Interview with 2019 Temple Designer

Halcyon:                 Welcome. I’m Halcyon here with Geordie Van Der Bosch. If you’ve followed me for any period of time, you may have noticed I mentioned Burning Man every once in a while and talked at length about how the temple has affected, and I’m really excited to have Geordie here who has been given the insane honor and responsibility of taking on the 2019 temple. So thank you very much for joining me today.

Geordie:                 I’m very happy to be here John. Yay.

Halcyon:                 So we should be live, and we should have an opportunity for people to put in questions and comments. And we’ll try to get to those as we can, but I’ve got a whole bunch that I wanted to start with. I was wondering if you could first off just give me your Burning Man history. When did you start coming? How did that happen? Where do you camp?

Geordie:                 So I first started going to Burning Man, 2011 was my first year, and I’ve gone every single year except for last year. I got a Master’s Degree, kind of interrupted the flow. I’m very, very proud to say that every single year I’ve camped with the Black Rock Roller Disco. I know several people. I mean, Black Rock Roller Disco is based here in San Francisco, and I just see those people all the time. And they’re all very, very good friends of mine.

Halcyon:                 Fantastic. I had no idea. Can you tell me a little bit about Black Rock Roller Disco?

Geordie:                 Well, like I said, Black Rock Roller Disco is based here in San Francisco, and the camp lead, D Miles, he’s kind of this roller skating activist. And he puts on this roller skating scene. We call it the 6th Avenue Skating Place, and it’s just a place for people to roller skate outside. So we look like, or our look is, we take that to Burning Man. We take our experience here that we live every single weekend back to the Playa for every body else to enjoy, and it’s a really rewarding camp in a lot of ways just ’cause it’s so interactive. We have a constant flow of people from all over the Burn to just come and roller skate, and anybody can roller skate at any time. So I’ve loved my contribution to that camp, every single minute.

Halcyon:                 It’s such a mainstay. It’s such an iconic part of Burning Man, and honestly, up until now, I had no idea that it was driven by roller skating activism. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.

Geordie:                 Well, we kind of think that the Black Rock Roller Disco happens every single weekend here in San Francisco, and for one week, it moves to the Playa. And then it comes back.

Halcyon:                 That’s just another example of how the magic of Burning Man where, when you’re kind of … I explained this to somebody this last weekend of like everyone is given the task of, how would you make this better? It wouldn’t even cross my mind to do roller disco, and yet, I might see it. I’ve never done roller disco, and next thing I know, it’s my jam. And it changes my life. Well, that hasn’t happened yet, but I’m just saying, it could to one. It could happen to someone.

Geordie:                 I hope to skate with you out there next year.

Halcyon:                 I know it. I’m gonna write that down. It’s a date.

Geordie:                 Alright.

Halcyon:                 So what … You just said you got your Master’s?

Geordie:                 Yeah, I just got a Master’s Degree.

Halcyon:                 And what were you studying?

Geordie:                 Well, I’m an architect, and you know, I’d already had my undergraduate’s degree in architecture, five year degree. I got that from the University of Oregon, and I decided to take a year off from working as an architect and kind of improve my knowledge of architecture. I got a Master’s Degree here at California College of the Arts.

Halcyon:                 At what point did you start thinking, I think I could make a temple?

Geordie:                 It’s been growing for a number of years. It was kind of when they first announced, they opened it up, but really, for me, it kind of felt like my natural progression and involvement at Burning Man. Like I’ve been a part of bringing roller skating to Burning Man. Roller skating is a big part of my life. I’m also very active in performing live music around the Burn as a musician, and that’s something I do here. It seemed like really part of myself that I hadn’t really expressed was this kind of more professional aspect of my life of being an architect of building things, knowing how to build things with my hands.

So I applied this year. This is my first year that I applied for the commission, and I’m just gonna be honest. There was nobody more surprised than I was to be told at Burning Man headquarters that indeed I was gonna be the temple builder. Though I have to say, I’m very happy to do it, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Halcyon:                 Right on. So have you had any special experiences with temples in the past at Burning Man?

