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This spring, Whitewall traveled to the West Coast for Goldenvoice’s Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California. Thanks to Visit Greater Palm Springs, we joined thousands of others in the towering mountains of the Coachella Valley for the much-awaited return of the festival after its pandemic postponement.
Though the music was the main event, the whimsy and carefreeness permeating the desert heat relied on much more than a few stages and the odd Ferris wheel to complete the experience. In planning over a period of years at the hand of art director Paul Clemente, the festival’s commissions saw international artists bringing engaging installations as wild as their imaginations might allow. Along with new works from Martín Huberman, Architensions, LosDos, Kiki Van Eijk, and Oana Stănescu, located centrally on the grounds was the latest feat from local artist Cristopher Cichocki, Circular Dimensions x Microscape.
Cichocki’s multifaceted practice investigates water, the history of the desert, and, more specifically, the nearby Salton Sea. The founder of the nonprofit Epicenter Projects, which recently launched the art space THE ELEMENTAL in collaboration with the Fondation LAccolade – Institute de France, Cichocki fulfilled his quest to create immersive, multisensory experiences at Coachella with the latest iteration of his ongoing Circular Dimensions project, which originated in 2016.
An environment in itself, the work at Coachella formed a giant dome reminiscent of a bandshell and reaching the equivalent height of a five-story building, containing in its structures many facets for activation and engagement. The outermost bubbles held experimental stations, projecting visuals of locally harvested barnacles, salt, and other natural matter into the center “nucleus,” where Cichocki was perched in a DJ booth, spinning live soundscapes to activate the structure alongside light and video projections.
During the trip, Whitewall had the pleasure of visiting Cichocki at THE ELEMENTAL. It was here that we learned more about the monumental installation in relation to his practice at large.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about Circular Dimensions x Microscape? How did this project come about?
CRISTOPHER CICHOCKI: For Coachella, Paul Clemente reached out to me going back to 2017. These discussions—and the process—definitely don’t happen overnight. It made sense to get me on the field for 2020, and, obviously, with the pandemic things got postponed. So instead of having less than a year, I had three years to develop this.
The pavilion is very architectural in the daytime. It’s 25,000 feet of PVC pipe. It has this sound system by L-Acoustics and the sound engineers I’ve been working with, Bobby McElver and Jonathan Snipes, are absolute geniuses. They’ve created a particular software for me to manipulate the sound through the tunnel, which is something I’ve never used before.
Working with the Coachella team, it’s really a situation where they want to see every artist they bring in have the best work of their career thus far . . . and to have them engineer and help me fabricate and do all of these things, it’s a dream situation.
WW: And would you consider this to be the best work of your career thus far? What is that like?
CC: I would say that, actually, yeah. This is the pinnacle thus far.
It’s surreal, to be honest, because it’s so much bigger than me: to see true, genuine social sculpture at work, this genuine amazement in people’s eyes–to discover the various layers within the work.
WW: How did your practice lead you to a project of this proportion?
CC: Going back to when I was at CalArts, I was always in search of the multisensory. At a certain point, the video was created to have a synesthesia, if you will, in relationship to the audio.
WW: Do you have synesthesia?
CC: No, I don’t [laughs], but a lot of people describe my earlier works as such—looks like it sounds, sounds like it looks. Then, to really just look at the body of work truly as a body . . . where I’m a painter, I’m a sculptor, I’m a photographer. There’s the sound element, there’s the video element. This all integrates into the installation environment in ways in which the hybridity, you can’t really distinguish.
WW: It becomes a whole experience. It’s not just an artwork.
CC: Yeah, I’ve been saying “immersive” for over a decade, and now it’s the biggest catchphrase out there. I’ve always been in search of dimensional perceptions beyond our everyday and to embed even the subtleties that you may be unaware of . . . there’s a lot of little Easter eggs.
WW: Sustainability almost seems like it’s second nature in relation to the subject matter of your work. How are you thinking about sustainability, both in this work and in your greater practice?
CC: It was important for me that the piece was allowed to have a life after Coachella. Building it with steel and PVC . . . people go, “Well, plastic, that’s a strange choice for an artist that’s in relationship with the environment.” But actually, if you think about PVC and certain plastics and the way that they’re manufactured, they’re actually much more sustainable than wood, steel, and so on. My hope is to find a way to reconfigure the installation onto another site and activate it every so often. It’s definitely an option.
Always embedded in my work is the topic of the Salton Sea. Within this installation, there’s a 12-foot double-sided painting, which includes barnacles excavated from the shore of the Salton Sea, along with fish bones. There’s a couple tons of salt on the stage as well.
I’ve actually been working with the Salton Sea since high school, and I’ve seen its demise. The receding shoreline of the Salton Sea is essentially what scientists are saying could be the largest airborne catastrophe in the United States if nothing is done to mitigate particulate matter.
I’ve been raising awareness and have that as a kind of forefront.
WW: Given that your viewers don’t always have this depth of knowledge and background, what kind of thought process or awareness are you hoping to foster?
CC: There’s a certain mutation between the natural world and industry in my work that, when you really start to unpack the discourse, people arrive at it. And I know this for a fact because kids tell me all the time what my work is about.