Colossal, plant-filled canine silhouettes. A fierce, towering protector with horns affixed to her head and a child secured to her back. A colorful assemblage of kaleidoscopic, skybridge-linked towers rising high above the Sonoran Desert. No, it’s not a dehydration-fueled fever dream: Coachella is indeed back.
After a two-year hiatus prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has returned to the grounds of the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, (and your various social media feeds) for its 21st edition. Joining a bevy of top musical acts—Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, Swedish House Mafia with the Weeknd, Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Carly Rae Jepsen, Arcade Fire, not Kanye West, and more—are a total of 11 artists, designers, and architecture studios hailing from across the globe that have been commissioned to create immersive, site-responsive art installations for Coachella’s 2022’s six-day run over two consecutive three-day weekends (April 15–17, April 22–24).
As noted by Coachella in its unveiling of the 2022 Coachella Art Program, the monumental works explore a “range of pressing topics and global themes” while serving as “vital navigational markers on the field as gathering points, havens for shelter and respite, and spaces for reflection and contemplation.” (The Coachella Art Program can now boast a Pritzker Prize winner in its ranks with past commissioned artist, Francis Kéré.)
Joining returning artists NEWSUBSTANCE (a 2018 AN Best of Design Award winner), DoLaB, Robert Bose, Don Kennell, and Raices Cultura, are six artists/designers/architects making their Coachella debut: New York-based Romanian architect Oana Stănescu, Dutch designer Kiki Van Eijk, designer and architect Martin Huberman of Buenos Aires-based Estudio Normal, Coachella Valley-based artist Cristopher Cichocki, El Paso, Texas-based artistic duo LosDos, and Architensions, an architectural design studio and research agency jointly headquartered in Brooklyn and Rome.
“In the same way music is a universal language, the experience of these new spaces invites connectedness and adds an iconic sense of place in the spirit of the Festival,” said Paul Clemente, art director for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. “After two years of planning, finally seeing the works come to fruition and make their way onto the field is very exciting. My hope is that they will surprise, inspire and inform, creating personal memories and serving as lasting beacons for the Festival.”
While all six works are pointedly impossible-to-miss, Architensions’ The Playground, a fragmented, leisure space-celebrating vertical city described by the studio as a “site of fun, and a framework for promoting collaboration and freedom of movement,” strikes a particularly dramatic presence in the desert landscape although interaction between festival-goers and the steel-framed, dichroic film-clad installation is limited to interactions of the visual, not physical, variety.
“The design evokes a familiar urban landscape, where the significance of play is reverted to its original definition of free personal time, in other words, a playground,” explained the firm. “Similar to Cedric Price’s Fun Palace, the grids create a new common ground, an open space that opposes the isolation and homogeneity of technologically mediated experiences.”
“In an analogy with Aldo Rossi’s ‘Il teatro del Mondo,’ The Playground creates an environment similar to a theater, in which people can interact in a sort of performance,” elaborated Architensions cofounder Alessandro Orsini of his firm’s installation. “It provides an opportunity to experience a leisure space without the use of technology, simply by interacting with the space and its materiality. The user is at the same time a spectator and performer.”
“The Playground is a fragment of a city, a node for engaging festival-goers in collective interactions and in performance, relaxation, and play,” added fellow cofounder Nick Roseboro.
Below, you’ll find images and official descriptions, as provided by the festival, of The Playground and the five other installations from the commissioned artists and designers making their Coachella debut this year.
Mutts | Oana Stănescu
“We can learn a lot from dogs: joy, lust for life, loyalty, unconditional affection and an endless capacity for interspecies love. The New York–based Romanian architect makes the point with a pack of massive canine sculptures, each in a typical position, creating a dialog and inviting interaction. You can touch the nose of the stretching (downward) dog, walk under the pointer, and rest on the paws of the sitting dog. The striking silhouettes, built with steel frames and filled with a variety of plants – lantana (red, yellow, purple), cassia, fountain grass, yellow bell, jasmine – reduce the dogs to their minimal forms, allowing their expressions to speak through their contours and gestures. You begin to wonder what they’re thinking. The plants add shagginess to the sculptures while creating a shaded place for gathering. Almost the entire installation is reusable and recyclable. Stănescu, who is known for creating architectural wonderlands incorporating elements of nature, has collaborated with the late Virgil Abloh, Ye and the New Museum in New York. She teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and MIT, and says her dog, a very good boi, is her favorite company. The project collaborators are Ashely Kuo and Mackinley Wang-Xu.”
