A statement in the desert.
Coachella Valley, CA / March 12 – May 16
Approaching from Los Angeles, it is hard to miss the massive installation as you arrive in Palm Springs, INDIANLAND. This was the first art piece we observed during our Desert X ’21 trip. The work sets the tone for the other installations to come. A piece that grabs your attention, but also places focus on the landscape in which it resides. We must confront our history, how human constructs have changed our natural environment and the effects we have on the delicate desert ecosystem.
by Kim Stringfellow
Kim Stringfellow’s book Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern Californian Landscape 1938-2008 explores how the public land policy made the desert accessible to a new demographic of land owners and introduced an architectural vernacular whose imprint persists to this day. The 112-square-foot cabin she created for Desert X trades the stark solitary romanticism of sand and sky for a small patch of sprawl nestled between the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce and a CVS Pharmacy. Decontextualized in this way, the diminutive and unglamorous 1950s proletariat kit home becomes a beacon for conversations about class, sustainability, capitalism, public land, and the commons. Inside the cabin, a woman’s voice — that of Catherine Venn Peterson, who chronicled her 1950 homesteading experience for Desert Magazine — is heard as part of an audioscape collaboration between the artist, Georgia-based musician/artist/author Jim White, and fellow Georgian singer/songwriter Claire Campbell. Tim Halbur contributed sound design.
by Nicholas Galanin
For Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit and Unangax̂ artist and musician, memory and land are inevitably entwined. The 45-foot letters of Never Forget reference the Hollywood sign, which initially spelled out HOLLYWOODLAND and was erected to promote a whites-only development. Its timing coincided with a development in Palm Springs that also connected to the film industry: Studio contracts limited actors’ travel, contributing to the city’s rise as playground and refuge of the stars. Meanwhile, the white settler mythology of America as the land of the free, home of the brave was promoted in the West, and the landscape was cinematized through the same lens. Never Forget asks settler landowners to participate in the work by transferring land titles and management to local Indigenous communities. The work is a call to action and a reminder that land acknowledgments become only performative when they do not explicitly support the land back movement. Not only does the work transmit a shockwave of historical correction, but also promises to do so globally through social media.
The Wishing Well
by Serge Attukwei Clottey
The Wishing Well is a sculptural installation of large-scale cubes draped with sheets of woven pieces of yellow plastic Kufuor gallons used to transport water in Ghana. Transforming a public park into a destination, The Wishing Well refers to the wells to which many people around the world must trek daily to access water. Europeans introduced Kufuor gallons, or jerrycans, to the people of Ghana to transport cooking oil. As repurposed relics of the colonial project, they serve as a constant reminder of the legacies of empire and of global movements for environmental justice. Sited in the Coachella Valley, whose future is deeply dependent on water, The Wishing Well creates a dialogue about our shared tomorrow.
by Ghada Amer
Ghada Amer’s practice acknowledges that men have written the history of art in theory and practice. In 1997, she created her first garden, taking her work out of the interior spaces associated with femininity and into the outdoors. Like her paintings, which integrate sewing and embroidery, her gardens combine monolithic sculptures with sowing and nurturing. For Desert X, Amer continues her Women’s Qualities series, asking men and women in the Coachella Valley to share words that describe the qualities with which they identify and to which they have been ascribed. It is an act of looking both inward and outward, yielding a form of self-portraiture. The result is a grouping of words arranged on the circular Great Lawn at Sunnylands. The installation forms a meeting place where artist and community, aesthetics and ideology, nature and culture come together for reflection and contemplation.
by Eduardo Sarabia
The Passenger is an arrow tip-shaped maze inspired by the trope of the journey that for generations has been closely bound to stories of the desert. From biblical narratives of exodus to the treks of immigrants searching for better tomorrows, the necessity to move from one place to another has shaped a shared experience across cultures. Made from walls of petates — traditional rugs woven from palm fibers — The Passenger speaks to the challenges and aspirations that encourage journeys and pays tribute to the people who have embarked upon them. In giving form to the experience of going to an elsewhere, The Passenger acknowledges the many people who have passed through the Coachella Valley while offering visitors time to contemplate their own journey as they navigate the maze.
Curated by Desert X Artistic Director Neville Wakefield and Co-curator César García-Alvarez.
ABOUT DESERT X
Desert X is produced by The Desert Biennial, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization founded in California, conceived to produce recurring international contemporary art exhibitions that activate desert locations through site-specific installations by acclaimed international artists. Its guiding purposes and principles include presenting public exhibitions of art that respond meaningfully to the conditions of desert locations, the environment and indigenous communities; promoting cultural exchange and education programs that foster dialogue and understanding among cultures and communities about shared artistic, historical, and societal issues; and providing an accessible platform for artists from around the world to address ecological, cultural, spiritual, and other existential themes.
Desert X ALULA article in PLASMA 6