Geordie:                 You know, I wrote this in a post a little while ago, but I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way. When I first started going to Burning Man, I just was not going near the temple. That was just not something I was prepared for, like emotionally. I know a lot of people very close to me pass away, and so what got me to go there was a request of a friend of mine who had moved to Paris. And while she was gone away, one of her Burner friends had passed. And literally I’m on the way to the Burn. I’m pulling into Reno. She calls me on the phone, and she tells me about this. And she gives me a message to write for her, and so that is what got me to go into the temple.

And really, that’s in my opinion, what I learned the temple is all about. It’s a service being provided for those who needed it.

Halcyon:                 I can’t overstate how significant the temple has been for me in my life. My first years of visiting it, I was generally overwhelmed by it. I would see the names and the messages, and I would feel the energy there. I got overwhelmed by sadness, and then about like seven years ago or something, I had this switch where I suddenly noticed or became aware that every expression of grief was like an echo of a depth of love.

And so I suddenly started seeing all these expressions just as documentation of profound love, and now, I have this kind of intense experience. If I don’t label it as negative, it’s grief for sure, but if I just let it come over me, it’s almost like … I’ve been calling ecstatic grief, where I just surrender to this powerful feeling and bawl, crying. It ends up being one of the highlights of my year, and I look forward to going there and just losing it. And it’s funny ’cause someone will come over and put their hand on my shoulder. I got snot all over the place. Like, “Are you okay? Are you okay? It’s gonna be okay.” I’m like, “It’s perfect. It’s perfect. Don’t worry.”

Last year, one of the, probably the worst thing that happened to me over the course of the year, was I had a camp mate who took his own life.

Halcyon:                 But then, there’s a lot to that story, but grieving for him in the temple was one of the highlights of my year. Like that, having that space and allowing this very human experience to just be intense and sitting with the intensity in this place that let me experience it however I needed to is profound. And so I guess I’ll lead that into a question. What’s it like to be responsible for something that means so much to so many?

Geordie:                 It’s very intimate. I’ve had every Burner that I’ve ever known and every single Burner that I have not yet met, living inside my head for a long time, like they’ve all been inside me, and I’ve had to force myself to think about all the Burners. We know there’s a huge diversity of people out there, not all people at the roller disco, and I had to think about every single one of them and what they might need and how I could create a space that would facilitate their needs so that they could perform the actions that they might need to have which as you said, those are some of the most intense and sacred emotions that a person can ever experience.

It is love. It is loss. It is grief, and those are some of the most powerful things. And we all share those, but when I was able to realize that all these other people’s emotion, they’re all the same kind of feelings that I’m feeling inside. So whenever somebody else feels grief, it’s similar to what I feel, and that was a transformatic revelation. But I don’t know if I’m still quite over it. A lot of these people are still living in my head, and I have yet to still actually, physically build this temple. So it’s still a journey because now … and that’s part of the reason why I’m having this interview is these Burners have been living in my head abstractly, and as a temple builder, I’ve been just kind of abstract, intimidating name on our webpage, right?

Now, hopefully I appear more human just like any other Burner, and indeed, I’m gonna now meet many, many more Burners who are gonna help me build this temple. I’m gonna meet them as they use this temple. So now, they’re not gonna be abstract. They’re gonna be perfectly real, and I have that to look forward to.

Halcyon:                 That’s beautiful. You talked about the thinking about the needs of the different people. Can explain a little bit what some of the considerations that you are thinking about as you work on the design?

Geordie:                 Yeah. So in the practice of architecture, when you study sacred space, there’s kind of two divergent paths to create that, and one, I think we’re more familiar with in the temple design, where you have this large, grandiose space. And that’s kind of following the logic of cathedrals in Europe. You know, they have a steeple, and they have a lot of dazzling beauty, and that’s to instill with you a sense of the sacred, of the beauty of life. That’s one way, and it’s a perfectly valid way.

When I started this design, when I was thinking about how people might feel in this space, I felt like maybe I wanted a more quiet space so people could get more in tune with their emotions, or their emotions would feel more safe. So a lot of this is about safety, and part of that is by enclosing the area from the rest of the Burners. It’s very closed. There’s a lot of shade, but there’s also different types of spaces there. So maybe someone wants to be in a smaller space. Maybe someone wants to be in a larger space. A place where they can get away from the crowds, and I have other places like the koi pond, which is gonna allow people to just stare at these beautiful koi and be alone with their own feelings.

