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Wild Temple of Yam

My latest art installation project over New Year was a temple installation for an outdoor festival called Wild Yam. The “Wild Temple of Yam” was inspired by the temples of Burning Man, and built as a tribute to my father, who passed away last year. The temple concept was to recreate the original temple – Stonehenge – in a quirky form as Doorhenge.

The temple space works on the principle of radical inclusion. It is designed to be a non-denominational, open and inclusive place to honour, remember, reflect, grieve, meditate, pray and be peaceful. The temple guardians, each of which represent a different persona or social archetype, are non-racial interspecies. During the festival, the temple was used as a space for remembrance, meditation, reflection and spirituality. People were invited to write or paint on the doors, leave an offering or prayer or whatever felt right to them, or simply sit in the space.

Over a 9 month period, I sculpted 12 chicken wire and papier mache characters who became the guardians for the temple. Each character represents a different non-racial archetype or persona of our collective humanity. The theme for the festival was Cirque, so the characters were all painted to look like aging circus props.

There’s quite a bit of logistics that goes into a project like this. The festival is an all-ages event, with participants from 0-80 attending. Small kids are fascinated by installations like this and want to play with the different elements. I wanted the installation to be something people could actively interact with during the festival. So we had to ensure that the installation would be safe for people to use under a range of use-case scenarios.

For example, all the doors needed to be secure and not fall on anyone, no matter how people used them (ie climbing on them) or what nature threw at them (ie an unexpected wind storm). We also had to ensure that the sculptures would be secure on their barrels and wouldn’t blow away or be dangerous to festival goers.

The project was a collaboration with my partner, Adam, who is the engineering brains behind the project (as well as my fetch and carry guy!) He developed the method for making the doors stand upright in the field safely. We had no access to a power source, so everything needed to be able to be installed using battery-power or man-power. I wanted the sculptures to be lit up at night, so Adam – who is also an electronics whiz – put together a solar panel & truck battery powered lighting rig, which involved quite a bit of battery-powered soldering in the field, and dug a trench for the wiring to prevent tripping hazards.

The creation of each character involved 5 stages and took about 3 weeks to complete: wireframe skeleton made from chicken wire and balloons, 2-3 layers of papier mache using baking paper, first coats of paint (base coat, 2 layers of paint), crackle glaze medium layer + top coats of paint and finally 2 layers of waterproofing sealant.

The materials for the temple were generally sourced for free. 18 white doors from Gumtree + a couple of old doors from Balmain & Reverse Garbage. 12 44 gallon drums courtesy of Mosman City Council Children’s Services. Approx 40 star pickets thanks to various Yammers. And 12 door snakes, used as weights inside the sculptures. To get everything to the festival site took 2 trailer loads and 1 truck load!

It was a huge effort, but very well worth it. Everyone loved it. A fire was built in the centre and a number of workshops and ceremonies were held in it, including a smoking welcome ceremony, a funeral celebration, a women’s circle and a wedding.

The temple will return in 2016 at the next Wild Yam in a new form – it’s now destined to become an institution.