Large-scale art installations are a staple of the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Each year, Coachella’s art program establishes new and iconic cultural reference points to distinguish the festival, while contributing to the rapidly expanding local visual arts landscape. The Coachella art installations act as landmarks to help map and navigate the polo fields, offering central gathering points, as well as places for respite from the desert heat, moments of reflection, and of course the ultimate festival photo ops. New and returning multidisciplinary artists featured at the 2019 festival, held the weekends of April 12-14 and April 19-21, include artist and fashion designer Sofia Enriquez, architect Francis Kéré, creative studio Poetic Kinetics, architecture studio Office Kovacs, design studio NEWSUBSTANCE, artist Peggy Noland, and artist duo Dedo Vabo.
SOFIA ENRIQUEZ, MISMO, 2019
Locally-based artist and fashion designer Sofia Enriquez goes three-dimensional with a garden of six massive paisleys — one of the motifs in the graphic vocabulary she uses on her canvases and murals, as well as her line of upcycled clothing that she sells under the label Mucho. “Everybody wears paisleys: guys, girls, young people and old people, and people of different cultures,” Enriquez says. “It can be found on a cotton bandana worn by someone doing manual labor to someone wearing a business suit with a silk tie. It’s a symbol that makes the equality in people stand out,” which is a theme that runs through all of the artist’s work. The paisleys, which are constructed with wood and range in height from fourteen to eighteen feet, read like double-sided paintings and are painted in bright, bold colors to contrast with the desert’s muted and pastel tones. The sculpture in the center of the garden has a platform with large steps where festival goers can meet and relax — and possibly glimpse models wearing Mucho clothing.
Enriquez’s paintings and murals, with her signature, Modigliani-esque female faces floating in colorful fields with paisleys and text, assert a subtle message that promotes feminism and racial equality. The Cathedral City-based artist also paints her distinctive iconography — cell phones, dollar signs, eyes, bottles, lips, words, and phrases — onto a line of upcycled clothing under the name Mucho.
FRANCIS KÉRÉ, Sarbalé ke, 2019
The twelve colorful towers created by the Berlin-based architect Francis Kéré reference the baobab trees that claim a remarkable and dominant presence in his native West African village of Gando, Burkina Faso. “In my culture, the baobab is the most important tree,” Kéré says. “It’s giant, and it has multiple uses as food and medicine. It’s the place where you get together, celebrate, and discuss. It also attracts animals. It is spiritual. Naturally you will walk toward it.” The structures in Sarbalé ke, meaning “the house of celebration” in Kéré’s native tongue, command the same power. Some soar higher than sixty feet tall and, with their joyful colors and deep shadows that provide valuable shaded spaces, exude the same welcoming appeal. The light is another important component. “In my culture where there is no light, no electricity, if we see a light we watch it for a while,” Kéré says. “If it stays [illuminated] we walk toward it, and there will be a celebration.”
Kéré put his native Gando, Burkina Faso on the map in 2004 by winning the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for constructing the Gando primary school. It was his first building, and he has since earned international renown for developing construction strategies that combine traditional building techniques and materials with modern engineering methods. In 2017 Kéré designed the Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens in London (since relocated to a permanent home in Malaysia) — a project that realized his ideal of creating community while connecting people with nature. Opening this summer at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana, Kéré’s newest pavilion, is being built in parallel with a school in Gando. The school, which is dedicated to Kéré’s father, will be open to the children of the entire neighboring area in the African savannah.
POETIC KINETICS, Overview Effect, 2019
Poetic Kinetics‘ larger-than-life astronaut that became a Coachella festival icon in 2014 returns from a long adventure, looking beaten up and scarred and ready to share the evidence of its travels. “All over its body there is evidence, or clues, of the fantastical story of where it went,” says Patrick Shearn, founder of Poetic Kinetics. While the astronaut — about seventy feet tall standing straight up and forty-five feet tall in its usual crouched position — exudes different colors and aesthetic patterns than it did five years ago, but it functions in a similar fashion, navigating and hovering over concertgoers and projecting their faces and names on its helmet visor and space suit name tag, respectively. Animatronics allow the astronaut to articulate lifelike gestures.
Founded by artist Patrick Shearn, Poetic Kinetics taps into nature, science, and discovery to create larger-than-life, interactive, and experiential kinetic sculpture. The Los Angeles design studio brings diverse skills and experience — from film to concerts to events including circuses — to collaborations that surprise, inspire, and educate people about sustainability.
OFFICE KOVACS, Colossal Cacti, 2019
Los Angeles-based creative studio Office Kovacs’ Colossal Cacti consists of seven brightly colored cactuses, the four largest of which range between thirty-six and fifty-two feet high, while the smaller three stand less than twenty-four feet tall. The grouping sprawls like a skyline, casting long shadows and creating a fun, attractive, and shaded gathering space. The platforms on which the cactuses stand each have large steps lined with paint that reference Frank Stella’s “Multicolored Squares.” Instead of spines, or spikes, the “plants” in Colossal Cacti have road reflectors that illuminate the sculptures at nighttime and signal Kovacs’ preference for using found and ready-made materials to build architectural forms. By using the recognizable form of the cactus, he offers a bridge from the architecture community to the broader public.
