Behind the Scenes with the Mazu Temple Builders

Sarah Kihls fabricates a steel dragon, one of several that will perch on Mazu's roofline.
Sarah Kihls fabricates a steel dragon, one of eight that will perch on Mazu’s roofline.

For nearly a full year now, an international crew of artists, craftspeople, designers, builders, engineers (and at least one poet) have been working nonstop to create a temple for Mazu, Goddess of the Empty Sea — a piece you’ll soon be able to experience and interact with on playa. What’s more, they’ve turned this project into a new arts collective that could keep them working on similar projects for years to come.

Photographer Aleksey Bochkovsky has documented many a workday with this crew. Here’s a look at what they’re doing, and more about what makes Mazu’s temple, and its crew, unique. All photos by Aleksey.

Charlie Nguyen paints the roof outside The Generator in Reno, Mazu's US build site.
Charlie Nguyen paints the roof outside The Generator in Reno, Mazu’s US build site.
John Julius Little assembles the 108 lanterns, provided by Texas artists Dave and Marrilee Archer, to light the temple perimeter.
John Julius Little assembles the 108 lanterns, provided by Texas artists Dave and Marrilee Archer, to light the temple perimeter.
Nathan Parker, project manager.
Nathan Parker, project manager.

“We’re raising the bar for craftsmanship, detail and interactivity,” says project leader Nathan Parker, who previously worked for several years as an electrician for the Black Rock City Department of Public Works.

“Most of the art that people create to be burned has a temporary feel,” he continues.

“We want this to feel real and permanent. We want people to say, ‘Why are you going to burn that? Don’t burn that!’”

But it will burn. The Mazu temple’s laser-cut panels; its hand-painted, sanded, stained woodwork; its arching 40-foot-high lotus flower will all go away. In the process, they’ll reveal the underlying steel structure: a self-standing sculpture that will one day be installed permanently in a public space. (more…)

MOOP MAP 2014: Black Rock City Will Rise Again

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

DA, Playa Restoration Manager/Mastermind, and his fabulous and brilliant assistant Irene.
DA, Playa Restoration Manager/Mastermind, and his fabulous and brilliant assistant Irene.

In the midst of the bass-thumping, fire-florid, neon-edged glory of Black Rock City, we forget ourselves, lose our boundaries, recombine with our neighbors to become something new. And even as we’re out there, as Larry Harvey might say, “jiggling our molecules around,” there’s an awareness — this doesn’t last forever.

We have this window in time, this brilliant moment to reinvent ourselves into something slightly better, truer, more vibrant and conscious.

Well, I’m here to tell you that, even though the window for 2014 has closed, it will open again in 2015. Congratulations, Black Rock City: You successfully left no trace on the playa, helping to ensure that Burning Man can return to the desert we love.

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MOOP MAP 2014: Resto Love Letter

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Somebody left this message for us. The feeling is mutual. Photo by Tiffany Sinacola.
Somebody left this message for us. The feeling is mutual. Photo by Tiffany Sinacola.

…and just like that, it was over…

It’s hard to describe Burning Man to someone who’s never been — and it’s even harder to describe working for Burning Man. In all the dimensions, all the realms of the vast universe, there can be nothing else that even approaches this experience. I consider myself lucky to have discovered it.

This is the tenth year since I became a member of the Department of Public Works. Green as I was back in 2005, it only took me a few days to fall head over heels in love with these people: the strong, weird, passionate, fiercely individual, workaholic and totally misanthropic friends I’d been seeking my entire life. It is my great privilege to spend two months in the desert with the DPW every year, breaking our backs to build Black Rock City for little to no reward — other than the pleasure of each other’s company.

And what a pleasure it is. Each year, I write the Moop Map blog series not just as a celebration of Black Rock City and of the incredible accomplishment of leaving no trace — but as a love letter to the DPW, the best people I’ve ever known.

Today is the last day of operation for the Black Rock Saloon, our staff watering hole in Gerlach. Tomorrow, the BLM arrives to inspect the Burning Man site. As usual, the people of BRC and the DPW have left the place squeaky clean, ready for (much hoped for) winter rains to wash away our tracks. When the inspection is done, we’ll all scatter, the DPW diaspora extending once again around the globe until next August calls us home.

