In the tradition of land-art as a reflection of the dreams and aspirations projected onto the American West, ‘Mirage’ presents a continually changing encounter in which subject and object, inside and outside are in constant flux. The ranch-style structure suggests a latter-day architectural version of manifest destiny, a primary structure rendered by the artist without function service or texture.
With every available surface clad in mirror, it both absorbs and reflects the surrounding landscape in such ways that the exterior will seemingly disappear just as the interior draws the viewer into a never-ending kaleidoscope of light and reflection. As ‘Mirage’ pulls the landscape in and reflects it back out, this classic one-story suburban house becomes a framing device, a perceptual echo-chamber endlessly bouncing between the dream of nature as pure uninhabited state and the pursuit of its conquest.
‘Western Flag’ depicts the site of the ‘Lucas Gusher’ – the world’s first major oil discovery – in Spindletop, Texas in 1901, now barren and exhausted. The site is recreated as a digital simulation the center of which is marked by a flagpole spewing an endless stream of black smoke. The computer-generated Spindletop runs in exact parallel with the real site in Texas throughout the year: the sun rising at the appropriate times and the days getting longer and shorter according to the seasons. The simulation is non-durational (having no beginning or end) and is run live by software that is calculating each frame of the animation in real-time as it is needed.
Situated at the very gateway to the Coachella Valley and the city of Palm Springs, ‘Western Flag’ acts as a stark reminder not just of the willful exploitation and depletion of resources that millions of years ago covered this former sea floor with an abundance of life, but of the energy required to return the deserted land to its current state of artificial habitation. The invisible gas responsible for climate change is here made visible. Flying the flag of our own self-destruction we are asked to consider our role in the warming of the planet and simultaneous desertification of once fertile lands.
"’Western Flag’ asks us to think of how we have committed to the earth's destruction, and we all play a role. But what I find interesting too is how this operates endlessly on cycles of sunrise and sunset. It's perhaps most beautiful at dusk here in Palm Springs because it's closer to midnight in Texas. The screen in the desert is like a torch, then, and a constant reminder of what's really in front of us."
Sterling Ruby’s fluorescent orange monolith, ‘Spector,’ appears as an apparition in the desert. The bright, geometric sculpture creates a jarring optical illusion, resembling a Photoshopped composite or collage, as if something has been removed or erased from the landscape. The block acts as a cipher or stand-in, mimicking the form it could be — a shipping container, a military bunker, an unidentified object, an abandoned homestead. Fluorescent orange is traditionally used for safety, as a warning. Here that logic is reversed: a ghostly object, set apart from the natural environment, hiding in plain sight.
Using the site of a defunct gas station at the edge of the Salton Sea, artist Eric Mack employs his distinctive language of material as gesture to create a living architecture. Silks and tulles have been stretched with rope tensioned to form a line in space, or to reframe the building’s relationship to itself and its surroundings.
The iconic Southern California car garage, draped and reanimated as a site-specific sculpture, brings something singular to an already-striking natural location. Halter offers its visitors a respite or site for gentle reflection that can be explored by moving between and among the folds of undulating, colorful, and lush fabrics. It is at once evocative of an unfastened garment, vacant tent, or open umbrella, all fluid and shifting references that the artist has assembled as a physical embodiment of real and imagined desert wanderers.
"How do we make contradictions that are also harmonies? Unlikely harmonies through contradiction."
‘A Point of View’ is an interactive sculpture created by Bogotá-born, Paris-based artist, Iván Argote. It is installed at an elevation above the Salton Sea, the manmade body of water that has been California’s largest lake for the past century. The arrayed concrete scales situated near the sea’s North Shore project the viewer into the landscape. Messages set in concrete appear in Spanish and English upon each step. From the platforms, the audience may communicate with each other or turn to the landscape. The greater Coachella Valley lit in its changing hourly aspects reveals a civilization scattered across the bed of an ancient ocean.
