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In the heart of the low desert in Palm Springs, an installation by the Latin American artist Mario García Torres is on view with Desert X. Seen positioned in front of a breathtaking mountainous backdrop is Searching for the Sky (While Maintaining Equilibrium)—an installation of 23 mirrored sculptures that remain stationary but individually angle up to the sky and down to the ground, creating what he calls a “mechanical ballet.”
Each piece utilizes similar mechanisms derived from mechanical bulls, yet motions are slowed to tilts and pans rather than fast-paced jerking movements. The result is a choreographed presentation that balances the sights of land and sky, capturing the ride of mankind overcoming nature.
For Torres, who lives and works between Los Angeles and Mexico City, this presentation continues his exploration of conceptual art, institutional assessment, and modernist myths, which he often dissects through film, photography, projection, sound, and video. Here in the desert—a notably beautiful yet challenging terrain—the artist’s work reflects on cowboy culture and the American “Wild West,” asking us to contemplate our relationship to the landscape and role within it.
Special for the unveiling of Searching for the Sky (While Maintaining Equilibrium) was a toast hosted by the installation's partner presenter, Hennessy Paradis, led by the Senior Brand Director of Hennessy Rare Editions, Michael Traynor. As guests—like Susan Davis, the Founder and President of Desert X, and Neville Wakefield, Desert X’s Artistic Director—were treated to drams of cognac, a live musical performance also took place, complementing the kinetic art installation.
“This is the largest piece we’ve ever done, certainly the most physical, and quite possibly the most beautiful,” said Wakefield at the event. “The search for equilibrium and the search for balance is a conversation in nature that is very powerful.”
As the sun set, Torres greeted the crowd to a tour of the grounds before commencing its opening. “Thank you to Desert X for inviting me to a place that feels like home. It feels very important to think of a piece for the desert—a place very similar to where I’m from. In a way, I’m making a piece for my hometown, and looking for home in a place like this,” he said in front of his work.
Ahead of showing a presentation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York next month, Whitewall heard from the artist about how his Coachella Valley presentation explored the Wild West, failure, and the importance of slowing down.
WHITEWALL Typically, your work responds to the legacies of conceptual art, debunks modernist myths, deconstructs artworld icons, and reveals the nature of universal truths. What about cowboy culture in the American West interested you? Surprised you?
MARIO GARCÍA TORRES: Since the first visit I was interested in the desert, both as a hard place and as a fantasy. The desert is such a difficult concept to grasp, an immense, easy-to-get-lost place, both in reality, but as a metaphor is so engaging and intriguing. Rethinking the desert was a very important part of the framework of the show, but it was also a place I knew, as I grew up in a different desert, in the northeast of Mexico. Thinking about this came the cowboy, as a metaphor for the cultural history of the desert, as the character of our relationship as humans to the desert. The cowboy is us—the humans trying to control, or at least trying to question, our relationship with nature.
WW: How did you explore this through the use of 23 mechanical mirrored sculptures?
MGT: I am especially interested in the act of bull riding, which happens in these latitudes because it is an initiative that is bound to fail. It is an act for which its peak, its most interesting moment, is the fall. I am deeply interested in the actions that we take that fail. I think as a society, we need to learn that way, and allow failure to be in our daily narrative. I hope the kinetic sculptures are objects that tell the story of failure, of that non-progressive space, while also acknowledging the different layers of the desert, of that difficult-to-grasp context.
WW: Searching for the Sky (While Maintaining Equilibrium) uses mechanisms adapted from mechanical bulls—but uses mirrors instead of bulls, and the movements are slowed instead of fast, jerking motions. How did you capture and create this specific movement from mechanical bulls? Was its specificity important for the installation?
MGT: When we slow down, in life, in any activity, it's easier to understand what is happening around us. These are not bulls, but sculptures that replicate the movements of a mechanical bull. I wanted to understand that representation while revealing the beauty in it. I think that by slowing down the movement, it becomes some kind of choreography. The "mechanical ballet" becomes a choreographed duet of land and sky that captures the ride of mankind negotiating our relationship with nature.
WW: Can you elaborate on this idea, and how you want us to contemplate the Wild West?
MGT: The cultural history of the wild west is problematic, but also intriguing. Is a difficult-to-survive place, but also is a place that offers the possibility of reinvention. When I started to think about the project I was ready to be in that place, to work on that place. It definitely could be a metaphor for our language, the art world, our codes, our symbolic tools. And as an artist, I am interested precisely in being in that problematic place. In a slippery place.
WW: Is the specific installation arrangement important?
MGT: It's important that it feels random, natural, and organic. Not logically arranged, not museographically arranged.
WW: For the project, you partnered with Hennessy Paradis. Why was this a collaboration that made sense to you?
MGT: Hennessy Paradis is defined by character, a unique blend that is both profound, strong and precise, something that hits both the brain but is also at the hearth of emotions. I hope Searching For The Sky register in the same place, while proposing that paradise might just be between harsh reality and fantasy.
WW: During the toast, there was also a live musical component. Can you tell us about how that communicated with the artwork?
MGT: I wanted the opening to become an event, a performance. Its a very different work with music and without. The idea of bringing abstract avant-garnish sounds made by analogue synthesizers, a guitar and reverbs, was brought by the work itself. The movement and the reflections in the kinetic sculptures are on one side soft and beautiful, I think. But the machines that make that movement possible are, well machines, that make drone sounds, which bring the objects back into a futuristic feeling, a modern sculpture feeling. I wanted to enhance that part of the work with music, with similar sounds, but that was at the same time harmonic, and beautiful. I hope that music helped to see that part of the work. Not everyone appreciates the low sounds of machinery out in the middle of the desert.
WW: Can you tell us about your work included at MoMA next month?
MGT: That is a work I made 14 years ago, which entered the MoMA collection a few years ago, and will be installed there for the first time. It's an installation composed of two slide projections and music. Its a visual essay, surrounding the Grapetree Bay Hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This was the place where Daniel Buren made his very first in-situ works, in the form of mosaic murals in the early 1960s. When I started this research, I was interested in the fact that after decades, the context of the murals had dramatically changed, from being a beach resort to becoming the ruins of that same place. The images are accompanied by a song I made with a friend and the lyrics in the song come in fact from a letter Buren wrote to his parents back in the day expressing his frustration with the works he was doing. I am excited we are remaking the song for the MoMA presentation. The same melodies will now sound to the beats of reggaeton.
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