The Art of Coachella

The artists performing at Coachella aren't confined to the stages.

A day at Coachella provides a myriad of possible distractions. From the onslaught of half-naked or half-crazy concert-goers to those who weren’t prepared to mix the intense heat and physicality of the experience with a boat-load of drugs, people watching doesn’t get much better. Not to mention people like Paris Hilton, R. Kelly (who performed with Phoenix last night?) and that one guy who plays Sookie’s brother on True Blood are walking around. There’s a gigantic, air-conditioned PlayStation tent filled with big screen TVs and dozens of handhelds if you feel like getting your Tekken on while you wait for your friend in the Porta- Potty line, and the on-site record store has an artist signing booth with an impressive daily roster for dedicated fans. 

But an important part of what makes this experience so special is the constant presence of amazing art installations. While it’s become expected to see them at Coachella, they’re sometimes overlooked as geographic markers, meeting spots or simple enhancements to the drug experience. But the landscape of the festival would be sadly barren with out them, and it’s a good idea to check them out up close. They really are amazing.
So on Day 2, with pace slowed a bit by my barking dogs and lack of sleep, I made sure to visit as many of them as I could between the sets. Here are the highlights:
Mirage: You know those foam-board models that architects use to show clients what their future structure is going to look like? This is like a fully interactive, lifesize one of those. Not only does the sprawling, all-white structure provide shade, if you ever wanted to feel like a train-set figurine, this is your chance.
PK-107 Mantis: A few years ago, there was a large crane dinosaur with jaws on one end that was used to pick up a junkyard car in an enclosed area. This seems like an update on that, with the pinching power replaced by “eyes” in the form of two giant globes and an insect “face” where the driver of the beast can sit. Not only safer than the dinosaur but quite a site at night when the eyes are lit.
Helix Poeticus: This is a gigantic, iridescent snail that sits right in the middle of the Coachella campus. It doesn’t “do” anything but the size and scope of it are impressive. At night, its stunning glow is a beautifully constant reminder to take things easy.
Balloon Chain: You know those massive strings of large, industrial balloons you see arcing over the long shots of the festival every year? One of the coolest things about them is that someone is holding them at one end, and all day long, during every day of Coachella, they are handed from one person to the next. Part deep-sea fishing, part water skiing, nothing puts a fresh spin on your day when one minute your walking to the Sahara Tent, and the next minute you’re holding a huge strand of balloons that goes on for hundreds of yards.
There’s also the colorful Do Lab structures, a Coachella Power Station complete with smokestacks, a Recyclasauras Rex statue and a colorful overhead piece called Through the Cattails.
And between amazing sets by the Evens, Café Tacuba, the Make-Up, Violent Femmes and Spiritualized, it was nice to see the finished products of some amazing artists, and also be reminded that the festival is trying to be something more than just bands on stages.
But it’s Sunday and time for the last day of this madness. C’mon, feet, don’t fail me now. 
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of
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