Every April, thousands of people descend upon Indio, California for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival held across two weekends. While the prime focus is on music — as evidenced by the heavy-hitting lineup this year — it is also an art festival at heart, as its name states. So we all know from social media of the large art installations at “chella” as the locals call it, and the fun, photo-ops and spirit of the festival that each one gives off each year, but what is maybe lost or less known are the artists and volunteers required to bring these works to life and what actually happens to the pieces after the festival is over. All the artists go through Goldenvoice which commissions pieces for the festivities and spend anywhere from six to eight months creating their respective pieces from ideas to festival-ready bodies of art. However, each piece lives its own life. We asked some of the most talented artists over the last few years to tell their unique perspectives and journeys and share some of their favorite pieces; below is what they had to say.
The group of creative minds from Los Angeles known as Poetic Kinetics may arguably have one of the most Instagrammed pieces from recent Coachella memory in the form of Escape Velocity. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the piece has a long term home at the Science Museum of Minnesota. As for other pieces, Desiderium Eruca recently made a trip out to the Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas and its fire pagoda pieces have traveled to festivals and private events. Coming full circle, other works become “organ donors of a sort, and contributed their components to new designs,” says Cynthia from PK. When you spend nearly half a year designing, building and working on a piece, with “a core group of about 15-20 handling the design and fabrication and initial setup, ramping up to 40-50+ crew members and volunteers during the event,” everything is a labor of love and passion. In addition, materials have to be chosen based on certain factors, “appropriateness to the artwork and availability are big considerations, as are durability, cost and ease of use. We like to use materials that are sustainable or reusable whenever possible.”
Los Angeles-based creative collective Aphidoidea is no stranger to the creative process required for Coachella with its Chrono Chromatic and Through the Cattails pieces. While its first project in 2013 Through the Cattails was saved and reused a few times at other festivals, 2015’s Chrono Chromatic had the LEDs salvaged and the rest demolished and sent into a wood chipper. The group decided on wood because it’s cheaper and faster to build for temporary projects. “Metal and fabric was our first contender but was too costly and would bottleneck at the welding stage,” said Andrew Hernandez, one of the artists in the group. The group created several designs that were submitted by August/September and notified of selection in October/November. Final design and fabrication began in December and 45 people helped throughout the project which culminated in an on-site install of Chrono Chromatic one week before Coachella in April 2015. For those who want an artist’s choice on what to enjoy, Andrews says, “Do-Lab’s bright fabric tensile structures are amazing every year.”
In 2015, Benjamin Ball and Ball-Nogues Studio took years of research and thought and turned it into Pulp Pavilion. From the start, Ball says that “paper was always the material of choice and inseparable from this architectural piece.” His team of seven on-site and four in-studio took about six to eight months to complete the piece and knew that it would be composted at the end. However, Ball felt extremely satisfied with it; it’s his favorite piece because “it was a statement about disposability in the context of a short lifespan.” Using a paper medium allowed the piece to be built to such a large scale without the worrying of it falling or breaking. Definitely one of the pieces enjoyed by the masses in 2015, Pulp Pavilion not only spoke to the beliefs of Ball and his team in terms of sustainability but also to thinking about materials used at festivals in a whole new manner.
Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea inspired another artist on our list with his Katrina Chairs piece in 2016 and it’s easy to see why with the way they towered over the festival and commanded attention while at the same time blending in seamlessly. It took the artist about nine months from ideation to completed festival piece with the help of a 50-person team. Every design aspect was accounted for from the start and projected onto the steel and wood selected for the chairs. Due to the size of the piece, it was dismantled after the festival and recycled but Arrechea believes “its monumentality and impact remain alive all across the internet and the millions of likes reinforce that epic moment.” It’s for this reason Arrechea likes his piece so much. “Many people agree Katrina Chairs did a great impact and newspapers and magazine talk about the political implications of this particular work. So in that sense, it’s the one I really like. To share the stage with musicians was certainly a very enriching experience for me.”
New York-based artist duo Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao aka Chiaozza, were one of this year’s newcomers and started their ideation of Chiaozza Garden at last year’s festival when they were invited to see if there was interest in a possible project. Due to the scale of the project, the duo decided on architectural materials over sculpture mediums using plywood armatures, 2x4s, sonotubes, stucco, house paint, industrial rubber tubing, PVC and metal piping, pipe insulation foam, upholstery foam, and four-way-stretch fabric. “We tended towards materials that were workable with a large team trained in-house building, as well as fun yet durable materials like the fluorescent tubing,” Adam and Terri explained. Throughout the process, six artist assistants, 15 construction team members, a seamstress, lighting team, and art team from Goldenvoice helped bring the piece to life. With all the hard work and time put in, Adam and Terri hope to find another life for the pieces after the festival. “We are aware that this experience is very much about a moment in time, and we hope that the sculptures have enriched someone’s life in the short time that they have existed.”
New York-based artist Gustavo Prado says he thinks he was the last artist to be approached by Coachella this year for Lamp Beside the Golden Door and had to this the ground running in all aspects of the project. He attributes the materials to his selection; “for the fact that assembling it was a very fast process, and that the materials are easy to find anywhere, we didn’t need to compromise in any way with materials, aesthetics, or process.” LED tape was used on the inside of the channels and was aided by four additional helpers to install the larger mirrors onto the piece — nicknamed “Navy SEALs” for “their level of intensity and expertise.” The efforts of those men provided festival goers a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse at the piece since it won’t be rebuilt in the same configuration. However, Gustavo will recycle the materials for new projects at the Bronx Museum, OMI International Center of Arts and Lurixs Gallery in Brazil. In terms of what he found inspiration and impressive, Prado liked Katrina Chairs from last year and is also a huge fan of Phillip K. Smith and Doug Aitken who both also us reflective properties for their art. Finally, he says that because this year’s group of artists were so strong, he benefited from them: “If you consider that my piece is prepared to absorb everything around it, having great art on that same grass really helped.”