This piano burn is part of a series. McCarthy shot the first on his farm in Vermont, outside during a snowstorm. Next come burning three pianos in Dallas this summer — again working with Hinck and Nigh — then an unknown number in Atlanta, probably this fall. Ultimately he wants to create discrete video art pieces documenting piano burns in at least two dozen major cities, culminating in a 2015 conflagration of 100 pianos in New York City.
Nothing is final, but he hopes to premiere the Chattanooga burn video locally this summer before taking it on the road to other cities.
McCarthy sees himself as both artist and facilitator for the art itself. “Once the piano starts to burn, you don’t really have any real control of how the image looks,” he says. “And that to me is very interesting because I’m more interested in watching art act independently of the artist.”
Ultimately, McCarthy likes to give up control so he can learn more. While commercial entertainment wants to deliver a reliably pleasing experience, he doesn’t see the point of that.
“I’m not looking to please, to create a satisfactory experience,” he says. “I’m looking to create a beautiful experience for sure, one that has meaning for people. Does it have to be satisfactory? No. I’d rather it be unsatisfactory, because then the questions begin. If you’re satisfied, you don’t ask questions. If you’re unsatisfied, you do.”