A Temple to Burn

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Burning Man and Kickstarter have a rich history — we've seen hundreds of playa projects on the site, and recently visited the desert ourselves. So when we saw this project to bring David Best, the Temple Builder himself, to Northern Ireland to create a work and then light it on fire, we wanted to know more about how the project came together. Turns out that the crew behind it was the Artichoke Trust, a UK-based creative company whose focus is public art. We asked Helen Marriage, the Director of Artichoke, to answer a few questions about the project. 

Could you start with talking about Artichoke's mission and projects in general?

Artichoke was originally set up in 2006 to bring French company Royal de Luxe’s show, The Sultan’s Elephant to London. Over four days we worked with the company to create a show in which an enormous, 40 foot high mechanical elephant and giant girl moved through the streets. The BBC reported that the project was seen by over one million people, and we’ve since gone on to bring a giant spider to Liverpool, worked with Antony Gormley to bring One & Other, his occupation of Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, to life and to produce the largest light festival in the UK, Lumiere, amongst other things. Our work is always outdoors and almost always free, with the mission to invade public spaces and change how people feel about their surroundings. 

How did Artichoke come together with David Best?  

I was awarded a Loeb Scholarship at Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2012, and during my time in the States I started thinking about the significance of David’s work at Burning Man, in the Nevada Desert. Then, when I was programming Lumiere in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland in 2013, I learnt about the traditions that surround bonfire burning in the city and that inspired me to invite David to create something with the community there. 

One of David Best's temples. Photo by Oliver Fluck.
One of David Best's temples. Photo by Oliver Fluck.

The setting of Derry is meaningful in several ways. Could you talk about this? 

Derry is a city that has been historically split along religious and political lines for many years.  However, in recent years the city has been moving towards a positive and peaceful future. But, bonfires still play a particular part in this history: every year they are built by both sides in the community; they’re covered with effigies, slogans and flags and then burnt. They can be seen as a historic celebration of community identity, or as a hostile act against those from a different tradition. We wanted to change how people in Derry feel about bonfires and burning, and bring the whole community together to build a beautiful shared space, offering a moment of catharsis and release when it is set alight. 

How did you choose the specific location where it will be built? 

We have to think about lots of things when choosing a site, like whether it will be accessible and safe for large groups of people to attend. But also this project has some really unique considerations, for instance when we set the structure on fire it’s going to get really hot so we’ll need a lot of extra space to accommodate this. It’s also really important to find a site where both communities would feel comfortable. 

The same temple on fire. Photo by Philip Volkers.
The same temple on fire. Photo by Philip Volkers.

What are the materials and where are they from?  

When working on a project like this it’s a real challenge to do things as sustainably as possible. When we can, we’ll work with sustainable, FSC-certified resources from local suppliers in Derry so we can minimize our carbon footprint. The structure is likely to be made from a mixture of plywood and timber, however we’re looking at alternatives. We’ll be asking people to avoid bringing items made out of plastic to be burnt and will follow Burning Man’s "Leave No Trace" philosophy to make sure the site is left as we found it once the project is over. 

The community that springs up around a project like this is as important as the end result. Can you talk about all the ways that the Derry residents can get involved? 

We’ve been overwhelmed by the kind offers of help we’ve already had for this project, not just from people living in Derry but across the world. There’ll be lots of opportunities for people to get involved: young people will get the chance to learn new skills in cutting panels at the Nerve Centre’s Fablab, and schools students will get the chance to design some of them. Over 100 individuals will be involved in raising the temple: we’ll be recruiting out-of-work builders and a running a voluntary training scheme. We’ll also need volunteer "Temple Guardians" to help maintain the safety of the site and its structure. We’re very interested to know what skills people would like to bring to the project — so far we’ve heard from an electrician in New York and a carpenter in Derry, as well as many others, so please get in touch if you want to be involved!

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