Desert X is truly special: it’s one of our favourite reasons to trek to the Coachella Valley and escape winter on the East Coast. This season’s exhibition is no exception, with twelve immersive installations scattered throughout Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Whitewater, Desert Hot Springs and surrounding areas of the valley spanning painting, design, sculpture, architecture, and even something akin to a science experiment. It is a unique and awe-inspiring exhibition that offers up new ways to look at and examine social, environmental and political themes affecting the world today.
While each piece of art is worthy of your time and consideration, we have assembled a short list of the eight installations you truly can’t miss at Desert X 2023.
Rana Begum ‘No. 1225 Chainlink’ 74184 Portola Road, Palm Desert
British-Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum presents the visually exciting ‘No. 1225 Chainlink,’ created with bright yellow chain-link fencing. The purpose of the bright yellow fencing is to draw attention to the ubiquity of the chain link that is spread across the Coachella Valley, as well as all over the world, as a material meant to protect, restrict, and cordon off. While used to stop and preserve, the chain-link fence allows light, air, sand, water, and more to pass through. If one is determined enough, people can move over, under, and around these barriers rendering them more of a concept than an actual preventative object. The visual presentation of the piece is constantly changing with the movement of the sun and the visitors inside it, emphasizing that nothing in life is static.
Torkwase Dyson ‘Liquid A Place’ Homme Adams Park 72500 Thrush Road, Palm Desert
Multi-medium painter Torkwase Dyson has created a monumental interactive sculpture in the middle of a popular hiking and dog-walking area of Palm Desert. The two-story structure is a poetic meditation on the connection between the memory of water in our body and the memory of water in the desert. The piece is intended to ask the question, how do we access the water in our bodies to access memory? What kind of scalable infrastructure can our bodies resist and invent, making cities more livable? How are new geographies formed from the architecture of our bodies? While uncertain as to the answer to these questions, the significance of the piece and its presence in the desert really does impact the viewer.
Matt Johnson ‘Sleeping Figure’ I-10 Exit 110 Haugen-Lehmann Way to Railroad Ave
Perhaps the largest piece in the exhibition is Matt Johnson’s Sleeping Figure. Constructed from twelve full-sized shipping containers piled on each other precariously is both frightening and beautiful at the same time. Initially seen from afar, the viewer is made to approach the sculpture from a distance crossing the uneven terrain of the Coachella Valley. Located in front of the actual railway tracks that are one of the main supply routes for trains carrying goods from the Port of Los Angeles into the heart of America. With the mountains sitting in the distance, one’s sense of scale is confused and humbled until you are actually within touch distance. Inspired and conceived of at the time when a Japanese-owned, Taiwanese-operated, German-managed, Panamanian-flagged and Indian- manned container shipped blocked the Suez Canal for six days in Egypt, the piece shows how fragile the global supply chain is. It is a critique of globalism and capitalism and is a must-see.
Mario García Torres ‘Searching for the Sky (While Maintaining Equilibrium),’ Desert Hot Springs
Inspired by history, Mario García Torres has created a unique installation that reflects on the “cowboy culture” that exists within the region. Searching for the Sky (While Maintaining Equilibrium) is modelled after the sport of bull-riding, with the bull component replaced with a flat, geometric, reflective surface reminiscent of a solar panel placed in the middle of the desert in a formation akin to that of a herd or animals. The tops of the mechanical objects move around in a somewhat random yet rhythmic way, similar to that of a satellite dish finding the perfect connection; all the while, a mechanical noise rings out across the open desert plains. The piece is best viewed up close for the audio experience, as well as from a distance to see the herd-like formation and pattern. Both options are available.
Paloma Contreras Lomas ‘Amar A Dios En Tierra De Indios, Es Oficio Maternal,’ Sunnylands Center & Gardens, Rancho Mirage
Regardless of when you go to Palm Springs, a trip to Sunnylands should be on your “To-Do” list. It is a beautiful place with extensive gardens to stroll through leisurely and a really good cafe to grab a coffee or a quick bite at. So it is with immense delight that Desert X was able to present a piece on this grandiose ground. The piece, created by Paloma Contreras Lomas, takes shape as an old car parked in the middle of one of the aforementioned gardens. Covered in an absurd tangle of limbs sprawling out of the car from two characters wearing long hats, creating visual chaos on the otherwise pristine, manicured grounds. Plush, long hands holding soft-stuffed guns hang from the windows, giving the feeling of Western–meets–sci-fi in a caricature way. With benches arrayed along the perimeter of the garden, you are able to sit and contemplate the organized and colourful chaos that is ‘Amar A Dios En Tierra De Indios, Es Oficio Maternal.’
This piece is only accessible during Sunnylands’ opening hours.
Hylozoic/Desires ‘Namak Nazar,’ Desert Hot Springs
Multimedia poet-musician duo Hylozoic/Desires, or h/d, made up of Himali Singh Soin & David Soin Tappeser, present ‘Namak Nazar’ for Desert X. Inspired by the proliferation of conspiracies — UFOlogists, Scientologists, cybernetic spiritualists, Area 51, flat-earthers, lizard people and chemtrails — h/d created a wooden pillar with several loudspeakers on it that verbally issue out an imaginary conspiracy theory about Namak Nazar, a particle of salt. The base of the pole appears to have salt climbing up and crystalizing over it, with the intention of connecting the salt found in the stories from the loudspeaker to the physical desert landscape. While present at ‘Namak Nazar’ visitors are invited to join h/d in thinking through ecological loss and the loss of home.
Lauren Bon and Metabolic Studio ‘The Smallest Sea With the Largest Heart,’ Palm Springs
Lauren Bon is an artist whose medium embraces environmental activism. She works with architecture, performance, photography, sound and farming, creating urban, public and land art that she terms “devices of wonder.” In 2005, Bon created Metabolic Studio, whose focus and reach are global in scope.
For Desert X, Bon and Metabolic Studio have created a scientific art project that has taken water from the incredibly toxic Salton Sea and filled an abandoned motel’s swimming pool with it. A lace-like steel to-scale sculpture of a blue whale heart has been submerged in a pool. While in the water, the heart metabolizes and creates energy cleaning the water, which then evaporates into the atmosphere, fueling the potential for future life from otherwise toxic waste. The intention is to visually see the transformation ross the exhibition run and visually transform itself in the process.
Gerald Clarke ‘Immersion,’ 480 W. Tramview Road, Palm Springs
Artist, university professor, cowboy and Cahuilla tribal leader Gerald Clarke is known for deriving inspiration from his heritage and expressing traditional ideas in contemporary forms. “Immersion” is a large-scale piece that employs the language of traditional Cahuilla basket weaving and American board games. Clarke created a monumental sculpture of a gameboard that immerses visitors in the natural and cultural history of Native Americans in the Coachella Valley. The viewers are then drawn into active learning as they walk on the maze-like structure according to instructions from a game of cards similar to Trivial Pursuit, rewarding the player with new ways of viewing and understanding the landscape as they go.