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Annette Diefenthaler

Annette Diefenthaler

Humans of FoldHaus is a series celebrating the many, many amazing volunteers (like Annette) who work tirelessly on their evenings and weekends to bring to life the FoldHaus Collective Art. Below is Annette’s story.

But first, a brief note:

The FoldHaus team, the art collective behind Burning Man (and Smithsonian!) favorites #ShrumenLumen and #BlumenLumen, are building our most radical installation ever, and we need your help.

A project of this scale is only possible with the support of a large community. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support RadiaLumia.

Annette Diefenthaler

How did you join FoldHaus?

“That’s really Joerg’s fault. When he started building the Shrumen Lumens [editor’s note: the 2016 art installation now at the Smithsonian], I wasn’t really sure yet how much I would participate.

But, it was such a big part of his life, that, in order for us to have time together, I just came with him to the office on the weekends, where he was building, and did other things. I figured I could pitch in when help was needed.

It soon turned out that there was a lot of possibility to be needed. For example, I did a lot of the repetitive work to machine the metal parts of the Shrumens’ umbrella structure, cutting the metal and drilling hundreds of holes. Doing that really connected to my past as a carpenter. It was a fun way of getting back into the workshop and working with my hands — and with power tools!”

Burning Man is supposedly life changing. Has it changed your life?

“I would have never gone in the first place without FoldHaus. I was not particularly drawn to the spectacle that Burning Man is known for. The rough conditions didn’t scare me, but I like solitude in my time off, not big crowds. But I had spent months working on the art — I just wanted to see it set up.

Once there, I spent a lot of time just observing visitors, watching them gasp when the Shrumen head moved. It was quite special to share their joy. And so much of the art at Burning Man was so incredible — it’s hard to believe what people put together for just one week in the desert.

That’s what makes me want to go back — the art.

I wouldn’t say that Burning Man itself was life changing for me. But I think that if you get involved in a dedicated way, it is life changing outside of Burning Man. It’s not the two weeks there; that’s just the culmination. It’s every weekend, almost every day. It’s a huge part of my life. That is the big change I would have never imagined.”

Community is a big part of FoldHaus. What’s your experience been?

“Through FoldHaus, I spend extraordinary amounts of time with people that I otherwise wouldn’t even meet because we wouldn’t have a lot in common.

It has allowed me to really expand my community in a way that is diverse and interesting. And I’m always just so fascinated to see how people put in their time. People just show up and contribute. Every single person could always choose to do something else, go hiking, watch a movie, or have brunch. Instead, they’re here. We’re here.

It’s not always just fun. A lot of it is real work, repetitive tasks, and just not that glamorous. But the fact that our community organically forms around the vision of the project and sticks it out is what I find pretty amazing.”

What’s been one of the happiest moments of FoldHaus?

“There was a moment when we had first put together the five Shrumens on the Playa. They weren’t connected or lit up yet. It was 110-degrees, in the middle of the day, and finally, they stood there. It was so magical. That vision that we had only ever seen on paper had come to life in the desert.”

Annette and Joerg on the Playa with the Shrumen Lumen

Do you consider yourself an artist?

“No. I don’t. I consider myself part of an artist collective. But I think my definition of an artist involves the type of wild imagination that others on this team have. I definitely see myself as a designer, and as a designer I create in a very strategic yet imaginative way.”

What’s your contribution to FoldHaus?

“We recently referred to me as ‘queen of parts’ when we had to come up with a title for the Burning Man art grant application. That’s a quite accurate description — I do a lot of the repetitive work of making parts. In addition, I now help create the foundation for the art by making sure we are on top of fundraising and social media, and publishing and communication. I hold the big picture in my head, and create the conditions for others to contribute.

Sometimes I wish I could go deep and figure out something crafty, or spend more time simply making parts again, but it’s not the role that’s needed right now. And while it often requires more time than I might want to give — and it’s sometimes a struggle to make that work with everything else in life and work [editor’s note: Annette and Joerg just got married, halfway around the world!], I know that it will be worth the effort.”

What do you get out of being part of FoldHaus?

“Personally I get to share in something that really matters to Joerg, my partner. The immense joy he gets out of it becomes mine. It’s difficult to imagine what that would be like if something that’s such a big part of his life wasn’t part of mine. Practically I wouldn’t see him much. Emotionally it would be constant competition. Because I’ve chosen to be part of it, it becomes his and my joy.

Beyond that, I’m a part of this thing that I would have never chosen but that is so enriching. I have access to things that challenge me in a good way and broaden my horizons.

Making art like this has no immediately reasonable strategic objective like most of the things I do in life, at least not at a surface level. — except it’s all about joy, beauty, and community. It’s taught me how important joy is, and that making room for it is a worthy cause.”

By day, when you’re not part of FoldHaus, who are you?

“I’m a Senior Director and part of a team that leads IDEO’s Design for Learning studio, which means that I am dedicated to bringing progress to education and youth through the power of design.”

Thank you for reading!

If you’re curious to learn more about how we make our art happen, read about how we make the impossible possible on the IDEO blog. And, to hear more about what we’re up to, follow us on @foldhauscollective on Instagram.



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