Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Collective Memorial

As I am contemplating the loss of my grandmother last week, I was reminded of the power of the communal engagement with the Temple of Flux at this year's Burning Man and the unique way that it enables collective mourning. So I thought I'd share.

It’s increasingly common for memorials to allow people to engage with the structure as a means of sharing loss as Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial was among the first to depart from its static predecessors considerably. But few of them take that experience to the level that Burning Man’s Temple did this year. Allowing people to share in a communal expression of grief openly in public initiated many powerful moments: people struggling to hold it together as they write on the walls; not a dry eye to be found as many are moved by stories that you know so little about contributed anonymously; complete strangers consoling one another. It’s a level of honesty and openness and exposure that we rarely allow ourselves to experience in most public spaces, but it was pervasive in the canyons of this years Temple. It’s a collective grief and a collective celebration of the ability to move on.

What’s so amazing about The Temple of Flux was the complete lack of guidance and rules around how to engage with it. In years passed people often left offerings to remember those they lost in the past year, but this temple was designed to receive these offerings in thousands of unique ways. For the most part, people left offerings that were very thoughtful but there were an extremely rare number that clearly were event announcements or tags and really shouldn’t have been up there. No one ever policed the Temple to my knowledge, and it simply evolved as thousands of residents of Black Rock City contributed in their own special way. You can’t predict how Burners will engage with your work. The best experiences on the Playa are a raw platform which only comes to life when Burners carve out their own way of engagement. If only there were memorials and communal ways to share in this way in our cities' public spaces.

Temple of Flux time lapse and burn from John Behrens on Vimeo. Skip to 3:30 to see a timelapse of the Temple burn.

Check out the Temple 2010 blog as well.

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