At this year’s staging of Desert X in the Coachella Valley, designers, artists, and architects responded to issues related to climate change and, in particular, water. The 12 artists participating in the 2023 staging hail from across the globe. Each has created an immersive work that responds to the environment and economic and social challenges. From large billboards staging the work of Tyre Nichols to a performance piece involving street vendors to a lifesize maze, the 11 installations and one film have been realized in a range of media from sculpture to painting to music and each beckons for public engagement.
In its fourth iteration, the annual site-specific art exhibition was curated by Artistic Director Neville Wakefield and Co-curator Diana Campbell.
“Since its founding, Desert X has provided a non-judgmental platform where artists and audiences generate cross-cultural dialogue and new understanding about our world. They are challenged by the desert, its beauty, harshness, and ever-changing environment,” said Desert X Founder and President Susan Davis in a press release. “For 2023, visitors will encounter immersive works that respond to the global impact of climate change, economic challenges and the profound social transformations we are confronting.”
Read on to learn more about each of the artists and their respective installations.
Desert X is on view at various locations in the Coachella Valley desert through May 7.
British-Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum, with support from Hourglass, has arranged a series of yellow chain link fences into a rectangular work. In a project description, the artist described the ubiquitous material as one “that is meant to protect but also carries associations of violence.” With the sun’s constant movement and through the passage of visitors the work “emphasizes that nothing in life is static.”
Bon and Metabolic Studio have created a work responding to themes of water, bringing a swimming pool to the scarce desert landscape. Installed within the water feature is a life-size heart of a blue whale conceived with a lace-like texture. “The sculpture metabolizes and creates energy and clean water that it deposits back into the atmosphere, fueling the potential for future life across the run of the exhibition and visually transforming itself in the process,” according to a project description.
Gerald Clarke has taken cues from traditional Cahuilla basket weaving and American board games to conceive his work Immersion. Visitors follow a series of instructions from a card game and move through a winding maze environment installed on a barren desert site.
An old car is bursting at the seams with objects, fabrics, rugs featuring desert motifs. These items spill out from its convertible rooftop, doors, and open trunk. The installation is situated on a perfectly manicured patch of grass with a luscious backdrop of trees and greenery. Once on-site, visitors embark on a “western–meets–sci-fi audio-visual tour of the landscape.”
A semicircular sculpture with a staircase down its center that visitors can climb, Liquid A Place also riffs on the theme of water. It is part of a series from the artist conceived as a piece through which viewers can consider how their body relates to physical bodies of water.
Mario García Torres, who has interest in cowboy culture, has installed flat, reflective surfaces on top of the mechanism used to rotate mechanical bulls. In arranging the work as a group of individual pieces the artist has strived to recreate the “formation of a herd.” “The work leads us to contemplate the “wild West,” and “our relationship to landscape and our role within it; our condition to be both attracted and replaced by failure,” a project description added.
Hylozoic/Desires, the multimedia poet-musician duo of Himali Singh Soin and David Soin Tappeser, dives into the world of conspiracy theories through their installation. They created a fictional theory about a single grain of salt “that spells the doom of climate change.” Narratives and information on the theory are disseminated through several loud speakers attached to a single wooden pole.
Remember when the Suez Canal was blocked by a large container ship? Sleeping Figure responds to that scene with a sculpture comprising several shipping containers. “Johnson’s figure speaks to the crumples and breaks of a supply chain economy in distress.” The installation has been intentionally situated along the roadway that connects the Port of Los Angeles to the inland United States, a path imported goods take upon arrival from sea.
In this poignant and timely work, photographs of landscapes taken from Tyre Nichols, the Black man beaten to death by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, are blown-up and pasted onto billboards lining the Gene Autry Trail. “But as with the vision the message is also one of hope: hope that with restrictions on pretextual stops California can lead the way in police reform; hope that together we can create a just society in which the fragile and beautiful talents of the likes of Tyre Nichols can flourish and grow,” a project description stated.
Pioneer, a figure laying on the back of a kneeling horse is a memorial for “the lost, expelled and forgotten Indigenous, Native and African women” who paved the way for American expansion and also “a beacon of resilience for their descendants.”
Khudi Bari is Bengali for “tiny house.” The modular mobile home in Bangladesh is easy to assemble and take apart and is designed to save house goods and people in the event of flash floods. “Khudi Bari reminds us to look to locally rooted knowledge to innovate solutions for uncertain futures,” as shared in a project description. Rather than an installation, the artist discusses the role design plays in climate change through a film.
Zamora brings the street vendor scene to the Coachella Valley in his work Chimera. Roaming around the desert landscape, where the installations are sited, are individuals selling balloons to visitors or other passerby. The individuals holding a cluster of balloons form an interactive sculpture that the public can engage through the purchase of a balloon.