The Temple

January 12, 2012


The traditional image people have of the Burning Man Festival is one of middle class hippies wandering stark bollack naked through the Nevada desert on an annual pilgrimage from hygiene. That’s not all together untrue. But while the primary aim is to get away from the responsibilities  of the 9-5 world, to party up a sandstorm until the titular figure is burnt on the Saturday night, many people would be surprised to hear that it also has a spiritual side.

The Temple is what sets Burning Man apart as a festival. A place where people remember friends and family that have passed away, it’s the largest art project commissioned by the festival, a structure people go to and write messages on, or bring photographs or pieces of art to, so that over the course of the week the temple becomes covered in all these mementos, like a memorial.

On the Sunday, after people have started to wind down after a week’s insanity the entire festival congregate and watch the temple burn to the ground, letting go of whatever painful memory they may have imprinted on its walls. In comparison to the burning of the man, where music, fireworks and a jovial mood prevail, the burning of the temple is silent, as 50,000 people look on in quite reflection.

This year for the first time the construction of the temple was awarded to a non-American collective of artists known as the International Arts Megacrew, co headed by Irish artist Diarmuid Horkan, 32. This year was his tenth burn. As it is the largest single art instillation commissioned by the man the Burning Man have a rigorous application process.

“We had to submit a 35k word application, with drawings that gave an extremely clear idea as to what we wanted to do” says Horkan. “We spent five months working on an application, from October to January before having to find the space to build it.”  From May to August 150 volunteers from around the world packed up their life and moved to Reno to dedicate themselves to the building of the man, before trucking it down in pieces and constructing it in the desert.

“The temple is a very emotional project for pretty much everybody on the crew” says Horkan.”We had over 600 applications
form people wanting to give up their whole summer just to work on the man.

“It’s a really super intense process. You become extremely connected to everyone else working around you particularly because of the commonality of motivation. Everyone has their personal reasons for working on the temple but there is a common thread. We had a very tight crew and we spent a good bit of time trying to get people out of the warehouse, to stop working and make them go to the lake and take part in other forms of not temple based r’n’r.

“We rely on donations for everything. Materials, tools, food. The entire Burning Man community supports the temple. Most of these volunteers were put up by other burning man people around Reno.”

Those who have been argue that the temple is what best encapsulated the spirit of Burning Man. “A lot of people say you could get rid of the man and just have the temple. That’s more important to them. It’s the spiritual heart of the festival.”

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