Those were a lot of the considerations that I’ve had, and mostly, a lot of reactivity that goes into the temple is the users being able to transform themselves, being able to leave their mark, being able to leave their memorial. So this entire project just has places all over for that. There’s going to be shelves for people to create their own alter. So it can be very interactive, and if you look up close to the slats on the side, the siding, I view each one of those slats as like an unwritten line on a piece of paper. It’s waiting for somebody’s story to be written there, and I can’t wait to do those stories.

Halcyon:                 Nice. Are there certain traditions or artists that you used or drawn from as inspirations?

Geordie:                 Yeah. The most famous one, the one that was quoted in my journey man post was these tour gates, which are in Japan. They’re in a couple different temples, and I like that they’re enclosure. But I also like the sense of journey that you feel as you travel through them, and I feel that that journey is like a metaphor for life. And I’m trying to recreate it. So in life, you start off very small, and so this temple starts off very small. And then you slowly grow. If you look at the middle, my temple breaks. Lots of times we have a life changing experience, and then of course, our life tends to diminish.

That’s what the direction in the temple, direction’s all about, and it’s very linear. That might be a little forceful on my part, is I’m trying to have everybody have a similar experience. So they can realize their journey is the same as another person’s journey, and maybe feel closer together that way. But to also answer your question, I also thought about other places that are just incredibly simple, yet still maintain a sense of sacred. So one of them would be Stone Henge, which kind of has that simplicity, and another one maybe is less well known, but there’s this temple in Egypt called the Temple of Karnak.

It looks like it just grew right out of the desert, and so I’m hoping my temple has a little bit of that as well. We’ll see. I don’t know.

Halcyon:                 One of the things that I feel like I’ve learned very intimately at Burning Man is that you can make anything sacred. The people and the intention can turn a circle in the dust into a sacred space, and Pink Heart, my camp, is not a very elaborate in terms of our technology or our building. It’s fairly simple, but we put a lot of energy into a container. I love that, that even with all the effort that you’re putting into it, if you just put a circle of wood in the ground, the community would still make it special. So then it’s like everything you’re doing is like amplifying our ability to flex and express our sacred stuff. So I can’t wait to see it.

Geordie:                 Well, what you’re paraphrasing is a very powerful lesson that I learned as an undergraduate. Person in mind, Kevin Newt, amazing individual. He taught us that human beings, we don’t, like in our architecture or designs, we don’t create space. The space was already there. You can’t create more space. Space is like, on this planet, it’s finite. What we do is, we create a place, and he started teaching us all these examples of where a place is made. And you’re exactly right. He first started off with the most simple forms of place making, a little bit of order brought to nature, and from there, it progresses on to more complicated lessons, more architecture. But the fundamental is exactly what you said. So that was very insightful of you.

Halcyon:                 Cool, and then I can skip undergraduate and go straight for my Master’s in architecture. If you are listening and have any questions for Geordie, go ahead and type them in, and I will share them as I see them. I had one question that someone sent me already. They said … Vesper wanted to ask, “Is the temple going to be aligned to the cardinal directions or to the city? And was that something you thought about?”

Geordie:                 It’s aligned to the city. So if you looked at it, it’s going to, in the long way, towards six and the other side out to deep Playa. And then crack in the middle, one side would be like nine, and I guess the other side would be three, right? Yeah, I have that right.

Halcyon:                 I’m not good at math. I’ll trust you. When you were putting together, or I guess as you’re looking forward to this undertaking, what kind of skillsets and people do you need to have on a team?

Geordie:                 Probably more than I realize, but you know, I’m kind of a builder and a designer. So looking forward, of course I’m gonna need a lot of woodworkers. There’s gonna be a very large team. The number I keep hearing is 120, potentially in the camp, though I don’t have the final word on that, but certainly there’s going to be more people involved. So there’s gonna be managerial tasks. There’s other tasks like this, like PR, personal relations. All sorts of things, and I’m having a constant stream of a lot of my close friends who have built much larger pieces of art than I have and who have been involved with the temple, I’m under constant advisement.

Halcyon:                 Nice.

Geordie:                 So I really feel like I’m in good hands, and a shout out to Burning Man right now. When people refer to them, they say the BM or the Burg, but really they are some really nice and incredible people. And I feel really supported by them.

