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Monday, 27 October 2014

Building a Temple at Burning Man festival!

Friday 15th August was a very exciting day for me. I found out that I was being kept on in PLACE after working on a summer project with them. As if I wasn’t already excited enough, I was asked to work on a project with Artichoke in Derry next year with an Artist who builds wooden Temple structures at Burning Man. To research and prepare for this I was asked to be part of the Derry team to help with the Temple build at Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert in America!  

"Love" art installation by Laura Kimpton

As a former San Francisco resident, artist, creative person, festival reveller and random experience junkie, Burning Man has always been high on my bucket list of inspirational experiences.  Burning Man is a difficult concept to explain if you haven’t been but I’ll try. It’s a festival in the desert where a temporary city, Black Rock City is created for a week. In Black Rock City art and architectural structures are built on the desert, referred to as “the playa” and burnt by the end of the week to emphasise the temporal nature of the festival; immediacy being one of their guiding principles. Burning Man has 10 key principles, which set the tone and atmosphere of the festival, which I think is one of the reasons why it is so unique. Money doesn’t exist in Black Rock City (with the exception of coffee and ice for sale), there is no marketing, brands, band line-ups.  Instead this non-monetary environment is balanced out by a gifting culture (another principle) You no more as have to think of something you need or would like and someone will offer it to you. This ranged from food, a lend of a bike, a hug, a compliment, time, an amazing indian head massage hairwash, an air mattress, weird and wonderful entertainment, as well as countless Burning Man trinkets and mementos. As they say in Black Rock City, “The Playa provides…” which I found to be very true!

Art car & mutant vehicle line up

Myself and the three other Derry crew felt like we had won a golden ticket by being asked to take part.  We made our journey from Derry to Belfast, San Francisco via Newark and hopped on the Burner Express to the Nevada desert!

We arrived with an early pass, first timers at Burning Man were separated from the crowd, made to make dust angels and roll about in the sand and ring a bell shouting “I’m not a virgin anymore!” signifying our initiation into the wonderful mysterious experience that is Burning Man festival.

Temple of Grace at sunset

We were warmly welcomed by David Best to the Temple team of 100 people made up of architects, designers, artists, builders and general volunteers who worked on the Temple for 3 weeks. We helped the last 3 days. Everyone was fascinated by the Derry project and many of them were really keen to be a part of the chosen team going to Derry for the build. We tried to explain the context of Derry, the bonfire culture, divided communities and discussed the potential of a project like this in Derry.

Temple decor team making mosaic tiles for the floor

What struck me about the Temple team was how much of a community family atmosphere had grown between them. Many of them were coping with big losses in their lives and found the Temple project a way to work through these. It was amazing to see such a diverse group of people, of all ages and abilities, full of absolute characters work together in a non hierarchical fashion and tirelessly build a Temple that would be burnt down after a week! 

Temple of Grace team 2014 & David Best, photo by David Washer

The Temple was incredibly intricate and beautiful, made from thousands of wood cut panels which then people were invited to write on and leave their messages. It was such an emotional atmosphere in the Temple, people mourned lost loved ones, singing, praying crying, writing messages This was a stark contrast to the booming techno music and exhibitionism on the main playa. 


The altar and messages left at the Temple

The Temple burn night was the last night of the festival. As Temple crew we have front seats on the sand and thousands gathered to watch the Temple burn down along with their messages to loved ones, regrets, secrets and confessions. The atmosphere was respectful, reflective and still. We sat mesmerized by the beauty of the Temple burning, watching the flames slowly envelop the structure, the colours of the flames inverting like the negative of a photograph, the heat on our faces, the wind dance swirls of dust and ash and eventually the structure spinning and collapsing.


Burning Man and working on the Temple was an amazing, inspirational, intense and emotional experience. I’m so excited about the Temple coming to Derry, if it can even create of fraction of the positivity, emotional release and community atmosphere that comes from working together on a project like this I think it will be very powerful! 

The Man burning


If you want to help #Temple2015 come to Derry, spread the word and donate to their Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/artichoketrust/temple

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