land-based machines. Therefore, I prefer the name “Mobile Art Department,” aka MAD – because being slightly mad helps.

Kiwiburn 2008 was my first Burn and the event had two mobile art pieces. On the more conventional side was “The Sheep’s End,” which was a van with a sheep head attached to the bull bars on the front and a good sound system on the roof. Unfortunately, The Sheep’s End eventually died, but one year it came to life again as a visitation from an alien in a UFO.

The other was the “Pirate Ship”, which was moored on the edge of the lake on the previous site near Mangakino. I thought a pirate ship was a cool idea – it needed to move, sail the lake, explore, and go on adventures. At the end of the event the creator of the ship gifted it to me, as he had other creative ideas to pursue.

In 2009, I secured an Art Grant, a small outboard motor, an anchor and long rope, paddles, life jackets, a fire extinguisher, and several kayaks (in case of emergency). From then on, every year the Pirate Ship evolved. Kids and participants of all ages and sizes sailed, walked the plank, and enjoyed it, until we moved to the current site which is unsuitable for it due to the fast flowing river.

The mobile art bug had bitten me hard. As well as a constantly evolving Pirate Ship, I also created some land-based alternatives: The Mobile Hippy Drum Circle and a Mobile Reality TV show.

A Mobile Art Car that featured a reality TV show theme.

The builder of a mobile art piece needs to be aware that, once an art project moves, its ability to injure the flesh-based participants of our gathering increases. Overseas, serious injuries and deaths have caused event organisers to clamp down and make safety a key element of Mutant Vehicle management. In 2020, Kiwiburn finally joined that trend with the formalisation of some rules and regulations based on ones from other well-established Burns.

A giant mobile tea cup.
A giant mobile teacup shooting flames at night.

At Burning Man the Playa is flat. Here in New Zealand, our Paddock is not, so we have to take different considerations into account. Will the vehicle fall over when traversing a sloped bank? Will it be able to stop when descending a wet track and not run over participants? Will it be able to get up the tracks between the paddocks when they become wet? Is it narrow enough to make it through paddock gates or will it be trapped where it has been assembled (a problem the lovely Teacup suffered from)?

A Mad Max style, four-wheel, Art Car.

If you are going to be mobile once the sun sets, you need a Night License. A Night License is given to  vehicles that can clearly see participants all around and be visible to them. This is where you get creative with your lighting – making your art project look cool without blinding participants with high power spotlights, etc.

Mobile Art car that looks like child's choo-choo train.

Being the sober driver for a Mutant Art Car is an awesome responsibility. As a non-drinker, I have been able to enjoy this responsibility both at Kiwiburn and Burning Man. At Kiwiburn, our Paddock is a pedestrian environment and mobile art projects must keep their speed down and give way to participants at all times.

As an artist who has been building mobile art projects for over ten years, I am happy to chat with you about your ideas and bounce around possibilities. 2020 was our best year yet with an interesting and eclectic collection of mobile art and I am keen to encourage you to do something interesting and fun.

In the old days, Mutant Art Cars were based on petrol/diesel-powered vehicles; however, with the advances in electric vehicles, this is changing. For example, The Teacup, a hot art car for a few Kiwiburns, was based on an electric golf cart with some flame effect devices. These technical developments will continue.

Mobile Art car that looks like a giant Angler Fish, glowing at night.
Mobile Art car that looks like a giant Angler Fish

Some of the mobile art projects of the past were not up to our current higher standards of wow-factor or safety and I believe it is good to see improving and evolving mutant art cars.

Details about building and registering a mutant art car will be added to be added to the Kiwiburn website soon. Watch this space!”

If you are thinking of building some Mobile Art, and you would like to chat to Lumos about your plans, you can contact him on 021-057-2722 or at

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