Desert X meets the Southern California Trifecta Challenge
Living in southern California has a ton of perks. Sunshine, beach, snow, desert, art…if only there was a way to bring them all together?! Well, this past weekend , my dreams came true. Not only did I get to adventure in a kind of adult treasure hunt (map, and all), but I also engaged in a time-sensitive SoCal only challenge. Plus, and this is the best perk, it was all free!
For the treasure hunt, there was Desert X, in which we visited a bunch of stimulating and thought provoking art installations scattered across the Coachella Valley . And on the last day, we completed the Southern California Trifecta Challenge (Desert, Snow and Ocean) in one day via Adventure 16. Besides sharing my adventures with you, here is an update of what there is left to see, before it’s too late . “Art is only temporary” – said someone somewhere.
So, what is this mysterious Desert X experience? I came across it on Instagram and had the same question. It certainly sounds cool and looks cool, so what is it about? To quote from their website, from February 25th until April 30th, 2017 “the Coachella Valley and its desert landscape will become the canvas for a curated exhibition of site-specific work by established and emerging artists, whose projects will amplify and articulate global and local issues that may range from climate change to starry skies, from tribal culture and immigration to tourism, gaming, and golf. The artworks, in various indoor and outdoor locations, will be available free and will offer visitors a way to the see the valley and react on serious and playful issues through the lens of participating artists creativity and work.” I told you it was cool!
And, what’s the Southern California Trifecta Challenge? To quote A16, “the Southern California/Baja region is the only place on earth that has all three climates- Mountain, Desert, Ocean in such close proximity that we can play in all three in the same day.” Starting November 12th, 2016 until March 12th 2017, the challenge is to complete a human powered activity in all three climates in one day…
and we barely made it. Although there were prizes involved, this challenge is something you can do at anytime (weather permitting), in southern California. So we figured let’s get artsy on Saturday, and adventure-y on Sunday.
Spending as much time we could on Saturday to not only locate, but enjoy the art and the desert, this is what we were able to visit, experience and note…
To start off our day, we went to the Desert X Hub located at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs. The Ace is a great resource to see what is going on and when, and I highly recommend you keep up with them on Instagram. We picked up a sleek light pink Desert X map there, and got all of the information we needed from the uber-helpful volunteer guides they had on board. Seriously, ask them anything! There were also tote bags, art books, etc on sale if you want to dig deeper (link to this?). From there, we mapped out what was still available to see, at what times, and in what order. The installations are mapped from number 1 to 16, and here is a little glimpse into our experience of each one we visited:
1. Sherin Guirguis- Whitewater Preserve, 9160, Whitewater Canyon Rd. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. /Stop at Ranger Station for Directions. “One I Call is a site-specific sculpture that reflects on the complex web of narratives surrounding deserts and desert communities. The piece is modeled after traditional pigeon towers found throughout the desert villages of Egypt. The practice of homing pigeons spans multiple traditions, illustrating a narrative of migration across space and time. The piece stands at once as a beacon, a sanctuary and a memorial for the people and communities of the desert who’s histories are often dismissed or marginalized. The piece addresses concerns of cultural agency, environmental protection and displacement at stake in the Coachella Valley and many similar desert communities across the world.”
This was the only installation we tried to visit on Sunday, since it was on the way back home, aka to our final challenge location, the ocean. En route there, the weather became increasingly tumultuous, hail and high speed winds, and all, so we decided we had to turn around or risk getting stuck. We did hop out to take a quick photo for the desert portion of the challenge, and because there happened to be the most beautiful rainbow just hanging out in the background. Where’s that filter?? Hopefully we will get to check it out soon, and take a longer visit to the Whitewater Preserve, which is free to all to hike and camp (and part of the Pacific Crest Trail!)
