Coachella 2014: Visual Artists That Rocked the Festival

Matt Silverman

Missed the massive art pieces at the fest? Don't worry, creative geniuses like Alexis Rochas and James Peterson dish on the huge pretzel-like sculpture and mirror blocks that drew in festivalgoers.

Interactivity and approachability defined the Coachella experience this year, as far as art is concerned. Large-scale pieces such as James Peterson’s “Cryochrome,” Phillip K. Smith III’s “Reflection Field,” Alexis Rochas’ “Lightweaver” and Poetic Kinetic’s “Escape Velocity” all engaged with the crowd of roughly 100,000 excited festivalgoers and the vast, expansive desert landscape that they inhabited in Indio, Calif.

One of the most attention-grabbing pieces gracing the polo field was Poetic Kinetic’s “Escape Velocity,” the follow-up to last year’s now Internet-famous “Helix Poeticus,” aka #CoachellaSnail. This year marks Poetic Kinetic’s third piece at Coachella. “Escape Velocity” is a 36' tall x 57' long x 40' wide mobile astronaut. One moment the astronaut could be seen near the Main Stage, and later that day, you could find it over by the Gobi tent.

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During the day, the astronaut roamed the festival grounds, offset by a beautiful desert background and completely impressive in size. But nighttime is when the astronaut really came alive with its three video systems: facial recognition, which allows viewers to project their face in the visor of the astronaut’s helmet; a reflection camera, taken from the point of view of the astronaut, capturing the people below; the video stream is delayed by three or four seconds to add an additional layer to play with; and footage that Poetic Kinetics collected beforehand, which includes planets, both beautiful and destroyed.

Patrick Shearn, co-owner of Poetic Kinetics and designer of “Escape Velocity” noted the approachability, verticality (many broke the skyline) and spectacle of many works.

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Another spectacular piece was Rochas’ “Lightweaver,” visible upon immediate entry into the festival. The work is a 45' tall x 70' wide twisting and turning sculpture — almost in the shape of a pretzel if you look at it from the right angle — that is magenta by day and green and gold by night as lights shine all over it. The piece is highly accessible.

“You can touch it, you can grab it, you can walk through it,” says Rochas. He speaks to the ways in which the viewer becomes one with the artwork. While a gallery keeps viewers at a distance, the works at Coachella — Rochas’ and others — were immersive, bringing viewers into the experience.

A short walk away, Smith’s “Reflection Field” also played with color and immersion — while exploring reflection. An illuminating force, “Reflection Field” mirrors its surroundings by day and bathes them in color by night. “In a way, the project is not really site specific, but at the same time, it’s entirely site specific because it’s a mirrored volume — it always absorbs its environment,” Smith explains.

The work features a handful of rectangular blocks of varying size with mirrors on them. (Yes, there were selfies taken by the masses, to no one’s surprise.) During the day, the blocks reflect festivalgoers, a roaming astronaut and herculean desert terrain.

Smith adds: “All of that insanity — the colors, the bands, the stages, the sky, the palm trees, all of that — end up being used as material or medium on the surface of these, and that’s venue one.”

At night, the blocks light up in neon through its LEDs, and because the blocks are made out of mirrors, the colors begin to blend together. A red block and blue block, for instance, will mirror each other to make purple.

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Meanwhile, in between the Mojave and Sahara tents was Peterson’s “Cryochrome,” a 40' long x 20' high sculpture with a 30' long rotating passage inside. It is completely absorbing. On the outside, the work is covered in old CDs, creating a beautiful chromatic exterior full of deep blues and purples, framed by flowing, white material. Inside, viewers walk through a rotating tunnel, completely altering their center of gravity.

“It’s really important for me to create experiences,” Peterson says. “All my sculptures are about experience, trying to transport people into another realm, giving them the opportunity to have a place that’s very different from the environment around them, something that’s more sedate and kind of beautiful and colorful.”

Speaking to the greater art scene at Coachella, Peterson, perhaps, sums it up best: “There’s a common thread in a lot of art in terms of interactivity at Coachella,” Peterson explains. “It’s not just something that you look at, but something that has a reaction to you, something that reacts with you — there’s a dialogue there, a deeper dialogue.”

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