‘A Point of View’ registers diurnal, geologic, and mechanized time in this section of the ever-progressing San Andreas Fault. It also addresses the long arch of memory contained in Argote’s blend of pre-Colombian and brutalist architectures. The assembled sculptures function as sundials representing time in fragmentation. Like the engraved words upon the stairways, the singular and the collective coalesce across the menhir-like structures, aimed in different directions. These temporal and verbal fragments stand before the Salton Sink as it exists in its twenty-first century incarnation, protruding amidst the surrounding agricultural land and industrial water. Stretching for dozens of miles, the temporary sculptures sit in a basin where the ancient Lake Cahuilla once engulfed a Paleolithic horizon before its final recession into the desert floor in the 1600s. Seashells and centuries-old imprints of marine life can still be detected in the immediate vicinity of ‘A Point of View,’ bringing Argote’s many reflections upon time and scale full circle.
"The land was never ours to claim."
Set in two distinctive locations near the extreme poles of the Coachella Valley, the artist’s pieces use augmented reality, producing a singular experience for each viewer due to the ever-changing conditions of the desert. The work at the northern wind farms, ‘Revolutions,’ alludes to the capturing of energy to remedy a man-made crisis. But in doing so, the net effect is disruptive to the flora and fauna of the region. The artist thinks of the drawings as a call-and-response of sorts. The work at the southern Salton Sea, ‘Margin of Error,’ presents the toxic outcome of human progress leading to an environmental disaster. This experience will prompt viewers to ruminate on their own bodies within the scale and setting of the landscape, dwarfed by the implied giant scale of the digital work.
From the time of cavemen, through the Pre-Columbian era, up until contemporary animistic perspectives, humans have associated with animals to explore fantasy and signify stature. The intent of hybridizing humankind in mythologic chimeras has existed throughout history. Bengolea’s performance piece, ‘Mosquito Net,’ is not a quest for the universal beauty of nature, but a display of social street dance to invoke the spirit of animals and nature.
This piece is a consideration of how humans and animals observe each other, including both real and imaginary animals. Bengolea also includes actual dance poses from her established performances, where she and dancers from Jamaica express animals they feel connected to.
Hybridization has been less successful in scientific study than in the wild. This suggests an evolutionary response to pressure imposed by humans. This natural hybridization is likely important for the creation of new species.
This piece also includes a free-standing sculptural work that synthesizes the animistic aspects of dance with her interest in the Salton Sea. Combining aspects of her dance with hybridized animals, she has created a bestiary of the ancient and modern, the sacred and the profane collaged into a landscape of both hope and despair. Bengolea’s collage continues this tradition engaging the audience in the interactive dance of the imagination. Bengolea is inspired by philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who proffers to move beyond the state of servitude to make a difference and to emancipate the joy of composing ourselves with others and expand our capacities to actualize our passions.
Set in two locations across the US-Mexico border (Baja, Mexico and the Coachella Valley), ‘Lover’s Rainbow’ is conceived as an identical set of rainbows made from painted rebar. Exposed rebar usually signals development, but too often in the Mexican landscape we see those dreams thwarted and abandoned. Historically, rainbows have symbolized rain and fertility. Located in desert territory, the act of bending the rebar into the ground is a way to re-insert hope into the land. The mirror rainbows are also meant to throw light into the current immigration policies, prompting viewers to see things from two perspectives. Those who cross the border get the full experience. After all, going in search of the rainbow should highlight its symbolic power to re-establish hope, love, and inclusivity when we need it most.
"I was doing a residence in the Guadalupe Valley with my family, and that weekend was when the government shut the border down and tear-gassed people. Everyone in the area was directly affected by it. Strangely, the landscape environmental conditions are almost identical here [in Palm Springs] as they are to the Valley, so that's when the idea was born to bridge the work I did there to having a companion piece here, and throwing some light into the darkness happening at the border. It's a hopeful idea, as long as it gets us to talk about solutions on how to move forward."
‘Going Nowhere’ is a Möbius strip made from concrete breeze blocks in a variety of fleshy pinks and browns. Technically, the Möbius strip is a surface with one continuous side formed by joining the ends of a rectangular strip, but it has a direct relationship to methods of psychology. Famed psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s own attempts to use topology – the study of geometric properties – as a vehicle to describe the human mind is a subject artist Julian Hoeber has explored for years. As with the Möbius strip form, what is inside and outside the self can quickly become indiscernible.
