The Temple takes shape

Jess Hobbs in the desert as the Temple of Flux goes up

The Temple of Flux is being put in place in the far reaches of the playa, and it’s radically different than anything that has come before it. Not radical in the sense that it draws attention to itself by its differentness, but radical in its approach to and relationship with its environment.

Wooden panels will swoop and soar, and they’ll be clad in whitewashed wood. And the erected hills will create interior canyons, places for respite and reflection.

As it takes shape in the center of the Black Rock Desert, surrounded by rounded hills of many colors, the Temple seems to have found the place where it belongs. It is appropriate to the landscape, and man’s relationship with the desert vastness is re-emphasized by the Temple’s presence.  Rather than usurp the terrain, the Temple seeks harmony with it.

It’s the biggest installation in artistic director Jess Hobb’s career. “It’s grandiose,” she says lightly, “but I also wanted to make it feel personal. I wanted people … not to feel small, but to feel connected to something larger.’’

The Temple is and always has been a place for haven and refuge, and perhaps this is the year that it is needed most. The 2010 theme of Metropolis connotes bustle and vibrancy and chaos and crowded anonymity. The Temple is the counterpoint to the constructed city; Metropolis is of man, the Temple is of nature. It seems meant to be here.

If you wandered off into the hills surrounding the Black Rock Desert, you’d soon be winding your way through the kinds of canyons that are being built  in the Temple of Flux. Each of the Temple’s canyons is named — Bryce, Cayuaga, Dumont, Antelope and El Dorado. All of the places hold significance to various members of the Temple team, perhaps most notably Cayuaga, which is near Cornell, New York,  where many members of the creative team attended school.

Hobbs received her Masters from the San Francisco Art Institute, where she lectures on the integration of social community and art. She is articulate and vivacious and whip-smart. She’s dressed all in pink, “kind of an inside joke,” poking fun at traditional notions of femininity.

Hobbs and her frequent collaborator Rebecca Anders installed “Fishbug” on the playa last year, but it was as they were returning from a visit to Dan Glass’ “Crow Mother” that she and Anders looked at each other and decided in that moment of excitement that, “We should do the Temple!”  But a hectic schedule prevented them from committing to the project. That changed in mid-March,  when the Burning Man Organization asked them to take on the job. They enlisted an architect for the project, Peter “PK” Kimmelman, and off they went.

“Where did we first start memorializing things?” Hobbs asks. “In canyons and caves.” So they incorporated the enduring Temple purpose of remembrance into an installation that would take its inspiration from the natural surroundings of the desert.

“There will be nooks and crannies of private space” throughout the Temple, Hobbs said, squinting at a three-dimensional model in the blazing heat and blinding midday sun.

Hobbs asked the Burning Man organization for the exact coordinates of the Temple’s placement before deciding on its final orientation. She wanted to make sure that people could take best advantage of what it had to offer. “Where’s the sun coming up,” she asks. “Where will people be able to sit and watch and reflect?”

There are 60 people on the worksite now, assembling 75 panels that are detailed in nearly a hundred pages of blueprints and instructions. The crew will continue to swell as the event approaches, eventually numbering approximately 120 people.

The preparatory work was done at American Steel in Oakland, and the first members of the construction crew arrived in the middle of last week. That was just a few days after PayPal tried to freeze funds donated to the Flux project, alleging that they had not provided sufficient information about their status as a non-profit. PayPal eventually allowed a one-time withdrawal and the account was drained, but late contributions will languish there until the legal matters are cleared up. (If you want to help make a dent in their sizable deficit, check on the best method for contributions at the group’s website here.

Hobbs seems happiest when she talks about the number of collaborators this project has required. “We’re not really size queens,” she says, laughing. Although she was involved with some of the outsized projects of the Flaming Lotus Girls, including the Serpent Mother, she seems matter-of-fact when explaining why this project became so large.

“It needed to be of a certain size to speak to its surroundings,” she says.

Temple collaborator Rebecca Anders on site.

News for the burgeoning camp is posted on a whiteboard.

Evidence of the crew's involvement witth the Flaming Lotus girls is everywhere

Anders and Hobbs have collaborated on more than a few projects, but this is their largest.

Minx makes sure the camp is running smoothly and that the crew is well-hydrated.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

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