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Burning Man meets The Dicky Box

Man living in a box is just one of many tech-driven art projects at the festival in the Nevada desert.

IN THE BLACK ROCK DESERT OF NEVADA--"Are those mummified cats? Awesome!" Dicky Davies said as a group of drumming, noise-making strangers, the "Skinny Kitty" camp, paraded up to him holding aloft an aquariumlike shrine containing several desiccated cat carcasses surrounded by fake mice with angel wings.

Temporarily residing in a box himself, Davies eagerly accepted their gifts of T-shirts, stickers, necklaces and some "really good home brew" crammed into a hole in the Plexiglas structure dubbed "The Dicky Box." That box was home for Davies for seven days at Burning Man, the annual arts and community festival held in the stark Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada.

Dotted on the desert around him were numerous sculptures and interactive art pieces, many lit up with fire or lights at night, including the Burning Man itself, a 40-foot wooden structure outlined in neon and stuffed with fireworks. The Man was burned Saturday night--a modern-day fire ritual for the estimated 35,000 to 40,000 participants.

Photos: Burning Man

Art cars abounded on the desert, illuminated by miles of "el"--electroluminescent--wire in black light hues of neon orange, pink and green, or shooting fire as mobile pyrotechnics.

Circles of fire and drumming lent a pagan feel to the event, but Burning Man was more techno-savvy than back-to-nature primal.

Several of the large-scale art installations relied on technology for lighting and interactivity. The large, fluorescent-tube arms that made up the kinetic light sculpture called "Alien Semaphore" flapped when buttons were pushed. People lounging in the soft "Bed in Your Head" bedlike installation watched screens showing films of people talking about their dreams. The 10-foot-tall face mask called "Headspace" featured live projected video and audio. Stepping on interactive steps, people could create different patterns and colors with LED lights in the light sculpture titled "SoLA."

Other notable pieces included "Angel of the Apocalypse," with carved steel wings that were illuminated from the inside by flames; "Clockworks," a 30-foot wooden clock tower with gears that turned the hands of three clock faces; "Colossus," a kind of kinetic sculpture that would go into motion only if people managed to move three massive boulders that hung from it; "Dreamer," a Magritte-inspired buried head with a chamber and fireplace inside; "Hypha," a 24-foot steel pod on a column that people could climb; and "The Machine," a multistoried mechanical structure with limbs that moved when people on the ground collaborated to turn wheels.

Entertain me
A desert version of the boy in the plastic bubble, Davies created what was probably the most talked about art piece at the event, which ended Monday. His 10-foot-by-10-foot box provoked everything from fans (women's underwear hung from his ceiling, gifts from admirers who created a sign-up list in hopes of having sex with Davies after he got out) to enemies (there was also a petition to "Keep Dicky in the Box," along with shouts of "liberate Dicky" that were as numerous as chants to "burn Dicky down").

"I was awakened this morning by someone shouting, 'You're supposed to entertain me,'" he said Saturday in an interview from his box, wearing a button that said "spectator."

"The Department of Public Works parade busted down two walls briefly, but the project wasn't breached," he said. "I had a girl break in early in the project...and she jumped on my bed and left as quickly as she was in."

Sporting black plastic glasses and dark, ear-length hair with a hint of bleached highlights, Davies appeared every bit the 26-year-old nerd he is. The Austin, Texas, native works for City Box Office, a San Francisco online ticketing company for nonprofits. He also paints and publishes zines. On Saturday, he was wearing a black T-shirt with the Burning Man logo and orange and white checkered pants.

The whiteness of his desk and chair, rumpled bedding and faux fur carpet contrasted with the cracked brown earth and distant purple mountains outside. Beer cans, a Guinness bottle, chips, magazines and books, including "The Erotic Reader," were strewn about. Graffiti written from the outside covered the walls.

A wooden awning provided shade, and he was protected from the heat--temperatures during the day can hit 90 degrees--by a ceiling fan and air conditioner. He used a chemical toilet in private behind some curtains.

Davies and his collaborator, Logan Mirto, came up with the idea after Davies first attended the event in 2002 and professed to having a "deep feeling of isolation out on the playa, and none of the connection with humanity which he had hoped for,"

"We're doing something that hasn't been done before, which is creating an isolated psyche in an unrestricted community, which is the Burning Man community, and letting Burning Man interact" with it, said Davies, who was scheduled to be released from the box on Sunday.

Responding to a rumor that he was paid to stay in the box, Davies said the Burning Man organization gave the project "a few thousand dollars less" than a reported $9,000 in grant money. He said he personally contributed another $1,500 to $2,000 and that he and Mirto had seven friends help build the box and bring him food, water and other supplies during the week.

In addition to the inquisitive, visitors included belly dancers, fire spinners, unicyclists, stilt walkers and a French Maid Brigade, he said.

"I've had a lot of amazing performances and connections and early morning conversations with people who want to challenge the art and interact with the art and that's been really phenomenal and great," he said.