Cara Romero’s new photographic series, ‘Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert,’ responds to the ancestral lands of the Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Serrano, and Mojave people. These images feature four special time-traveling visitors from Chemehuevi who have come to the ancestral lands of their sister tribes in the Coachella Valley. In Romero’s vision, these small but mighty figures have returned to remind us of our deep connections to the land, the stories contained within it, and how we can live in relation to it.
In terms of geological and ancient social history, Palm Springs is a new city located in the ancestral lands of the Cahuillas with a rich history that predates colonization. The images in ‘Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert’ are manifestations of an oral tradition, bringing visibility to the individuals, cultures, and history that continue to inform this landscape, whether or not they have been privileged in the long arc of our collective story.
"Cara Romero reminds drivers on Interstate 10 of the long history of the land with billboards featuring photographs of precocious young Native Americans of the Chemehuevi tribe as they visit the lands of sister tribes in the Coachella Valley."
‘Ghost Palm’ is an echo of a natural form — a meticulous reconstruction of the largest palm species native to California, the Washingtonia filifera (desert fan palm). Nestled in a plot of low desert, between the foreboding San Andreas Fault path and a line of tamarisk trees, ‘Ghost Palm’ is a manifestation of the artist’s fascination with the tenuous balance between fragility and sheer power. Standing taller than 20 feet, Ryan’s version of this iconic palm is constructed with manmade materials: steel, plastics and glass. Windowpanes in the style of a Victorian-era greenhouse make up the tree trunk; an iconic midcentury modern chandelier becomes the skirt of the tree; its leaves, a facsimile of Mother Nature’s perfect creation, are recreated in the form of glittering plastics.
Drawing directly from nature’s design, the piece is self-reflexively manufactured, contextualized by the environmental features of the low desert landscape. While it is a substantially scaled man-made structure, it is essentially transparent, almost invisible. It becomes visible only when it catches reflections of the sun like a faceted crystal. Beneath ‘Ghost Palm’ lies the geological activity that created this natural wonder.
The San Andreas Fault and the palm tree oases that trace its presence are created by two massive tectonic plates meeting — the North American plate and the Pacific plate. Water running deep underneath the earth pools into these fissures, thus creating lush palm sanctuaries. ‘Ghost Palm’ mimics what already exists in proximity to it, repositioning itself in nature in an homage. It makes visible our bodily connection to these sites, to the churning of the earth beneath us, and the natural forces we humbly exist within and among.
It was the unexpected discovery of an abundance of fossilized marine life more than 100 miles inland from the Pacific shore that led the early Spanish settlers to name this valley Conchilla, which means “little shell.” Because of a misspelling, the region became known as the Coachella Valley, thereby stripping it of the reminder that 6 million years ago, what is now desert had been underwater and connected to the so-called Western Interior Seaway. For the Danish collective Superflex, geological history and the not-so-distant future meet in the recognition that with global warming, rising water levels will again submerge the landscape along with all the structure and infrastructure that made it habitable for humans. Rethinking architecture from the point of view of future submersion, their mission has been to create land-based forms equally attractive to human and marine life.
Using the preferred color palettes of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, Palm Springs, and marine corals, ‘Dive-In’ merges the recognition that global warming will drastically reshape the habitat of our planet with another more recent extinction: the outdoor movie theater. Here, the interests of desert dwellers and sea life come together in the coral-like walls and weekly screenings of a structure born of a deep past and shallow future.
Lerma creates paintings, constructions, and installations reflecting the lives and traditions of the Mexican farmworker community in his hometown of Coachella. His work asserts a Chicano pop art aesthetic with a distinctive iconography and graphic style His mural, ‘Visit Us in the Shape of Clouds,’ includes various images from the American Southwest and beyond such as snakes, birds, parrots, fish, monkeys, seashells, plants, flowers, and rock art. He selected these images to illustrate a story of migration and the transitory.
"Dive-In merges the recognition that global warming will drastically reshape the habitat of our planet with another more recent extinction: the outdoor movie theatre,"
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