Burning Man grant awarded to alum Madeline Fried for "Alien Drive-Thru"

Receiving one of the first Burning Man Honoraria awarded to a PAFA alum, Madeline Fried (Cert. ‘16) is an artist helping us confront today’s challenges by imagining the future.

Fried is a founding member of Swing Shift Studio, a Bay Area collective whose work combines activism, science, art, and theater. Their projects explore complex subjects through interactive, narrative-driven, multisensory experiences. The group makes conceptual and interactive art more inviting to a wide audience. They blend speculative fiction into common everyday experiences and use familiar aesthetics, like campy science fiction movies and call-in talk shows while calling into question everyday assumptions.

“Being a part of these builds has shaped my art practice for the last 9 years ,” Fried said, “and has led to incredible real-world connections and consistent job opportunities that I love.”

The collective's next ambitious project won $9,500 in grant support for its proposal: a fast food drive-thru menu, built by aliens. The premise: aliens have observed that humans frequently communicate through glowing megaliths, covered in photos of food — so, the aliens are building a similar structure to make peaceful First Contact. Naturally, they select a highly concentrated location: the Black Rock Desert during the 2022 Burning Man event. Alien Drive-Thru debuts August 28 to September 5, 2022, and then plans to tour at future events.

Alien Drive-Thru seeks to challenge popular narratives of inevitable doom and destruction by exploring what it means to be human amid xenophobia, climate crisis, and machine learning’s influence on information. A video drive-thru menu will be operated remotely by live character actors & technicians as "customers" approach the intercom to place their orders—instead encountering an alien’s uncanny attempt to meet expectations. The sculptural theater is constructed with salvaged materials, powered by 8 kWh of solar , and will be transported to the venue by an electric vehicle.

This work builds off of Swing Shift Studio’s 2019 piece also using roadside America: Awful’s Gas and Snack, a gas station made into a museum set 100 years in the future in a world shaped by the current climate crisis. Its aim was to present a hopeful vision of the future through the lens of a mis-remembered past.

As a project led by a 20-person cohort including people of color, Burning Man extended the grant to also support additional event tickets and crew roles to be distributed at Swing Shift Studio. Although the sponsored tickets are now spoken for, interested artists should still reach out Fried to collaborate as the project tours this year.

Support the project through Indiegogo this weekend, and receive works illustrated by Madeline Fried, including the zine Mine All Mine, a 20 pg. searing polemic about the expansion of moon mining in the year 2121, and a scenic poster celebrating the 50th anniversary of the restoration of lake Patsiata (formerly Owen's Lake) in 2121.

Support their Indiegogo campaign this weekend and receive perks from the Alien Drive-Thru, as well as work illustrated by Madeline Fried from Awful's Gas and Snack: the zine Mine All Mine, a "20 pg. searing polemic about the expansion of moon mining in the year 2121," or the Patsiata Poster, a scenic print celebrating the 50th anniversary of the restoration of lake Patsiata (formerly Owen's Lake) in 2121.

Contact: Madeline Fried –,

Alien Drive Thru illustration
Alien Drive Thru mock up drawing
Alien in makeup
drawings of alien looking at sculpture
alien drawings looking at sculpture
screens in frame
work table
Awful's Gas and Snack
Awful's Gas and Snack, 2019

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.