Temple and Dust
This year I was fortunate enough to spend time with some of the Temple Crew and I was privy to the energy, values and belief they put into building the Temple of Juno. I found that talking about the Temple soon becomes a discussion about something ethereal, something bigger than an art project and rather something that is a significant locus not only in Black Rock City but also within each of the people who are working on constructing it, including those who fill it up once the structure is finished. The Temple is something vital and real to our community. It is a sacred place amidst the dust.
I’m not an expert at these kinds of things, but from what I’ve encountered, the Temple Crew is a group who feels deeply about what they build. Many have been touched by grief. They are all unified in their sense of purpose, even if they all bring different points of view and motivations to the creation of the Temple.
Temple Crew in the Dust
I hung around the work site, then at their camp and they were a hard working bunch, but they always had time to talk to me when I asked about what they were doing. That seems to be a running theme among the crew.
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[Jennifer Raiser is an avid long-time Burner, Burning Man Project board member, theme camp leader, and Black Rock Ranger. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Nob Hill Gazette and most often for her publication, SFWire.]
“How was Burning Man?” they inquire as I ascend the shallow red-carpeted stairs leading up to the Opera House. It is five days after Exodus, and I am reluctantly back in San Francisco, Center Camp of the default domain. I am here to mark the festive highlight of another tribe, the ninetieth annual Opening Night at the Opera. To some, this happy occasion commands the same kind of importance that we associate with Burn night. Tonight’s task is to write about the grand gesture of opera and the people who are its patrons. I am charged with distilling and interpreting the evening into an article to be read by those who attend, and those who do not. The dual role as enthusiast and observer is familiar. On playa, I am a passionate participant, a Ranger, a theme camp leader, a volunteer and an author; here, I am a friendly alien who comes from that arid planet near Gerlach and happens to pen a social column.
Acquaintances here are polite and prodding about the desert. They indulgently inquire about Burning Man in the same way you might bring up a shared alma mater, or a mutual love of licorice, knowing it is a certain conversation starter. Some truly want to know, some want me to know that they know, or think they know, about my annual retreat to my happiest (and saddest, and most demanding) place on earth. I try to disarm their suspicion with the comparisons between tonight and the burning of the Man. In both places, I remind them, like-minded spirits gather to share a communal dinner, enthusiastic dancing, and well-stocked bars openly coursing with goodwill. We are corseted and costumed in ensembles carefully curated for the occasion. We mark this artistic triumph with the biggest party of the year. Read more »
Pier Crew, photo portaplaya
Building Art in Black Rock City isn’t easy. Schedules mean something very different on the playa. You have to do all your pre-fabrication off playa and may never see the whole thing built before you get out here. You have to tow all your stuff out there, set up camp on a desert floor, stirring up fine alkaline particulate that seeps into every tool, utensil and tent you have, and you have to include “dust days” in your set up time. Sometimes the weather just won’t let up and cranes and other heavy equipment can’t be used until it calms down. We saw a lot of dust days this year during set up. And there’s heat, and swarms of stinging ants and frogs raining. Actually, I haven’t seen the ants and frogs, but it really is hot out there. Regardless, despite the challenges, every year artists bring out their installations to grace Black Rock City for the short week of Burning Man.
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Dismantling The Universe Revolves Around YOU, photo Barbarino
The Art is disappearing out here overnight, with a couple of the non-burnable huge pieces like Zach Coffin’s The Universe Revolves Around YOU and Pier 2 in the process of being taken down. The playa’s pretty much empty now with only the Man pile still burning, the Dragon Smelter and Bone Tree hanging around the Esplanade, and I’m told about four pieces out there waiting to be pulled up. Burn piles out where David Best’s Temple of Juno, The Man and Otto Von Danger’s Burn Wall Street stood, are being tended to by those cleanup crews.
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As you’ve no doubt heard, there were a couple Burns out here last night. We had a strong showing by our valiant Man who held on as long as he could before slipping in a mass of fire and embers below to howls primeval. His pavilion lasted much longer than he and it was probably the most substantial structure I’ve ever seen the Man stand upon since he’s been on top of them. It was a fitting and beautiful tribute to the man who designed it, Rod Garrett.