Office Kovacs is led by Andrew Kovacs, who teaches in the UCLA Architecture and Urban Design Department and is the creator and curator of Archive of Affinities blog, an outlet for his fascination for finding and sharing architecture’s unturned stones, or “B-sides,” which he shares on social media. “Instagram has allowed for a more rapid and open exchange of ideas, sensibilities, and tastes,” he says, adding that social platforms broaden the reach of architecture. In 2015, Kovacs created Bust of Medusa, a model constructed with found objects that speculates on the possibility of collective, densely populated human habitation. He collaborates with L.A.-based architectural designer Erin Wright, who joined Office Kovacs over two years ago.
NEWSUBSTANCE, Spectra, 2019
NEWSUBSTANCE’s wondrous seven-story spectrum of color that went viral at Coachella 2018 returns, embodying the iconic sunrise and sunset of the festival. The immersive installation – which will remain in place for at least the next three years as the first resident art piece at the Festival, allows concertgoers to ascend its inner spiral to a 360-degree observation deck offering breathtaking views of the awe-inspiring desert. Inside, light, color, and perspective change with every step you take. “It takes down the sound of the festival a few notches and provides a space for reflection,” says creative director Patrick O’Mahony. From its burning reds of the morning sunrise to the gentle sunset bathed in purples and blues, Spectra propels visitors into a technicolor haven. When darkness falls, the artwork becomes a beacon of light, visible from miles around.
NEWSUBSTANCE are creative disruptors who have been realizing brave and ambitious projects around the world for more than 15 years. The collective’s breadth of work includes the design and automation of a scenic meadow for the European Games in Azerbaijan, scenic automation for Disney’s Broadway production of Frozen, the design and U.S. and U.K. tour of The Strongman with Mumford & Sons. The Coachella installation, Spectra, won the 2018 Best of Design Award in the Lighting–Outdoor category at the Architects Newspaper Awards and a gold prize at the International Design Awards.
PEGGY NOLAND, Foiled Plan, 2019
Returning to the Coachella art program for her third year, Peggy Noland has once again enveloped the Sonora stage in a signature multimedia artwork. For the work’s execution, Noland assembled a team of predominantly Los Angeles-based friends and colleagues to lend their technical expertise and able hands.
Foiled Plan sees Noland and her team integrating large-scale painting, custom furniture, and enormous cactus sculptures into a unique visual experience that illustrates the artist’s on-going interest in themes of reflection. The holographic material that covers the stage is a new tool in Noland’s wheelhouse and its star role in the work exhibits her fresh experimentation with the material’s malleable physicality and color properties. Noting that every inch of the stage has been carefully hand treated, Noland hopes that festival goers and performers alike will internalize the immense amounts of love poured into the fabrication of this gem-like habitat.
Noland is an artist based in Kansas City and Los Angeles. Using clothing as her medium and large scale replicas of familiar objects, Peggy creates content-driven clothing, retail concept shops and site-specific pop art installations. She opened a retail storefront in KC in 2006 and a second location in LA in 2011. The concept shops evolved into an Oldenburg-like retail installation that responds to consumer culture by exaggerating trends – most recently creating puffy paint plays on brands and logos. An avant-garde sense of humor is a strong current in Noland’s work; absorbing the world around her and then reflecting it back through the mirror of a distorted funhouse.
DEDO VABO, H.i.P.O. – Hazardus Interstellar Perfessional Operations, 2019
The Dedo Vabo hippos return to the Coachella festival, determined to launch a rocket, H.i.P.O. – Hazardus Interstellar Perfessional, to conquer the galaxy. Despite having no experience in rocketry, the hippos have constructed a space-faring vehicle unlike any other. Standing seventy-five feet tall, the rocket sits atop an advanced laboratory and mission control center filled with animatronics and interactive special effects. The circular base structure, seventy-two feet in diameter, consists of six performance spaces, where a team of dedicated hippos can be seen utilizing the facility’s extensive capabilities for deep-space communications, scientific experimentation, trajectory monitoring, and calculation of launch coordinates. The hippos’ lack of intergalactic experience never dampens their determination to construct and launch a rocket and claim the dominant position in the interspecies space race.
Dedo Vabo creates in the realm of absurdity, combining visual art, technology and performance elements that “confuse, confound, and make people laugh.” With a cast and crew of about 180 fellow artists, makers, engineers, fabricators, special effects and animatronics experts, friends, and oddballs, they aim to entertain while highlighting the absurd, mundane, and sometimes-sinister undertones of society. The hippos were birthed at the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk in 2011. They first came to Coachella in 2013 with Power Station and returned in 2015 with Corporate Headquarters.
Photography by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Coachella.