Halcyon:                 Fantastic. That’s been my experience too. What was I just gonna ask? Oh, I saw a post about a lighting announcement. Can you tell me about the … how lighting is being handled?

Geordie:                 Sure. So the lighting will probably, it’s probably a combination of three things. I have this really wonderful friend of mine named Jane, and she just … I worked on that incredibly elaborate lighting project, the Rainbow Bridge.

Halcyon:                 So good. So good.

Geordie:                 A really wonderful friend, Min Jiang and others. So she approached me with this, and I got to hand it to Min, Min Jiang, the Rainbow Bridge is kind of one expression of light. And when she proposed an idea for the temple, obviously you wouldn’t have the same kind of lighting effects from one project to the other. She was such an intuitive artist that she immediately picked up on that and had some really exciting ideas, which I think everyone’s going to enjoy.

And then another one, it’s not really showing in the renderings ’cause obviously I didn’t know what form it was going to take, but my good friend, Chakra Kahn, her husband Matt Elson is a fantastic artist. And he’s making a string, where gonna be some really ornate lanterns hanging down the center, and he just showed me some shots of him collecting the materials for that, which I think the bases is gonna be repurposed vines from a vineyard. So he went to this vineyard before all that was gonna get multched over, showed me these wonderful pictures of him collecting them with his son. You know, what a beautiful scene and collecting those to make his lanterns.

And then finally, the koi pond, which is this pond with like 50,000 LEDs, reflects brilliant colors off of the underside of the bride and possibly even underside of the temple itself.

Halcyon:                 Nice. Robin wanted to ask, “What is the interplay between design and weather and the conditions out there?”

Geordie:                 Well, you know, you’re never quite sure what the weather’s gonna be out there, right? So lots of times I’ve seen people camp out in the temple for a period amount of times for whatever reason. So in that aspect, I’m trying to make a fairly enclosed and protective environment, and then within that protective environment, there’s lots of openings. So I’m hoping there’s gonna be a great interplay between light and shadow within there and just kind of bold streaks of light streaking in and moving all around and ideally creating a very dynamic environment with light and shadow.

Halcyon:                 Cool. How do you … do you have to … What goes through the process of figuring out how to do what you need to do with such a limited time on Playa?

Geordie:                 Well, you know, for myself being an architect, I’ve sat in countless meetings where the discussion is basically, how are we gonna build it? And you know, the contractor, the client, the structural engineer and myself, so yeah, I do have this sequence in my mind of how this is gonna be built. That’s also in a way, was kind of an interesting spiritual influence. I’m hoping that on the Playa, we can tilt it up so that it’ll be constructed on the ground, and tilted up. And of course, some of the people most famous for that are like the Shakers, that religious community, and they have … It’s like a huge community bonding event where they have everybody in the community, and they all get together. They literally tilt up. It’s called a barn raising. So instead of a barn raising, we’ll have a temple raising.

Halcyon:                 Nice. Jamen asking, “So how much of the temple will be built off Playa?”

Geordie:                 I’m hoping the majority of it will be built off Playa, and that we’ll ship it in components. And then the components will be assembled on the Playa because a lot of the people that I’ve talked to, past temple builders. You kind of want to eliminate as much on Playa construction as possible because we all know how unpredictable the Playa is, and so if it’s raining out there, you just lost two days of temple construction time. And so if you can eliminate that as much as possible, that’s one strategy, but additionally, building stuff is really MOOPy.

I’m mean, I’m already gonna have to clean up after this temple after I burn it down, so if you can eliminate as much MOOP involved with the temple. That’s what we all want. We all want as little MOOP on the Playa as possible, right?

Halcyon:                 Right. Speaking of MOOP and leaving no trace, do you have a favorite Principle or Principle that has influenced your life more dramatically than others?

Geordie:                 Oh yeah. That is Gifting.

Halcyon:                 Yes.

Geordie:                 That’s Gifting. I’m just giving a lot on the Playa, particularly one of the things I do out there is, I’m a leader of a large group of drummers, and we perform right before the man burn. It’s called the Ambient Drummers, and I’ve also been involved with a certain part of that where we literally parade all around the man. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. We accompany the flame, and we accompany Crimson Rose. And we do this ceremony of procession, and I’ve had people in my group, for whatever reason, they no longer have their drum, or they showed up without a drum or a musical instrument. I always go out with more, and I always leave with less drums. So I give away all kinds of things like that, but that’s definitely my favorite. Certainly.

