First Temple Model

Small model of one branch.
Small model of one branch.

I have been working on some scale drawings in 2-dimensional CAD software and came up with a way to build the main branches. There would be four branches—one for each compass direction—and all of them would be similarly constructed. Alone, each would fall outward, so they would need to be tied to the mirrored pair to balance it.

Dismantled segments of single branch.
Dismantled segments of single branch.

The branches would be built in segments that could be prefabricated and brought to the Playa for final assembly. The assembly could be done by hand, using only simple pulleys and winches to lift the branches. By working in mirrored teams, the branches would counterbalance one another. As they are winched off the ground, the next segment could be attached, continuing in this way until they are fully hoisted into position.

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Motivations and Thoughts

I decided I needed to figure out my motivations. I wanted to see it happen, for one: I wanted to see it on the Playa at Burning Man, and see how people added their messages, and how the leaves formed, and how the lighting would transition through seasons at night, and how it would burn.

I also wanted to be able to feign humility about it, to put a positive spin on it: I'm adept at being not noticed, or at least not approached. So I want to be able to be near people who want to shower compliments and gratitude, but to do so with anonymity. It's kind of a funny motivation, but it's ultimately about trying to control having power: having the power to decide whether I accept comments like that. It's like I want some of the benefits of fame, but I want to avoid its pitfalls. I fully believe that power over other people is corruption: not that power corrupts, but that it is corruption itself. It definitely gets me into trouble because what I do, and why people are impressed with me are inexorably linked to why they like me. Wish as I might, there is no such thing as being liked for "who you are" separate from "what you do".

So I also find it frustrating to receive compliments for things I've done. If you want to see it firsthand, you can approach me after this and try it. I'll be polite but start falling down the existential rabbit hole: what am I? what have I done? everything is derivative, so what do I add? if all this that I have made is not just me, but a series of events and tremendous help from others, so what part is me?

I figure I will meet some very kind and well-meaning sadists today.

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Quitting

I told Antoni I was going to quit. I just couldn't bring myself to work on the models and I couldn't get all the things in my head about what it should look like. The project was just too big and too elaborate to complete. I didn't have all the answers yet, and I didn't think I could: everything from safety and design to shipping and clean-up. It was all just too much.

Well he pretty much dressed me down, albeit full of caring and understanding. He said I'd become just another person who doesn't do anything in the world, but if that's what I wanted, that's what I'd get. Also something about how I didn't have to know how to do everything: I could find people to help.

I don't remember much because it was pretty emotional for me. I was quite dejected about the whole thing, and when I left, I was resigned to do it—I had no choice in the matter as the plan was already in motion.

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Beginnings

I took a few pictures of trees to get an idea of how they look, and some elements of branches and whatnot that I thought would work. I did my best to draw some sketches, but I'm not particularly adept at it and I didn't like what came of it. I got together with two friends: Antoni, a sculptor, and Brandon, an architect to talk about the project. Overall it wasn't too productive, but at least it was a start.

One thing I think is important is to have a spiral ramp—not stairs or ladders—to access the main level. I don't understand why it needs to be a spiral, but it needs to be a ramp to permit people with limited mobility to access it.

It also needs an interior space—a sanctuary for ceremonies and reflection. The yurt provides this. It also helps the stability, since a real tree of such size would have a substantial root structure to anchor it; an artificially-wide trunk would mitigate the instability in absence of such a root structure.

September 29, 2012 Sketch, side
Side view.
Top view.
Top view.

Toni encouraged me to start making models using toothpicks as, say, 8' framing members and see what I could come up with. He suggested we make a 1/6 scale model (e.g. "Barbie size") and burn it, say, on the Solstice: December 21.

Yesterday's sketches.
Yesterday's sketches.

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Origins

I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. with an idea for an art project: the temple. It's a tree that gets filled with people's messages written on the slats from palettes which form the "leaves". Yurt-like structures surround it if I remember right, although I think a larger structure to enclose the trunk is the way to go.

I realized I had no choice but to proceed. I e-mailed some of the art people at Burning Man and they said that the Temple is considered one of the art projects in the normal grant process. Grants are due at the beginning of February, and the cycle hasn't started yet. I started looking into it.

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