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Architensions at Coachella

Art Activates the Desert to Make the Magic of Coachella

Coordinated with the support of Visit Greater Palm Springs, Whitewall recently traveled to the West Coast for Goldenvoice’s Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, CA, which took place over two weekends, April 15—17 and April 22—24. Set against the towering mountains and the red-tinged sand of the Coachella Valley, thousands gathered for the return of the festival following its pandemic postponement, seeing a lineup of top musicians gracing the expansive festival grounds.

Though the music was the main event, drawing international visitors for performances from the likes of Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, Flume, Black Coffee, Doja Cat, and many others, the whimsy and carefree permeating the desert heat relied on much more than a few stages and the odd Ferris wheel to complete the experience. Situated across the dusty landscape and guiding the eyes as beacon, meeting point, and immersive experience was a series of commissioned art installations. In planning over a period of years, they were the visual cornerstone of the magical festival mood that carried attendees, old and young, cavorting between stages and tents with expressions of joy and amazement, throughout the days and nights.

Cristopher Cichocki at Coachella Cristopher Cichocki, “Circular Dimensions x Microscape,” photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

At the center of the grounds was local artist Cristopher Cichocki’s Circular Dimensions (Microscape), forming a giant dome reminiscent of a bandshell and reaching the equivalent height of a five-story building with over 25,000 feet of PVC pipes. An environment in itself, Cichocki’s immersive work contained three spaces within the structure that allowed visitors to pass through the form and experience the inner workings of the habitat while inside. Born from Cichocki’s multifaceted practice investigating water, the history of the desert, and more specifically the nearby Salton Sea, the two outermost bubbles contained experimental stations that were activated by other scientists and artists, projecting visuals of locally-harvested barnacles, salt, and other natural matter into the center “nucleus” via digital microscope. There Cichocki was perched in a specially-crafted DJ booth. During the day, standing at just the right angle allowed a view of the mountain range in the distance through the mirage-like screen of the sliced piping, whilst the artist’s live-spun soundscapes activated the structure, culminating in the evening with a corresponding show of lighting.

Architensions at Coachella Architensions, “The Playground,” photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Across the way and equally unmissable, the design house Architensions took the idea of childlike wonder quite literally with its installation The Playground. Reminiscent of the jungle gyms and monkey bars of elementary school recess—though in exponential proportions—the structure’s vibrant geometric bars and mirrored surfaces provided shade and a longing for scraped knees, all the while, presenting a fragment of a cityscape amid the geography’s single-story development.

Martín Huberman, “Cocoon (BKF + H300),” photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Nearby, Martín Huberman’s Cocoon (BKF + H300) honored his Argentinian roots by reclaiming for his country the iconic shape of the quite familiar “butterfly” chair. A beacon in white ascending above the crowd, the piece unsurprisingly took on a cocoon-like form, which was constructed from a collection of the very specific X-shape chair base, originally designed in Buenos Aires in 1940 by the architects Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, and Jorge Ferrari (BKF). Before it could be patented, the design was taken and mass-produced around the world, leaving its buyers without an inkling of insight into its origins. For Coachella, Huberman constructed the work on-site, implementing a mesmerizing show of lights for the darker hours, which nodded to suggestions of transformation and reclamation through lighting design taking cues from visuals like the local species of butterflies.

Interspersed between palm trees and performance stages, other new commissioned works completing the experience included Kiki Van Eijk’s three surreal statues titled Buoyed; LosDos’s omniscient figure La Guardiana; and Oana Stănescu’s living sculptural canines titled Mutts, which were made from giant steel frames filled with various flora. And returning to the festival for the third year, we also saw the technicolor tower Spectra by the U.K.-based NEWSUBSTANCE, which invited visitors into its twisting structure for filmy, colorful photo-ops and sweeping views of the entire fairgrounds.

Oana Stănescu, “Mutts,” photo by Ellie Lauren, courtesy of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.
Cristopher Cichocki at Coachella Cristopher Cichocki, “Circular Dimensions x Microscape,” photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.




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