2. Richard Prince- 64150 Pierson Blvd., Desert Hot Springs. “Richard Prince describes Third Place as, “The House where my family used to live and are now having a reunion.” Strip mining the surface of American cultural life, Princes’ work often exposes the darker sub-currents of sexual and familial tension as they expose themselves through humor and other tropes of psychological dysfunction. ‘Third Place’ is, as the title suggests, the third of a series of structures that adopt a vernacular architectural form as the housing for material that speaks to the interior life of its recently departed occupant. Like previous houses,
it suggests a place where, one observer put it, ‘the circuitry of human relationship was completely shorted out and charred.’ Run-down and little saddle-sore the house in Desert Hot Springs might suggest a cowboy’s retreat. Plastered with ‘Family Tweets’ and the odd rendering of the artists himself, Third Place reveals itself as a three dimensional portrait – a state of mind as much a state of place.” We were so excited to visit this, since it was nearby The Spring Resort, where we were staying. We thought, what better than to soak in some hot springs in the morning, and then head to see some art?! Well, unfortunately, this was shut down due to vandalization. Everyone’s a critic, I guess. But the Springs were lovely and their staff is top notch. I would definitely recommend staying there if you’re in the area.
3. Jennifer Bolande- Gene Autry Trail, between Vista Chino and Interstate 10 (both directions). “In a cinematic experience animated by driving along Gene Autry Trail, viewers will encounter a series of billboards featuring photographs of the very mountains towards which they are heading. Each photograph is unique to its position along this route and at a certain point as one approaches each billboard, perfect alignment with the horizon will occur thus reconnecting the space that the rectangle of the billboard has interrupted. In the language of billboard advertising this kind of reading is referred to as a Burma-Shave
after the shaving cream company of the same name who used sequential placement to create messaging that could be read only from a moving vehicle. Within the desert empire of roadside signs, Bolande chooses to advertise the very thing so often overlooked. Looking up at the billboards our attention is drawn back to the landscape itself, pictured here as a stuttering kinesthetic of real and artificial horizons.” Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it! She set up billboards facing both North and South, with pictures of the background that blend in to the scenery perfectly when at the right angle. I tried to get the right angle quickly enough while driving past, and miserably failed. But it was beautiful for those few nano-seconds.
4. Gabriel Kuri- 2500 N. Palm Canyon Drive. “Donation box is a large scale installation in the form of an indoor landscape or domesticated desert. A vast expanse of sand -peppered with extinguished cigarette butts- in an empty commercial space, serves as the receptacle for small change. The audience will be invited to leave a monetary contribution on the surface of the art work, adding to the texture of this rather surreal scaled-down and boxed-in version of what otherwise lies right outside the shop, just beyond the parking lot.Inspired by the stark contrasts between naked desert and developed land,
typical of the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley area, donation box is a commentary on the desire to control and profit from the indomitable.Through its basic and somehow exchangeable elements (land, currency, waste), and its somewhat absurd participatory nature, donation box aims to invite the spectator to share its reflection on the nature of speculation and its mark on the environment.” Unfortunately, when we attempted to visit this had not opened yet. We did get to window shop though! It looks like a lot of sand, and a whole lot of cigarette butts (like thousands).
5. Doug Aitken- Desert Palisades/Tuscany Heights, 1101 W. Raquet Club Drive, Palm Springs. “In the tradition of land-art as a reflection of the dreams and aspirations projected onto the America 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 landscape around 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.” Woah! This was one of my favorite installations, and rumor has it, it may stay there forever. We had to wait in a pretty long line, but it was worth it. A house made entirely of mirrors? Tell all of my bad angles about it..> It was beautiful to see the panoramic view of the desert and see it reflected in the walls at every angle. I heard sunset there is unbelievable. Go check it out!
6. Rob Pruitt- Palm Springs Art Museum. “A nomadic event that has taken place all over the world, this iteration of Pruitt’s Flea Market features the vintage experts, design collectors, and visual artists of Palm Springs, Joshua Tree the High Desert, and the eastern Coachella Valley. Inspired by the region’s robust mix of vintage, modern, and handcrafted goods, this traditional-style flea market presents desert tastemakers making their wares available for sale. Here orphaned and discarded objects are momentarily elevated to the pedestal of the Palm Springs Art Museum.” This was apparently the coolest flea market ever, but it is no longer available to see or max out your credit cards on. So bummed we missed it.
