The Black Rock Design Institute Presents “An Evening With David Best”
Thursday, December 13, at 6pm
Nevada Museum of Art
180 West Liberty Street
Temple of Juno by David Best and The Temple Crew, 2012
Internationally acclaimed sculptor and architect David Best has created seven temples for Black Rock City, including the first “Temple of the Mind” in 2000, and the “Temple of Juno” in 2012. With inspiring scale and intricacy, David’s architecturally and psychologically significant structures are striking on the vast Black Rock Desert canvas. More importantly, David’s designs serve as a monumental community touchstone for Black Rock Citizens, and for the lives they have touched, culminating in a serenely beautiful burn. As many testify, David often gives spontaneous, deeply insightful, and emotionally moving talks about the intent, meaning, and experiences of the Temples. This lecture will be a wonderful opportunity to hear David’s deeper insights and broader outlooks on these phenomenal works.
Temple of Juno, 2012
Kerry Rohrmeier, cultural geography researcher and urban planner, will also be giving an introductory presentation on “Welcome to Black Rock City”. In studying Black Rock City through varied cultural, geographic, and historical lenses, Kerry will share some emerging lessons for participants in the creation of our yearly ephemerapolis.
Museum doors open for the evening at 5pm with refreshments and socializing. Lecture begins at 6pm. Tickets are now available here.
Black Rock Design Institute, the host for the evening, is a not-for-profit 501c3 comprised of Reno-area designers dedicated to improving our urban environment. More on the Black Rock Design Institute can be found here.
(Content generously provided by Nathan Aaron Heller and Kerry Rohrmeier.)
[Lee Gilmore teaches Religion & Anthropology at California State University Northridge and is author of Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]
As travelers, historians, and archaeologists can tell you, great cities contain spiritual and ritual centers–physical manifestations of the human quest for the transcendent and magisterial. Grand cathedrals, imposing temples, and mosques with soaring minarets–each an attempt to intersect both divine and earthly powers. For Black Rock City, that heart is perhaps best identified with the annual Temples–each an ephemeral locus of memory and mourning.
Rod Garrett tells us that the origins of BRC’s famous layout of concentric circles lay in pragmatic and organic decisions. Nevertheless, when viewed through a symbolic lens, its template readily suggests a labyrinth or mandala. The placement of the Man at the BRC’s center readily evokes what historian of religion Mircea Eliade called the axis mundi–a symbolic manifestation of the sacred center of the cosmos and the location of hierophany–the eruption of the sacred into the profane world. As both the spatial center and temporal apex towards which each annual event is definitively aimed, The Man forms axis of space and time in Black Rock City.
Yet over the course of the past decade, the sacred heart of Burning Man has shifted a few hundred yards outward. Where the Burning of the Man can bring joy, catharsis, and transformation sharpened into a singular, ecstatic moment, Temples’ rites can engender a deeper and perhaps more difficult self-examination in asking us to consider our own mortality.
The Temples grew out of tragedy and immediacy when Petaluma artist David Best first transformed his 2000 playa installation called the Temple of the Mind into an impromptu memorial for a friend who had died in the weeks just before the event that year.
Temple of Tears, 2001
In 2001, a similar but significantly expanded structure would be called the Temple of Tears where all Black Rock Citizens were invited to inscribe memorials upon ornate wooden walls and to leave behind photos and other objects of personal significance. As my friend and colleague Sarah Pike has noted, through the physical inscription of memories on the Temple’s walls, and in turn through reading the inscriptions of others, participants were able to share, ritualize, and transform private grief into public expression in ways that are generally unavailable to many contemporary Americans. Finally, on the festival’s final night, the Temple and its tokens were ultimately offered up in flame, dust, and ashes as thousands looked on in reverential silence.
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For those familiar with the emotional catharsis that can be discovered through the Burning Man experience—resonating both on and off the playa, and effecting real change in the worlds beyond Black Rock City—this story may strike a chord.
A couple months ago, Harley DuBois, longtime BRC LLC member and City Manager, was invited to serve as an “Instigator” and lead a workshop for museum professionals attending a “Creativity and Collaboration” retreat at Asilomar. (Other “Instigators” included representatives from the Exploratorium, LucasFilm, and an “Alternate Reality Game” designer, among others).
For Harley’s session, she worked with participants to build a Shrine dedicated to memorializing loss, with the plan to collectively burn it that evening. (Sound familiar?) Prior to the workshop, she sought the support of David Best—well-known to many Burners for initiating the annual tradition of building memorial Temples on the playa—in order to obtain materials and to learn tips on Temple construction from the master.
In facilitating the Shrine’s creation for retreat participants, Harley had them organize themselves into four groups—sorters, builders, decorators, and mavericks—in order to expedite various aspects of construction. But perhaps most importantly, she asked them to talk with one another about loss as they worked in their groups to create the Shrine, and to “get it real in their bodies.” For some—the great majority of whom had never been to Burning Man—this was more than they had bargained for.
Harley reports that some participants were soon sobbing out their grief, as they confronted various losses and deaths encountered in their lives. Later, the small groups were asked to report back to the rest. Harley recalled one woman in particular who spoke of “emptiness” and the difficulty of holding on to people and memories, as she held her hands gently cupped.
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