Tree of Ténéré

Studio Drift celebrated its tenth year participating to a collective installation conceived by Zachary Smith at the Burning Man 2017: like the Tree of Ténéré, also this one ‘bloomed’ in the desert.

Studio Drift, Tree of Ténéré, Burning Man 2017
With 450 km of sand around it, the Tree of Ténéré is known as the loneliest tree in the world. It used to be one of the strongest symbols of life, a lonely tree, finding a way to flourish in the most difficult environment. 50 years ago a drunk driver drove into it and destroyed it. Together with an international team of tech visionaries from New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam, Studio Drift collaborated to the new Tree of Ténéré , a temporary installation in the desert of Black Rock City at Burning Man 2017, in Nevada, symbolizing the willpower of life.


The tree functions as a 3-dimensional canvas. Each leaf houses seven led’s. The 175.000 led’s in total are programmed to interact with the crowd. The piece was conceived and created by Zachary Smith, while co-lead artist Alexander Green and Symmetry Labs lead production and mapping. Co-lead artist Mark C. Slee lead the creation of open-source animation software and content for the tree, which features more than 30 distinct interactive lighting routines. Co-creator Patrick Deegan managed sensor interactivity and technical community. Studio Drift was asked to join the team to create content for the light patterns and programming, using the Flylight developed in 2007, which contains an algorithm that mimics a swarm of birds and reacts to its environment. The Tree of Ténéré is programmed with three “light flocks” flying through the leafs. Each flock is controlled by three people wearing muse headsets. Their movements, heart beats and brain activity is measured and translated into the light swarms. Once the people sync their movements, the individual flocks merge into one large swarm of light.

Img.7 Studio Drift, <i>Tree of Ténéré</i>, Burning Man 2017
Img.7 Studio Drift, Tree of Ténéré , Burning Man 2017
“The algorithm exposes the struggle between freedom and acceptance”, the designers explain. “The swarming behaviour of animals has a strong link to human behavior. We flock together and adjust our behavior sacrificing freedom for safety. When looking at these murmurations, we often mistake these orchestrated movements with freedom. This creates a contrast between our ideology and what is truly happening. The everlasting tension between the two is what fascinates us.”

Tree of Ténéré , Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, USA
Program: installation
Design concept:  Zachary Smith 
Lead production and mapping: Alexander Green (co-lead artist) and Symmetry Labs
Open-source animation:
Mark C. Slee (co-lead artist)
Sensor interactivity:
Patrick Deegan
Design Collaboration:
Studio Drift

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