Cocoon (BKF + H300) | Martín Huberman
“Designed in Buenos Aires copied in California. Remember the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when people looked up and marveled at the spaceship as it landed and music was the common language of communication? The Buenos Aires, Argentina–based architect and designer offers a similar experience with his nine-story sculpture constructed with 300 reproductions of the iconic BKF, or as otherwise known worldwide ‘butterfly,’ chair. In Buenos Aires in 1940 three architects — Bonet, Kurchan and Ferrari — designed the original chair, which was added to MoMA’s permanent collection a year later. The chair was quickly adopted by popular culture but its true success came through the reproduction of copycats and knock off chairs that spread among projects of the mid-century modern style. Thus the butterfly overtook the BKF and the prominent work of Argentinian design was invisibilized within popular culture. Huberman has reclaimed the narrative, naming his work Cocoon (BKF+H300) and using the reproductions to complete a structural irony of the mythological origin of a chair that was born out of a cocoon. The stunning architecture, which includes a silky ‘skin’ made of window shade-type material, offers shade during the day and illumination at night. Huberman, known for transforming everyday objects such as clothespins into site-specific public art, combines his experimental design practice Estudio Normal with his work as director of Galería Monoambiente, the first space in Buenos Aires dedicated to experimental architecture and design.”
La Guardiana | LosDos
“La Guardiana towers over the festival grounds wearing an enredo (skirt), a rebozo (shawl) to carry her child, a mask to conceal her identity, and horns to represent strength. She is the guardian of the immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and around the globe. The iconography on her enredo includes people walking and traveling by train and boat toward the border wall — an appeal for an understanding of the reasons that people make the dangerous journey to strange lands. The figure was created by El Paso, Texas-based artists Ramon and Christian Cardenas, aka, LosDos. The husband-and-wife duo is known for creating murals, screenprints, street poster installations, and even a large-scale inflatable sculpture, drawing their characters and ideas from everyday life in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.”
The Playground | Architensions
“In a colorful gesture to bring urbanity to the desert, Architensions, the architectural design and research studio of Alessandro Orsini and Nick Roseboro, presents a fragment of a city — a vertical response to the single-story suburban sprawl in the Coachella Valley. Drawn from research into the history of leisure and focused on human interaction with architecture, the module grid framework encompasses four towers, each ranging from 42 to 56 feet in height and a few linked by skybridges. Each tower features a variety of geometric forms, some with cyan, magenta and yellow dichroic film that bathes the surrounding area in colors as the sun shines through them, and others mirrored to encourage people to interact with them. At night, the mirrors amplify the lighting, performances, and the activity around the structure. The design also contains cultural references, such as arches suggestive of Roman architecture. Italianate also is the centerpiece — the piazza — a 174-by-104-foot public square at the intersection of the towers where people can rest on benches that flank its elevated platform. It’s a place for people to assert their own narrative — otherwise known as the fifth dimension of architecture: the experience.”
Circular Dimensions x Microscape | Cristopher Cichocki
“The five-story-tall Circular Dimensions (Microscape), constructed with more than 25,000 feet of PVC tubes, presents a visual spectacle peering into the artist’s ongoing exploration of water and the history of the desert. The bandshell-shaped pavilion contains a laboratory where scientists and artists generate experimental ‘video paintings’ by manipulating water, salt, barnacles, and algae from the Salton Sea under microscopes and projecting the activity in real time inside the pavilion’s ‘nucleus.” Meanwhile, a soundscape of field recordings and industrial rhythms resonates through the structure’s circular tunnels, elevating in intensity from day to night. Cichocki, based in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, creates ‘new earth art” interventions as well as video and installation works informed by his deep roots as a biomorphic painter. Microscape gives mammoth new context to his familiar materials, including reclaimed irrigation tubing and a “mutant” cast resin aloe vera — ‘a surviving seed’ from the desert’s ancient sea. When the sun goes down, the magnitude of the pavilion amps up with the artist’s ever-evolving audiovisual performance Circular Dimensions.”
Buoyed | Kiki Van Eijk
“Three massive buoys, each about four stories tall and angled as if they’re floating in a sea of grass, create a surreal and happy space where everybody belongs regardless of their differences. The Eindhoven, Netherlands–based designer created Buoyed with great optimism for the future. Each of the buoys includes cultural references emphasizing the goodness of diversity and inclusiveness. ‘It’s about the journey we’re making together in life and at Coachella,’ she explains. ‘When you’re at a festival for a few days, you’re in a bubble, making a journey. Everybody becomes one.’ The off-white buoy is the most elegant with its slim neck and 15-foot diameter base. Butterfly wings spread from its shiny steeple and illuminate at night. The blue buoy combines an igloo form with a patchwork dome atop a Dutch-style windmill, and its 18-foot diameter base offers a walk-through passage. The green buoy is the largest, with a 24-foot diameter base whose soft stucco rim allows for comfortable seating. Its cage-like body climbs to a dramatic union dome topped with a plume of palm leaves. Together, the buoys create a fantastical space to meet, interact, and bond. At night, LED lights activate their silhouettes, while the daytime offers a softer experience, like a calm sea. Van Eijk is one of the most accomplished names in Dutch design. She works in a whimsical but rigorous fashion with ceramics, textiles, metal, wood and glass, as well as furniture and lighting design.”