Looking into Nature

Land art emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of a growing interest in wilderness preservation. Artists began to sculpt, arrange and change the Earth with temporary shapes and forms, reframing nature to challenge human perception. For example, Robert Smithson’s (b. 1938-1973) Spiral Jetty (1970), a 457-metre-long platform that was built into the Great Salt Lake, Utah, from nearby sediment and mud. Nancy Holt (1938-2014) also reframed the landscape with large-scale concrete sculptures, which she likened to “seeing devices.” Desert X responds to the legacy of this seminal movement. Since 2017, international practitioners have been invited to “activate” the Coachella Valley – an area that stretches across 400 mi2 and is boarded by a ridge of mountains to the north and southeast: San Bernardino, San Jacinto and Santa Rosa. The rocky, arid desert exemplifies nature’s majesty, which is echoed by site-specific installations on the changing natural world. Western Flag (2019), for example, references the first oil find in Spindletop, Texas, to highlight the damaging impact of fossil fuels. 

John Gerrard’s (b. 1974) computer-generated simulation, which was part of the 2019 exhibition, features a billowing black smoke flag, providing a stark reminder of the exploited environments humans leave behind. Two years later, Alicja Kwade (b. 1979) used interlocking steel frames and irregular blocks of white marble to symbolise glaciers. ParaPivot (2021) embodies the duality of the natural forms: solid yet fragile, hollow yet full – teetering on the edge of an irreversible collapse. This year, exhibiting artists continue to focus on the environment, but also examine the social and political issues that follow extreme weather events. Commissioned works from Rana Begum (b. 1977), Himali Singh Soin (b. 1987) and Torkwase Dyson (b. 1973), amongst others, offer new ways to look at migration and globalism by evoking the movement of water. “I am inspired by water cycles, how it moves across solid, liquid, and gas states,” writes co-curator Diana Campbell. “I hope that the show will help us imagine how our energy has a transference far beyond what we see just in front of us in our own localities in the here and now.”

Desert X | 4 March – 7 May

Words: Saffron Ward

Image Credits:
1. Desert X installation view, John Gerrard,Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017,2017-2019, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Desert X.
2. Desert X installation view of Alicja Kwade, ParaPivot (sempiternalclouds). 2021. Photography by Lance Gerber. Courtesy the artist and DesertX.