7. Jeffrey Gibson- Palm Springs Art Museum (outdoor sculpture garden), 101 North Museum Drive. “ALIVE! IS A FOUND OBJECT READY MADE SCULPTURE ALTERED WITH PAINT AND TEXT THAT READS: I AM ALIVE! YOU ARE ALIVE! THEY ARE ALIVE! WE ARE LIVING! I CHOSE TO WORK WITH A WIND TURBINE BLADE BECAUSE OF HOW IT ALTERS ONE’S PERCEPTIONS WHEN THEY LOOK OUT ACROSS THE DESERT LANDSCAPE. THEY ARE ENORMOUS AND WHEN VIEWING ONE UP CLOSE YOU GET A SENSE OF THE EXPANSIVENESS OF THE DESERT LANDSCAPE THAT THEY OCCUPY. THEY ARE ALSO REALLY BEAUTIFUL IN FORM AND THEIR SHAPE REMINDS ME OF SOMETHING LIKE A WING, A FIN, OR A BONE FROM A MASSIVE WHALE. THE TEXT REFERENCES THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN PALM SPRINGS AND THE ORIGINAL INDIGENOUS PEOPLE WHO OCCUPIED THIS LAND AND THEIR BELIEF THAT THE LANDSCAPE IS LIVING.” I am not sure how we missed this one, but we did. Can’t win em all.
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8. Juliao Sarmento- Desert Lodge Palm Springs, 1177 South Palm Canyon Drive. “Best known for his paintings Juliao Sarmento recreates the intimacy and sexual tension found in this more familiar body of work in Cometa a piece first performed in 2009. The performance, which takes place in a hotel room, is designed to be witnessed by one person at a time. Set to original music specially composed by Portuguese musician Paulo Furtado, otherwise known as The Legendary Tigerman, is a study of the longings, desire and discomfort that attends the close encounter of strangers.” This was a temporary performance piece, that we also unfortunately missed.
9. Will Boone- Ramon Rd. and Bob Hope Dr., Rancho Mirage. “As a Texan I feel connected to the death of John F Kennedy. I’m not sure if I come from the place where he died or the place that killed him. Like the myths surrounding Elvis, Jesus or UFO’s, Boone sees the figure of JFK as lightening in the ground, bunkered in the very same Atlas Survival Shelter that the then president had in case of nuclear attack. Inside Monument the painted bronze figure is based on that of a hobby-kit, scaled up to heroically Hellenistic proportions. It might be equal part Catholic reliquary or one of the secretive roadside shrines found in the nearby deserts of Mexico, dedicated to the narco-saint Jesus Malverde. Either way it speaks not just to all those things that have been driven underground since the extinguished optimism of the sixties but to those same fears – nuclear attack and the invasion of the other – that have been so vividly resurrected in recent times.” Would I have loved to have seen a JFK figure in the same underground bunker he had in case of a nuclear attack? Rhetorical question. Unfortunately, this can only be soon via tour. Womp womp. Plan ahead if you want to see this!
10. Tavares Strachan- 35050 Via Josefina, Rancho Mirage. “[I am] is a work that explores the relationship between human beings and their environment. Borrowing from Vedic Philosophy, the phrase “I am” is to identify oneself with the universe and /or ultimate reality. There is a rich history of human beings exploring the desert as place to disconnect and reconnect with questions about who they might be. As someone born on an island, surrounded by what may be considered beautiful but potentially Hostile Ocean, I personally have understood these vast landscapes as opportunities to re-center and dislocate one’s imagination all at the same time. With the help of a skilled team,
I plan to dig 290 craters over 100,000 square feet or the size of two American football fields. Once the holes are mapped and dug into the desert floor, brightly lit neon tubes will align the perimeter of each crater. The viewer will interact with what seems like an abstracted glowing crevasse of light, but if viewed from the sky one will read the exploded phrase [I am.]” This is only available to view after 7:30 PM, and since we started the intense day early, we were too hungry, tired and ready for more hot spring-ing by the time we could have gone. If you can stay up later than us, go check it out. More info here. At least we got some quality tiki time at Bootlegger Tiki before the end of the day? Apparently their bartender, Chad, makes the second best Manhattan in the country. So. Do with that what you will!
