The 9/11 anniversary weekend seems a good time to write about fallen buildings, memorials, remembering and celebrating those we have lost. This is my third essay about the wildly artistic and audacious Temple that is constructed annually at Burning Man (and designed to be burned in memoriam at the end of the festival week). Its design varies widely each year, and while the experience of a visit is much the same, I have found that my appreciation for it broadens and deepens with each year. [Text and photos below by Ron Reason]
* * *
[Black Rock City, Nevada, August 30, 2011] Surrounded by 250 to 300 tons of plywood, in the middle of the Nevada desert, artfully constructed into a compound of temples designed to be appreciated, and to vanish, within one week, I am awestruck by one thought: I’ve visited the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, the Wailing (Western) Wall, and Ground Zero, the world’s most renowned monuments to loss, love and remembrance, spanning centuries. But none of those places aroused anywhere near the emotion that wells up for me at this temporary Temple each year, and in every recollection afterward. It sounds a bit absurd. How can this be?
Like the rest of Burning Man, it’s nearly impossible to really explain what the Temple experience is and how it works. As I’ve written here before, the Temple is a cornerstone of the festival experience (at least for me).
With this year’s Burning Man theme being “Rites of Passage,” and this Temple of Transition could not have been a better fit: A series of five 58-foot-high outer temples, and one 120-foot-high inner temple, connected by 60-foot-long walkways (designed, apparently, to be a little strange and tricky to traverse – like parts of life itself – but the rewards at either end, breathtaking). Basically, this place was architectural poetry. (This gorgeous, quick animated 3D fly-through on YouTube gives you a hint.)
The five smaller, outer towers represented Birth, Growth, Union, Decay and Death. The central tower, Gratitude. (I had to ask a volunteer early in the week what each building stood for – they seemed to make a point not to label them on site – interesting challenge, as in life, to come to these realizations on one’s own. Where are these rites of passage? How do I get to/through them?) Gratitude – the anchor of everything, what everything comes back to, even Decay and Death. A powerful meditation. In deciding where to leave my own private memorial, as if really mattered where, I chose this tower.
As is the case every year, festival attendees quickly fill up almost every square inch of real estate on the buildings with inscriptions, mementos, artwork, poetry. Some are simple and impromptu Read more