David Best’s Temple
After entering the Renwick, you stand at the bottom of a wide, straight-styled staircase. The staircase is covered with a blood red carpet that draws the audience to climb it. As you walk up the staircase, you look up and see a mesmerizing white light display. The lights brighten the space and contrast the heavily colored carpet. At the top of the stairs there is a Victorian style archway painted with white, gold, and cool grey tones. The light display intensifies the archway colors, allowing the audience to feel weightless as if they were floating on a cloud. However, once you enter through the archway, the weightless feeling disappears. Now you are standing in the Temple.
As you enter the room, you can feel goosebumps start to arise, due to the room being noticeably cooler than the rest of the museum. The Hollywood style red carpet has turned into a deep red-purple color. The smell of recently cut wood fills the crisp air. With each breath, the smell intensifies. This would not surprise someone who is familiar with Best’s works since he is known for using wood as his main material.
All conversation drifts away, and the room is filled with silence. The bright light that filled the hallway is gone; it is replaced with dim yellow light that is being projected upward from walls of the display.
At first glance, you are overwhelmed with the complexity of the room. Three of the four walls are completely covered with an intricate wooden design. The wood is raw and light colored, giving it a newly cut presence. The design is symmetric for the most part and extremely detailed.
The cuts in the wood are clean and exact, leaving little room for error in the construction process. Throughout the work there are recognizable designs like shapes and flowers, as well as, figures Best came up with himself.
On one side of the room there is a full-sized altar made of wood. The wooden designs vary in depth throughout the room. For the most part, the wooden designs are cut out of the wood to allow for a hole in the wood. If a hole is not present, the wooden design has been placed to stick out of the wall for a three-dimensional effect.
Hanging from the ceiling is a structure made from the same wooden material, designed similarly to the rest of the room. The structure is shaped like an ark, with a pointed column coming down from the middle. Inside the ark there are lights similar to the ones found throughout the room.
In the open space of the Temple, there is a table with wood square tablets and pencils. An instruction board is located beside the table and when you walk into the room. The audience is encouraged to write a memorial or testament meaningful to them on one of the square tablets and leave it in the room. The holes that create the wooden design can be used to place the tablets onto the artwork. Where there was not holes in the design, people had written straight onto the wooden walls.
Choosing wood to be the only material in the room allowed for the audience to see every part of the work as something they could interact with. Wood also helps bring an organic feeling to the atmosphere. Although the design was man-made, the material was not.
The work was very well-planned out and thought of before construction. When you enter the room your attention is immediately caught by a shrine-like altar that is directly in front of you. You are pulled to walk towards it.
When you get close enough to notice the wooden detail and begin to read the messages left, you turn around and see the wooden design is also on your wall to the right and in front of you. You notice the design is not on the right wall and so you do not spend much time looking at it. The more complex the design is at a certain place, the longer you want to spend gazing at it.
You start to slowly take the fifteen steps from the middle of the room to the left wall where the large altar sits. The altar comes about five feet out from the wall, making it seem more important than the rest of the structure. After you have glanced over all the walls and benches on the floor, your attention is caught by the ark hanging from the ceiling. You will be so mesmerized; your neck will begin to hurt from looking up for so long. Then the cycle will repeat, but this time you will spend more time looking and trying to decipher each individual piece of the work.
The room is large and spacious. It allows the complexity of the design to be processed at a reasonable pace. The negative space of the blank wall allows the audience to have somewhere they can look without working their mind too hard. It gives them somewhere to refocus before they get caught up in the work again. The upward lighting is symmetric on the longer sides of the rectangular room. The difference between the dark corners and lit columns that protrude from the wall create value in the room. When facing the large altar on the left side of the room, the symmetry coming out of it and wrapping around the perpendicular walls work to create rhythm the eyes can easily follow.
The silence in the room allows the audience to isolate themselves; however, seeing that another person is around gives a sense of comfort. The dim lighting, dark carpet, cool temperature, and silence make the Temple feel like a tomb. The atmosphere is somber, but respectful.
The Temple is successful in giving the audience a space to honor souls that are dear to them, but no longer walk with them. Those who visit the exhibition should engage with the art by writing on one of the wooden tablets a memorial or testament and placing it on the art wherever they are drawn to do so. Also take the time to read through messages left by their fellow gallery visitors.
By getting close to the art, the intricate design of the work does not seem as immense. The Temple will then turn into a more personal experience for the audience.