Empyrean: Meet Your 2020 Temple & Artists

Burning Man Arts is thrilled to announce that we have selected the 2020 Temple: “Empyrean” by Laurence “Renzo” Verbeck and Sylvia Adrienne Lisse.

Every year, we explore a spectrum of design submissions from our community’s artists and builders, and we approach our decision with the goal of creating a special physical space on playa for Black Rock City’s citizens to share their reflections. 

Empyrean was chosen for its lovely geometry and inclusive design, as well as for its strong leads and crew who have demonstrated the experience, integrity and feasibility necessary to create this unique space. We can’t wait to see their vision come to life!

Aerial view of Empyrean’s eight-pointed star shape

The Design

In medieval cosmology, “Empyrean” represents the highest celestial point, the apex where humanity can touch the cosmic dimensions. Fittingly, this sacred confluence is believed to be the birthplace of fire.

The Empyrean Temple is shaped like an eight-pointed star, 70’ at its highest point and 200’ in diameter, with multiple entrances and exits. Each of the eight spokes starts from a zero point at the tip and gradually rises and widens to form a canopy at the center hub.

These eight vast canopies create the sanctuary of the temple. The walls of the canopies will provide ample space to place offerings. The wooden panelling of each spoke transforms from solid patterns at the narrow tip into radiating, tessellated, artistic patterns at the wide end of the canopies. This allows sunlight to enter the paneling by day, while the canopy designs will be lit internally by warm white light at night.

Hovering above the central gathering space is a large wooden sculpture representing a flame. This flame rises up from the center of the Temple and can be seen from all over Black Rock City, day or night. The flame will be illuminated by a warm, flickering light to simulate fire.

Flag poles are integrated into the design; there will be flags that any participant can freely write on and pulley to the top, taking advantage of vertical space and allowing written offerings to be carried by the wind.

The central interior of Empyrean represents the point where one can interact with their own highest concept of the divine. This pinnacle point offers the healing properties of its central, eternal flame: reflection, resolution, release, and renewal.

The Lead Artists

Renzo and Sylvia are co-lead artists. They met and bonded over the build of the beautiful Temple of Direction in 2019, and were inspired to dream up their own Temple project together.

Renzo is a Colorado-based professional builder, architect, contractor, and sculptor with 30 years’ experience in these fields. He also has on-playa construction experience as a leader with the Temple of Direction.

“The creation of art, whether a large structure like Empyrean or molding a handful of clay, is a deeply fulfilling process,” says Renzo. “It’s a lifelong calling without a name or voice. The energy, drive and cooperative creative spirit that envelopes collaborative creation, like a Temple build, inspired me to submit a Temple design for 2020 and lead people to the height of their individual and group potential.”

Since 2013, Sylvia has worked on large-scale, interactive art teams and created her own interactive art at Black Rock City, Regional Events, and festivals. She recently worked with the Flaming Lotus Girls as a seamstress and welder on “Serenity,” a 2019 Honorarium project, and, as an on-playa Build Lead with the Temple of Direction. Sylvia also volunteers with the Burning Man ARTery. Between art projects Sylvia works as a Travel Radiologic Technologist specializing in trauma and surgical imaging at medical centers around the US.

Sylvia shares, “The Temple is a subtle and humble beacon that radiates at an indescribable magnitude. It offers a safe, neutral place that can facilitate powerful healing. During my first burn in 2008 when I went into the Temple, its transcendent energy helped me heal the paralyzing grief I had been carrying from the loss of my twin brother. That auspicious release allowed me to live life with a greater sense of love. I aim to create interactive heART, art from within the heart, that serves to help others find their own healing.”

How You Can Get Involved

Building the Black Rock City Temple is a significant undertaking. It’s also a chance to realize a dream and create a space for thousands of participants to have meaningful experiences.

Interested in joining the Temple Crew? While Renzo, Sylvia, and their team already have some roles filled, they will be looking to the community to help bring the Temple to life. The build will take place primarily in Oakland, and interested folks from other locations can get involved, too. We expect a call for volunteers to come sometime in the spring. In the meantime, you can let them know your interest, skills, experience and availability via this form.

Building the Temple is a big financial commitment, and the grant covers only a portion of the total expenses. If you’re looking to make a donation, we’re pleased to share that Empyrean has just launched their fundraising campaign. Please visit their fundraising site if you’re interested in contributing.

About the author: Katie Hazard

Katie Hazard

Katie Hazard (yes that’s her real last name) is the Associate Director of Burning Man Arts. She oversees the selection, placement, and installation of over 400 artworks annually in Black Rock City and beyond. She’s been passionate about arts administration and grants management for many years; she has a degree in Art History from the University of Notre Dame, worked at the Art Institute of Chicago, and spent 10 years at Harvard University as a Senior Grants Manager. Katie’s first year on playa was 2000, and she volunteered for 10 years (DMV, Man Base Lighting, art build crews, theme camp organization, Fire Conclave) before joining the staff in 2013. Katie is also a certified yoga teacher and has been a practitioner of Buddhist meditation for more than a decade.

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