Halcyon:                 I’m with you. All the principles help me to align with who I want to be, but Gifting is the one that changed my life and changed the way I see the world and myself in it. So thank you for taking that into making this gift for Black Rock City.

Geordie:                 Thank you very much.

Halcyon:                 Let’s see. So how can people contribute or get involved or follow along the journey? What are some ways that people can stay connected?

Geordie:                 Well right now, we’re pushing the Facebook page. So you can leave messages through that, which is Temple of Direction. You know, you can look it up on Facebook, and you know we’re looking for more followers so we can have more outreach. And then you can also get in contact directly. We have a Gmail account, templeofdirection@gmail.com, and we’ll be using all those organization things that Google has to kind of organize our volunteers and their skillsets and advertising the build time.

The build probably isn’t gonna happen for a few more weeks yet. You know, we’re still team building, and then we gotta secure a space which will be in Oakland, so for any Bay Area people, it should be convenient for you. And we’ll be working out of there, but you can start looking at building in earnest probably in March where we’ll get the call out for large quantities of volunteers. Let me just say, radical inclusion, this starts now. So if you want to be involved, I want you to be involved. I want to see you working. I want to see you helping build this temple if that’s what you want.

Halcyon:                 Fantastic. I push participation really hard on people and make it as mandatory as possible without making things mandatory because the way I see it, the more that you feel like you contributed to something special, the more you’re transformed. It’s like the difference between going to an awesome party and throwing an awesome party, and I know that the feeling that I get when I see people leaving our ice cream social holding a vegan ice cream cone, just they’re … I just wanna give more ice cream. I just want to give to more people, and I can’t even imagine what that must be like to contribute to the temple.

And so, I know there are some people listening who are temple guardians, so thanks for the significant role you play in holding space. One person, let’s see if this question makes sense to you, will the SS Malibu be allowed to service the temple?

Geordie:                 Who was that? Mark?

Halcyon:                 Yes.

Geordie:                 If you can get that thing running. One of the communities here that was very important to me, they’re called the Brass Tax. We’re kind of a music collective. We throw a lot of parties. We have a lot of DJs, and a lot of people in there have been very instrumental in bringing art to Burning Man. But truthfully, Peter Hudson. Of course, the creator of the koi pond, Jojo Martin, is a part of the Brass Tax. So yeah, thanks Mark.

Halcyon:                 Let’s see. We got time for a couple more questions. We’ve got Jamen wanting to know, was there any hidden features with the temple that we don’t know about yet?

Geordie:                 Well, I guess if I tell you it’s not so hidden, but there’s one aspect, maybe it was too subtle, but you might pick up on it. If you look at the temple from the side, you know I try to make this as simple as possible and try to think about what there are on the Playa. The Playa is Playa and mountains, and you got the sky, right? So if you look at the temple from the side, you can see how it’s flat. Well, that’s the Playa, and then if you look how it grows and at the angle that it grows, well that’s the mountain. And if you realize that if you’re looking at it from the nine o’clock side towards the three o’clock side, you have those black mountains right there, and I’m hoping you’ll be able to see, there’s a concept called borrowed landscaping in Japanese garden design. I’m hoping maybe some people will pick up on that. It’s a little on the subtle side, but maybe people will know.

Halcyon:                 Okay, that’s an Easter egg. Sweet. I’m in. Is there anything that you want to announce or let people know or share that I’ve forgotten to ask you about?

Geordie:                 I think we’ve really covered it. I think I’m really looking forward to building it and seeing everybody there.

Halcyon:                 Well, this has been fantastic. I think we started this conversation as digital acquaintances, and I feel like I’m seeing the humanity of the person behind the temple. Mad respect for taking on something so significant, I know I said it’s so magical and so important to me and so many people. So on behalf of our community, thank you for stepping up and giving this gift, and I can’t wait to see you on Playa. I love you brother.

Geordie:                 I love you too, John, and thanks so much for giving me the gift of your audience right now. I really appreciate it.

Halcyon:                 Alright. We will see you guys in the dust, and look for the Facebook page and more for updates and how things are coming along.

Geordie:                 Alright, take care John.

Halcyon:                 Thanks Geordie.

Geordie:                 Bye, bye.

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