David Best: Temple Builder
At this moment, in the cracked desert plains of northern Nevada, thousands of volunteers, artists and organizers are converging in preparation for the upcoming Burning Man festival. Since 1991 the festival has taken place in the remote Black Rock Desert, drawing tens of thousands of participants and featuring a boundless scope of music shows, art installations, themed camps and energetic performances. The festival is a humanitarian, collective testament to the power of innovation and imagination.
Returning this year after a short hiatus is the esteemed sculptor David Best, known to the Burning Man community as the chief mind behind the ever-popular Temple installations; Intricately-patterned shrines made from punched-out cardboard that have graced the playa since 2000. A powerful symbol of rejuvenation has been attached of these structures, which soon became reliquaries for thousands of precious objects; messages, trinkets and mementos left by grieving burners in memory of their loved ones. Solace was found in tucking these treasures away in the gaps of the latticed walls. These temporary installations have become one of the festivals’ most cherished ‘contributions’; their designs grow larger and more elaborate every year to accommodate the increasing number of visitors seeking to unburden their hearts. The lacy, almost grotesque patterns of Best’s Temple of the Mind (2000) have given way to the soaring filigree onion-domes of the Temple of Honour (2003). This year Best and his team of devoted volunteers will build their most elaborate temple yet, the Temple of Juno, a three-storied sanctuary dedicated to the Roman goddess, whose epithets include the protector of mothers. The title was chosen to coincide with this year’s theme for the festival, Fertility 2.0.
To reflect the ritual burning of the Man, a gigantic wooden construction in the semblance of a human silhouette, the Temple is likewise put to the flame at the festival’s closing. Its lightweight construction makes it perfect fodder for the flame but must also be contained in view of the playa’s stringent conservation laws. The arid environment is incredibly sensitive and heavily protected; as a result the festival has a strict “take nothing, leave nothing” policy. Before the temple may be constructed, geologists must conduct soil-reports to ensure the structure will not crumble due to the ground’s fractured surface.
The temples are not only reflections of the artistic process, (built only to be almost immediately destroyed, yet reincarnated every year more glorious than the last) but also of the relationship between art and the viewer. Through the latter’s interaction with the current installation a new temple is subsequently shaped and moulded, the seed of its design ripening for a year, and flowering not once, but twice: firstly at the hands of an earnest crew, secondly by the light of the torch. The cycle of its conception, realization and destruction embodies the cycle of our corporeal as well as spiritual existence and promises life after grief and hardship. The filigreed, exquisite patterns recall the aesthetic of Tibetan or Balinese shrines: “There are certain things a temple has to do in order to give you the freedom to release the demons that you have…” explains David Best. “It has to be so beautiful […] that you are about to give up the thing that’s been haunting you for most of your life”.
For more information on the temples, click here
- Stephanie Read