You Make It, You Break It

David Sanchez Burr encourages visitors to create, then destroy

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada


If you build it … it will crumble.

And if you come—just to see that concept rendered artistically and interactively—see David Sanchez Burr.

“I want people to think about their particular role in the whole concept of the cycles of creation—and their coming apart,” says Sanchez Burr, 42, a local mixed-media artist whose New Citadel exhibit at the Cosmopolitan’s P3 Studio examines the life cycle of the urban landscape from creation to ruination. “It’s about the things we do to build, and the things we let fall apart or destroy.”

Four thematic cornerstones—entropy, perpetual change, maintenance and decay in the cities we call home—give this sculpture-and-sound creation its resonance. Think of Sanchez Burr as the gatekeeper of this mini-model city. Think of yourself as one of its architects. “It’s participatory, so the person can make the work that goes into the citadel,” Sanchez Burr says. “They can build their own visionary, utopian city.”

Then watch it succumb to inevitable decline—cleverly accelerated in this exhibit by music.

Visitors are invited to construct small structures in any configuration they choose, using materials supplied by Sanchez Burr, including gypsum crystals, plastic, wood, wire, tiny mirrors and LED lights, with assistance from a glue gun. Surrounding the work table to provide inspiration are architectural tomes including Socialist Architecture: The Vanishing Act; Topologies: The Urban Utopia in France, 1960-70 and, most pointedly, All That is Solid Melts into Air.

“I put no pressure, whatever they build they build,” he says. “And there have been all sorts of references. There are Christian references, movable structures with wheels, references to shelters, solar panels, an oil derrick, even a pyramid.”

Once completed, the model buildings are placed on a platform and subjected to the sonic frequency of recorded pieces composed by Sanchez Burr and played through a midi controller as directed by the guest pushing buttons. Inspired by avant-garde musician John Cage, the dissonant music is written in a 5/4 time signature to distinguish it from the four-beats-to-the-bar standard. Reacting to the vibrations, the pieces often turn in circles, collapse in on themselves or fall to the floor, evoking the theme of inevitable shift or destruction.

Addressing the importance of documentation—of recording what we build to keep it alive as history even after it is gone—Sanchez Burr keeps a video archive, as well as placing the altered structures on a display shelf.

Collectively, the effect is stark regarding the everything-changes-or-dies aesthetic, especially in Las Vegas, long the implosion capital of the world. Trace Sanchez Burr’s interest in the subject to a trip he took to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., when he was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

“I went to see the [Jackson] Pollock paintings and a professor had told me in advance that the Pollocks are actually crumbling down,” Sanchez Burr recalls. “He didn’t have the money for the best quality paints. His technique was more important to him than the quality of his materials, and he learned his technique from Navajo sand paintings, which were intended to disappear.”

Though Sanchez Burr says he appreciates Pollock’s artwork for its obvious beauty, he also gazes at the “crumbs” that fall from the pieces. “I thought there was something important to be discussed, when we see buildings crumble, when we see paint peeling, this entropy, the work of nature.”

Exploring that theme through interactivity, he says, is crucial to his artwork. Art might imitate life, but that doesn’t mean it has to do it frozen in place. “Interaction creates transformation,” Sanchez Burr says. “If you are interacting with a piece, chances are you will modify it in some way. Art can’t really imitate life if it’s just static. It transforms over time, just as we do.”

Creating an exhibit about inevitable destruction, Sanchez Burr takes a biblical cue, as expressed in Ecclesiastes:
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.

New Citadel at P3 Studio

Cosmopolitan, 6-11 p.m. through Sept. 15, free, 698-7000,


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