11. Lita Albuquerque- Sunnylands Center and Gardens, Rancho Mirage. “[There is generally an ongoing investigation of the body in space in my work, be it the human body, the planetary body, or the galactic body. The idea is about the relational aspect of these bodies in space, about linking a moment, or a gesture, through time and space. I choose a site for a project to bring attention to it, and at the same time, the marks I make or the objects I place or the people performing there are in concert with the site and activate it.] – Lita Albuquerque… For DesertX, Lita Albuquerque chose to work at The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands Center & Gardens because of its history as a gathering place. An oasis within the desert, Sunnylands perhaps is best known as the Camp David of the West, frequently hosting Presidential vacations, retreats and summits. However, it is also a place where scientists and authors,
individuals with varying backgrounds and experiences, offer different thoughts and ideas. It is a place of welcome and dialogue. An opening performance at 3pm on February 23rd and a sculptural installation with an audio component compose Albuquerque’s artwork for DesertX, hEARTH. A play on words – a gathering site for storytelling, the ear, Earth – the artwork’s title speaks to art’s ability, here, through movement, voice and sculpture, to both listen and become a catalyst for action. Working in close collaboration with Kristen Toedtman of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and dancer and choreographer, Jasmine Albuquerque, the performance gives mass and volume to the silent act of listening. As audience in general, the implicit task is to watch, to listen. The silence of the desert compounds this task. Taking instructions from the desert, Albuquerque gives the act of listening bodies in which to move and voices that sing on its behalf. The sculpture is a life-size resin cast of the female form painted in ultramarine blue. The viewer encounters her in the center of a field of white sand, she is on the ground and upon closer inspection we see that she is indeed placed with one ear down, listening. Speakers placed in the surrounding garden intermittently play an audio track featuring a libretto written by Albuquerque. Through performance and installation, hEARTH posits that listening can be embodied and that through this embodiment true dialogue is achievable.” The Sunnylands Center and Gardens are supposed to be beautiful, and we unfortunately (stupidly?) didn’t visit the website to see their hours before trying to visit. They close at 4 PM and we arrived at 4:10PM. Boo. We will of course visit there someday soon.
12. Phillip K. Smith III- Frank Sinatra Drive and Portola Avenue, Palm Desert. “The Circle of Land and Sky defines a reflective space within the desert, composed entirely of the environment’s two most prominent physical characteristics — land and sky. Formed by 300 geometric reflectors angled at 10 degrees, the artwork directly engages with the Sonoran surrounding and the endless heavens.
As the light shifts and the viewer moves through the installation, land and sky are separated, merged, and displaced, subverting one’s assumed relationship with the desert horizon. At times, the sky is pulled down to the land or the land lifted up to the sky, while the colors of the west may merge with the colors of the east. It is a constantly changing installation that can never be seen the same way twice.” This installation was gorgeous. It was a circle of mirrors, and yet again more of my terrible angles… This is supposed to be extra-amazing at sunset but is awesome at any time of the day. Spend some time to “reflect” (sorry for the pun).
13. Claudia Comte- Cap Homme and Ralph Adams Park, 72500 Thrush Rd, Palm Desert. “Curves and Zigzags is the third work from an ongoing series of free-standing walls that straddle painting and sculpture. Comte’s practice embraces all media with equal ferocity and she uses this series to examine what happens when two-dimensional painting is superimposed on three dimensional structure. Unlike graffiti artists her walls are built specifically for the work they carry. In Curves and Zigzags, the painting starts with a stringent geometric composition that gradually morphs into a more organic wave like pattern reminiscent
of Bridget Riley optical paintings or the gardens of Burle Marx. Playing on the constant exchange of dualities – nature and culture, order and chaos, geometric and organic form – Comte’s wall suggests a walk through the shifting sands of abstraction and on to a place where beauty and contemplation sit side by side.” These zig zags were so neat, and contrasted to greatly with the mountainous desert in the background. They also gave my boyfriend vertigo and not we had not been drinking. Yet.
