For those who have lost family and friends to COVID-19, the grief of the past two years has become a heavy psychological burden. A church plans to burn everything down.
An elaborate temporary memorial to the victims of COVID-19 has been erected in a public park in Bedworth, England, 100 miles northwest of London. On Saturday, the 65-foot wooden structure is intentionally set on fire.
Called Sanctuary, it’s a piece of ephemeral public art that aims to give people a place where they can count on the grief of the pandemic and then watch it turn to ashes.
Designed by Californian artist David Best, Sanctuary is a pagoda-like temple structure made entirely of wood. Best specializes in artworks designed to give space to and ignite grief. His so-called temples are regularly featured at the Burning Man Festival and visitors use them to commemorate the dead.
During its eight-day run, which began May 21, the COVID-19 memorial was open to the public as a place for reflection, and visitors are invited to leave notes about the structure. Thousands have come to the site so far.
“There’s a constant pilgrimage of people,” says Helen Marriage, a co-founder of Artichoke who started the project. “All surfaces are covered and people are now bringing objects and trinkets that hold memories of people they lost. They are in every nook, crevice, and crevice of the design.”
Artichoke is staging large-scale public art experiences across the UK, including a previous fire-based artwork by Best in Northern Ireland. The marriage says the impetus for a burnable COVID-19 memorial was to create a sort of sacred space for people to process their emotions.
“It’s really clear that people need a space where they can say the unspeakable and tell the stories that hold them, whether it’s sadness, pain or love,” says Marriage.
She says Bedworth, a town of about 30,000, was chosen as the location of this flaming memorial because of its ordinariness, underscoring how widespread the impact of the pandemic has been, as well as the widespread need to deal with casualties.
“It’s a working class community where art in public spaces isn’t a big deal,” says Marriage. “That’s why we’re here.”
Like his other combustible memorials, Best’s design for Sanctuary features an intricate structure of intricately carved wood and details made with CNC (Computer Numerical Control) cuts that make the space feel like it’s walking in a giant doily. Built by Best’s 12-strong construction team, Sanctuary also had input from hundreds of community members in Bedford, who helped design some of the panels that adorn the building.
The structure can accommodate more than a dozen visitors and is open to the public.
At 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, the temple is set ablaze in a choreographed conflagration. Several parishioners were chosen to carry torches to the building and light the bonfire, which was expected to last about 45 minutes. The marriage expects more than 10,000 participants.
Based on her previous collaborations with Best, a temple on fire, Marriage says the experience is likely a combination of emotions. In Northern Ireland “they watched in silence as the fire began. Then, as the tower structure collapsed, there was a tremendous roar,” she says. “I could imagine it would be the same here.”