Burners in flux - Page 2

Why would anyone spend four months and $180,000 building something that will only last a week? The answer says a lot about Burning Man culture

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The 21,000-square-foot Temple of Flux rises in the desert
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY JOHN CURLEY

Indeed, a steady in-flow of volunteers showed up, ranging from experienced builders and grizzled Burning Man veterans to first-time burners (and a few who weren't even attending the event) with no relevant skills but a desire to help in any way they can. Almost all said they were honored to simply be a part of the project and were willing to devote themselves to it.

"I've been amazed by people's dedication and devotion. That doesn't necessarily happen in the real world," PK said.

This was a project that required an immense commitment, from raising the $120,000 needed to supplement a $60,000 art grant from Burning Man organizers to the thousands of person-hours required to build and burn it. And there were many unexpected obstacles to overcome along the way, such as when PayPal froze the group's finances just as they were leaving for the playa.

 

BEFORE METROPOLIS

The only set pieces at Burning Man each year are the Man and the Temple, which get burned on successive nights as the week ends. Only the base of the Man changes each year, but the Temple gets designed from scratch. This is the first year the Temple isn't a traditional building, but rather a throwback to precivilization.

The temple's structure resembles five dunes, named for notable ridges, canyons, and land forms — Antelope, Bryce, Cayuga, Dumont, and El Dorado — the latter the biggest at more than 80 feet tall. Together they form sheltering canyons and create a contrast to the event's Metropolis art theme and the tower that the Man stands on this year.

"Before we even discussed it together, we all gravitated toward the idea of natural formations, and the more we talked about it, the more it made sense. We wanted to relate Metropolis back to where we came from," said Jessica Hobbs, who has done several large-scale artworks at Burning Man, last year creating Fishbug with fellow Temple artist Rebecca Anders.

Rebecca and Jess are veterans of the fire arts collective Flaming Lotus Girls (see "Angels of the Apocalypse," 8/17/05), whose members are playing key roles with the Temple project as the group takes a year off. Rebecca has known PK since college and they've long talked about doing a big project together. The opportunity presented itself this year when Burning Man officials approached Jess and Rebecca about doing the Temple.

An architect by training, PK said the design and theme aren't as incongruous as they might initially seem. "If the city was going to be architectural, then the Temple should stand in counterpoint to that and go back to where our collective enterprise began. Man originally sought shelter and dwelling in the land, in caves, and in canyons, and it was only after existing in the cradle of the earth, literally, that man then started making and building structures that became more and more elaborate ... and we relate to it in very much the same way we once related to the peaks and canyons," PK said.

Yet if the temple design seems to buck the Metropolis theme, the massive collaboration that created it epitomizes the urban ideal that Black Rock City is all about these days, as the chaotic frontier of old becomes a vibrant city with a distinctive DIY culture. The Temple of Flux drew together people of all skill sets from a wide variety of camps to design, build, fundraise, support, and create the nonprofit Flux Foundation to continue the collaboration into the future.

From the first meeting in mid-May, the project was broken down into teams devoted to design and structural engineering, fundraising, construction, a legal team (to create the nonprofit Flux Foundation, among other things), infrastructure and logistics, documentation, and the burn team, each headed by capable, experienced leaders (most of them women) with the authority to make myriad decisions big and small along the way.