14. Glenn Kaino- Avenue 42 and Golf Center Parkway, Indio. This was probably my favorite installation. “Hollow Earth is a sculpture made from glass and wood that creates the illusion of a tunnel descending deep into the Earth, housed in an abandoned shed. Once inside the darkened space, audience members become uneasy as they peer down a brightly lit and very deep-looking hole that drops into infinite darkness. Kaino’s work is a contemplative gesture that explores the complicated and diverse history of tunnel making, from the secret tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the common childhood
(and Orientalist) fantasy of digging a hole through the planet and ending up in China. The title, invoking the numerous legends of a subterranean land, provokes the idea that the world is inside out – an overt reference to the crisis of our time. Paradoxically, as the viewer stares down at the piece, wondering about the depth of the tunnel, they are actually staring at themselves as seen through a series of mirrors. In this ironic case, art directly reflects (their) life and the meaning, value and power that they assign to it.” A discreet shed in the middle of the desert, with an ominous tunnel inside. When we walked in, the lights were off (solar powered), but turned back on in no time. The spectators were apprehensive about stepping onto the tunnel’s glass covering, so I went ahead and took the plunge. As you can see, I am pretty good at floating.
15. Armando Lerma- 85963 Grapefruit Blvd, Coachella. “In 2011, Armando Lerma (formerly Date Farmers) started Coachella Walls. Over the past three years, it has developed into an essential ongoing arts driven community revitalization project, focused towards the upliftment of a low income, marginalized community in Downtown Coachella’s Historic Pueblo Viejo District. In addition to stimulating foot traffic to the area, [Coachella Walls] continues to raise awareness for the larger Eastern Coachella Valley and is dedicated “to the anonymous farmworker. [For Desert X, Armando will create his own mural as part of the growing project in the city of Coachella.]” This is supposed to be a rad mural, but it was too out of the way for us. Since Beyonce is no longer the headlining, maybe take that time to see this work of art?
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16. Norma Jeane- Everywhere and nowhere. “From biblical to modern times the allure of the desert has resided in the fact we go there not knowing what we are looking for or what we may find. It’s a place where imagination and skepticism cohabit, where UFO’s and endangered Bighorn Sheep are sighted with near equal frequency. Drawing on the connection between the ancient and the modern, the silica desert and Silicon valley, Norma Jeane has, in conjunction with San Francisco based Codame created an autonomous robotic vehicle programmed to roam the desert while avoiding all human contact.
Like many things of the desert it is both everywhere and nowhere, a form of artificial intelligence programmed not to serve but to avoid. Like the first settlers who first encountered these harsh conditions its primary motivation is survival driven by fear discovery. An elusive creature the timid robot represents perhaps the part of us that we are all seeking but cannot find.“ Shybot is literally everywhere and nowhere, like no one knew where it could be. We asked every curator we could and the answer was “oh, shoot. We should probably find out where it is”. We so badly wants to watch it run away from us.
That concludes the Desert X portion. Go check out these installations NOW, before it’s too late. And let’s all cross our fingers they do this again next year, because it is so rad. Now onto the Sunday Trifecta Challenge adventure.
We started off the day right by soaking in the hot springs (never a bad idea), and slowly but surely making our way out to get some of our favorite coffee and delicious vegan/gluten free treats at Ernest Coffee. It is connected to the Boot Legger Tiki Bar, but this is more for the morning after.
Around 1:30 took the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ($26/adult) up 8,000 ft to the top of Mount Jacinto. There we got to freeze are behinds off (not enough layers), while hiking and playing in the snow.
After not being able to feel the tips of our fingers, we decided to head back down to hike in the desert and fail at seeing Sherin Guirguis’ installation (see #1 on list).
From there we sat in traffic for a few hours due to the weather, until we finally made it to La Jolla Shores around 7:30 PM, where we played in the waves and celebrated being Californians. We did this in all in less than six hours. California is just perfect.
Now go out and explore!
As always, Buen Camino 🙂
April 02, 2019
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