Dezeen Magazine

Sterling Ruby's installation for Desert X 2019

California's Desert X returns with colourful and provocative installations

Installations set against the arid landscape of California's Coachella Valley for the Desert X biennial art festival include a huge orange block and a rainbow-like arch.

Artists including Sterling Ruby, John Gerrard and Pia Camil have participated in the second edition of Desert X, which opened earlier this month, following the inaugural event in 2017.

Sterling Ruby's installation for Desert X 2019
Sterling Ruby's Specter (also main image) is one of several dotted around the Coachella Valley as part of this year's Desert X

Spread across the valley east of Los Angeles, famed for the annual Coachella music festival, the installations and sculptures offer moments of colour, pause and reflection in remote locations – from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea.

One of the boldest statements is American artist Ruby's monolithic fluorescent orange block, titled Specter. The cuboid volume creates a gap in the mountain vistas, alluding to an edifice or an apparition, and is coloured like a safety warning.

"The bright, geometric sculpture creates a jarring optical illusion, resembling a Photoshopped composite or collage, as if something has been removed or erased from the landscape," said a project description.

Superflex's installation for Desert X 2019
Dive-In by Superflex comprises blocks with a coral-like texture and colour

Also using coloured blocks, Danish collective Superflex's Dive-In sculpture is a reminder that the valley was once underwater. Four cuboids are arranged in a Stonehenge-like fashion, with surfaces akin to marine coral in both texture and tone, and the structure occasionally acts as a venue for film screenings.

"Dive-In merges the recognition that global warming will drastically reshape the habitat of our planet with another more recent extinction: the outdoor movie theatre," a project description said.

Pia Camil's installation for Desert X 2019
Lover's Rainbow by Pia Camil has a twin on the other side of the US-Mexico border

Mexican artist Camil has installed one of two arches, formed from rebar and painted in rainbow hues, close to Rancho Mirage. The other is located on the other side of the US-Mexico border, in Baja, and the Lover's Rainbow project is intended to shed light on current immigration policies.

A giant video screen erected by Irish artist Gerrard plays footage of his black-smoke flag – a digital simulation he produced in 2017 to highlight the threat of carbon dioxide levels in the earth's atmosphere.

John Gerrard's installation for Desert X 2019
Footage of John Gerrard's digital simulation Western Flag mirrors the real time of day

The Western Flag footage is set against a barren oil field in Spindletop, Texas, and is aligned with the times of the day so it plays sunset at the same time as the real surroundings.

"The simulation has no beginning or end and runs by software that calculates each frame of the animation in real time as it is needed," said a description.

Julian Hoeber's installation for Desert X 2019
Julian Hoeber built his Going Nowhere Pavilion #1 using concrete breeze blocks laid out as a Möbius strip

Terracotta-toned breeze blocks – some punched with circular holes – form a pair of oval-shaped paddocks that Julian Hoeber has built side by side.

Katie Ryan has made an industrial-looking palm tree with translucent fronds that move in the breeze, while Ivan Argote has placed sets of concrete steps to provide elevated views of the landscape.

Katie Ryan's installation for Desert X 2019
Katie Ryan's Ghost Palm echoes the natural flora in an ethereal interpretation

A total of 18 artists and groups have contributed to the biennial. The others include Armando Lerma, Steve Badgett and Chris Taylor, Cara Romero, Cecilia Bengolea, Eric Mack, Gary Simmons, Iman Issa, Mary Kelly, Nancy Baker Cahill, and Postcommodity.

The Desert X installations are on view from 9 February to 21 April 2019. Visitor information is available from hubs in Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Indio, as well as online.

Ivan Argote's installation for Desert X 2019
With Ivan Argote's A Point of View staircases, visitors gain an elevated vantage of the Salton Sea

Last year's participants included Phillip K Smith III, who placed reflective poles in an arc, and Doug Aitken – whose mirrored cabin for Desert X was recently reinstalled in the Alps.

Photography is by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Desert X.

More images

Armando Lerma's installation for Desert X 2019
Visit Us in the Shape of Clouds by Armando Lerma
Steve Badgett and Chris Taylor's installation for Desert X 2019
Terminal Lake Exploration Platform by Steve Badgett and Chris Taylor
Cara Romero's installation for Desert X 2019
Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert by Cara Romero
Cecilia Bengolea's installation for Desert X 2019
Mosquito Net by Cecilia Bengolea
Eric Mack's installation for Desert X 2019
Halter by Eric Mack
Gary Simmons' installation for Desert X 2019
Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark by Gary Simmons
Iman Issa's installation for Desert X 2019
Surrogates, a film about things to be used, in order of appearance, by self or others, for touching upon larger, insidious, or different things by Iman Issa
Mary Kelly's installation for Desert X 2019
Peace is the Only Shelter by Mary Kelly
Nancy Baker Cahill's installation for Desert X 2019
Revolutions by Nancy Baker Cahill
Postcommodity's installation for Desert X 2019
It Exists in Many Forms by Postcommodity