Words and Images by Barron Hanson

A common perception of Burning Man is one of a drug-fuelled dance party in the desert at which clothes are optional. Sure, you can find those things, and then some. Though there are also the much less publicized aspects of the nine-day festival that are equally important and even more essential to the full Black Rock City experience. ‘The Temple’ is a place that many Burners visit both sober and alone. For some revelers, this gigantic piece of timber craftsmanship is the most important place on the Playa.

Being the final structure to burn on the Sunday night, the Temple burning ceremony stands in stark contrast to the famous “man” burning on Saturday night, the Temple burn is experienced in silence…apart from crying and the occasional scream of “I love you”, “I miss you” or “fuck you”. The importance of the Temple is not only what is released, be it a broken heart, a loved one, a bad habit, substance abuse or a secret, but what it represents: a collective transformation for the 50,000 or so witnesses.

The Temple itself has inspired its own tradition amongst Burning Man attendees. Starting as a nude structure on the far reaches of the playa, it is slowly filled with photos, letters, personal items, art and effigies as the week goes on. Letters written to the departed, to the writer themselves, to everyone or to no one consume the structure. It’s a space to be vulnerable. To let go. To contemplate and reflect. In today’s ever-connected image-conscious society, spaces like these are as rare as they are powerful.

 

Dubbed “Galaxia”, this year’s temple was shaped from twenty timber trusses converging in spiral pointing sixty feet towards the sky. The triangular trusses criss-cross upwards, encapsulating a central space in which sat a giant 3D printed mandala. The timber alcoves around the edges make for small private spaces where people can sit in silence to feel its embrace. Constructed in Reno and San Francisco from 2400 triangles, the Temple was assembled by a team of 125 personnel over two weeks preceding the festival and was crowdfunded by 400 backers, easily surpassing their original goal of $100,000 to raise $142,000.

In our modern lives, we are prone to carrying burdens: the loss of a loved one, personal mistakes, and our own misgivings. In today’s fast-paced and oft-unforgiving society, excellent mechanisms allowing us to let go are few and far between. Holding onto things eventually takes both a mental and physical toll on us all. For many people, The Temple is their annual chance to fully grieve or let go.

Great art should inspire action. So why not take something painful in your life, turn it into something beautiful and then set it alight. After all, when was the last time you truly let go?

Final Image by John Curley