Thanks for a great year, Black Rock City. Tune in Wednesday for the results of the BLM’s site inspection, which will determine whether Burning Man will happen in 2015.

Till then, enjoy a few photos of the beautiful DPW Playa Restoration crew. You can find more of them here and here.

Burning Man Playa Restoration 2014

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MOOP MAP 2014: Storm Front

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

It’s been a warm September. For those who’ve been out here since early August or before, the heat has seemed relentless: an unending series of hot, still afternoons on the baking Black Rock Desert.

But at this time of year, you never know what tomorrow brings. You don’t even know what the weather will do in an hour. The desert creates its own atmospheric conditions: storms that sweep across the entire West will break up and encircle the playa without ever touching down. Or, they’ll intensify in power as they eddy and swirl, trapped in a rage between the surrounding mountain ranges. The Playa Restoration crew has a detailed evacuation protocol for such situations — like the one that happened yesterday.

There was a rumor that weather was coming, but that’s a rumor we hear often (usually followed by “but it probably won’t hit us”). It wasn’t until the black ridge of clouds crested the mountaintop that we started to worry. And then, out of nowhere, the temperature dropped ten degrees. The wind began to howl. And the desert surface lifted up into the sky.

Witch Doctor & Rebecca brave the sudden onslaught. Photo: Aaron Muszalski / @sfslim.
Witch Doctor & Rebecca brave the sudden onslaught. Photo: Aaron Muszalski / @sfslim.

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MOOP MAP 2014: Leaving No Trace Around the World

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

I’ll be straight with you, Black Rock City: The map I have to show you today is not from Burning Man 2014. It’s not from Burning Man at all. It’s not even from this continent.

Today, I’m proud to show you the 2014 Moop Map from Tankwa Town, South Africa.

Click the map to read AfrikaBurn's 2014 moop report.
Click the map to read AfrikaBurn’s 2014 moop report.

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MOOP MAP 2014: Greenest Esplanade Ever!

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Dear Black Rock City:

Normally today I would write a blog post about how we can all continue to do better at Leaving No Trace on the playa.

Instead, it is my great pleasure to tell you that we have passed a new milestone, reached a new high water mark, accomplished a feat never before seen in the history of Burning Man: An almost entirely GREEN Esplanade.

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MOOP MAP 2014: 3 Steps to Get the Green

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

There was a time (ten short years ago) when Burning Man had no Playa Restoration crew. Volunteers from the Department of Public Works would stay long after the event for “cleanup,” which ended when the playa was clean. The Burning Man community had always taken great care and individual responsibility in Leaving No Trace, and the cleanup crew was always able to ensure that the BLM would approve of Black Rock City’s efforts and allow our city of dust to keep flourishing. But slowly, as our population grew, it became more and more difficult to restore the playa to a perfectly moop-free state.

Playa Restoration was founded by D.A. in 2005. His goal: To change attitudes about what it really means to “clean up” Black Rock City. In 2006, we created Burning Man’s first Moop Map. The community could finally see what it meant to Leave No Trace, and how it was possible to improve. The effect of the map was dramatic: an immediate and lasting improvement in Burning Man’s impact trace.

Over the years, the Moop Map has been an excellent way for the Resto team to report back on the effectiveness of Black Rock City’s efforts to Leave No Trace. And as you can see, even as the city has grown, Burning Man’s overall moopiness has actually improved. Make no mistake: That is due to the dedication and hard work of the people of Black Rock City.

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MOOP MAP 2014: Roadside Poop & HexaMoop

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

When an unexpectedly vicious Monday rainstorm shut down all access to Burning Man this year, the flow of traffic into Black Rock City came to a complete standstill. For a day and a night, the highways transformed into parking lots, then into campgrounds.

If you were one of the thousands stuck out there, your entire community salutes you. Sansa Asylum, manager of the DPW Highway Cleanup crew, salutes you too: This year, even with the delays, the roadsides were cleaner than ever before.

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