Tonight the Temple burns and all of the emotion we’ve put in there this week will wash up in a cathartic column of fire, sparks and ash that will send those notes of love and loss and of grief and forgiveness swirling into the night sky. Dust tornadoes will form and dance around us as if they are our loved ones lost, caressing us in the firelight’s glow, saying do not worry, everything is as perennial as the seasons, or the plants that return each spring or the love that brings us all together eventually.
Princess with her Sparkle Pony
Princess Blahblahblah came by the ARTery with her pony that she’s been bringing out here for years. She’s with Kentucky Fried Camp and someone stole the pony a day or so ago and the camp was predictably bummed until yesterday when the pony mysteriously re-appeared and had been Sparkle Ponied, with new faux fur on her mane and sides, hearts and sparkles glued all over her. A Polaroid was left; a picture of the Pony with another smaller pony out near the Temple at sunrise, with a note that read “Thank you for dancing with me all night.”
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Eggs Bar on Center Camp
Eva told Mike and I a story yesterday when we were at Eggchair’s bar in Center Camp and I cannot attest to the facts nor the timelines, but our discussion of art tours took a bit of a detour and she said something very close to this.
“Back in 1993 Larry Harvey wanted to bring a porta pottie to the playa for what they were calling ‘Burning Man’ and he came over to my place and helped me pack my van for the trip. He helped me entirely pack but I think he was waiting for that twenty dollars we all were putting in to pool our money for the porta pottie because none of us had much money.”
“We finished packing, I gave him the twenty dollars and he took a napkin and wrote down the directions to the playa with ‘get off the playa here’ and ‘go 3.5 miles this direction then go 1 mile that direction.’ He then wrote ‘Paid 20$ for porta potties’ and signed it Larry Harvey.”
“So, I came up here to Black Rock and followed the directions. It was Wednesday and we didn’t burn the Man until Sunday then so I finally find where they are and Larry is in a pup tent and the Man is in the back of a pickup with about twenty people camping there. On Sunday it was a great burn and about a thousand people showed up, a lot of them from Reno.”
Mike took a sip of his drink and said, “Do you still have that napkin? That might be worth something. It sounds like one of the first tickets to Burning Man ever.”
Eva thought a second then said, “No, there wasn’t any toilet paper in the porta potties so I had to use it to wipe. I’d already followed the directions and found Burning Man.”
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The Temple in progress
Despite four days of nightly white outs, including the mother of all sandstorms and 12 hour delays on I-80 over the pass, being surrounded by hundreds of wild fires burning, and rumors of a fuel line break that would make gas impossible to procur, somehow most of the art for this year is either complete or almost there. This is indeed a fertile year for art as it springs up seemingly everywhere on the playa.
A few of the larger pieces are still putting on finishing touches. The Temple of Juno is built and there are only cherry pickers affixing the intricate decorations to the outer walls as they finish the altars inside the courtyard and Burn Wall Street has all their buildings up and at night you can see the neon signs.
Zonotopia and the Two Trees
Now that the gates are open, playa citizens wander along in fresh packs wearing clothes that have yet to be brushed with the color of playa. They ride through the art on blinking bikes as mutant vehicles boom or blast disco and the city now hums with the sound of construction as themecamps spring up along the Esplanade, and points beyond are filling in. Scaffolding rises, Pink furry places with fluffy couches and Shipwreck Tiki Lounges are close to being open for camaraderie. The graceful French Quarter, BaalMart, Spankys and large scale sound camps of pyramids and enormous domes lit from inside at night out at the ends of the city are appearing with wild abandon in this frontier town.
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Completing the Pistil
48 hours after the Otic Oasis crew entered the Man Base to build the Pistil, the last of a tirad of finials atop the piece were put into place. The Pistil is composed of Gregg Fleishman’s interlocking wooden pieces and it spans most of the middle of the Man Pavilion, climbing up to just below where the Man stands above over the open oculus. It’s an elegant sculpture that swirls around in a series of modules connected by stairways with a flowing symmetry suggesting both a honeycomb and very much this year’s theme of Fertility.
Scott and Gregg with a node
The crew climbed all over the sculpture working, and as the last pistil top was lowered, there were many deft fingers in there making adjustments, with bodies intertwined, twisting and raising the graceful piece into place. When the node slid down to a stop there was applause. Then one by one, curved vertical pieces were inserted and pins placed, then each crew member took a turn knocking the pins into place with their mallets. It was all very deliberate and with the absence of power tools, it seemed very ritualistic and beautiful to behold. Read more »