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Day 2: The Art of Coachella

Music isn't the only draw at Coachella -- the art installations are otherworldly



    I want to talk about all of the new amazing art out on the Coachella campus, but first I need to make a quick amendment to my Survival Guide from a few days ago. Don’t know how I could have forgotten it, but a bandana has to be added to the list. It might even have to be at the top. But unless you like ingesting anywhere from about four to nine tablespoons of dust and dirt, a quick trip to the 99¢ store is one of the smartest pre-festival moves you can make.

    Now, while music is always the big draw in Indio (read my Day 1 review here), the art is a close second. And this year is better than ever before. In past years, favorites like the Tesla Coil, the Coachella Snail (whose picture even made the 2014 wristbands), and the gigantic, illuminated, origami bird have enlivened the festival grounds. But other than Robert Bose’s ever-present Ballon Chain, all new installations were added this year.

    Poetic Kinetics’ "Escape Velocity"Poetic Kinetics’ "Escape Velocity" is a huge, mobile, model of an astronaut that (slowly but surely) moves around the polo fields before settling in one spot each day. While it’s quite something to see the thing crawl across the desert skyline, get closer and you’ll see that the enormous creation has some amazing intricate details - moving fingers on each of its massive hands and the shield of its mask that is actually a LED screen playing ethereal images. I’ve seen countless people get horizontal to take a picture looking up at it. And without a doubt, it’s a big favorite of those indulging in mind-altering substances as well.

    Alexis Rochas’ "Lightweaver" art installation at 2014 CoachellaWalking into the festival this year, fans are greeted with Alexis Rochas’ "Lightweaver." A twisted, geometrical installation, it looks like a neon-colored roller coaster from a Nintendo racing game. Like so many of the larger pieces, it serves as a gathering point for people who have been separated from their groups. I’ve heard “Meet me at the pretzel” quite a few times this year. 

    Mike Grandaw’s "Caterpillar" is a king-sized, wooden model of the larval insect that uses palm trees for antennae and thousands of flower boxes (filled with all kinds of plant life) as skin. Inside, there are benches to sit on and it provides welcome shade during the hottest parts of the day. 

    Christain Ristow’s "Becoming Human" art installation at Coachella 2014Alongside the astronaut, the other guardian of this year’s campus is Christain Ristow’s "Becoming Human." The colossal, red-clay-colored robot sits in the middle of the field attempting to pick up a flower. It also serves as a meeting spot, but the robot’s silhouette (especially against the lights of Coachella's mammoth ferris wheel) is something to behold. 

    These are just a few of this year's installations. I’m sure many will be replaced in 2015. That art is even part of the equation in Indio has a lot to do with the festival’s wild popularity. It’s not just the transitory nature of the art and the knowledge that it may be gone as soon as you are. It’s that Coachella puts so much time and effort into creating this wild pageant of non-musical attractions that endears it to patrons. The combination of artwork, installations, and music combine for an experience that is unlike any other. And it’s the reason, even though my feet hurt and I still feel like I have sand in my teeth, that I’ll be back next year. 

    Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of