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Optic Art at Desert X in Palm Springs

Palm Springs always feels like travelling back in time to a Mid-Century Modern life with the desert as backdrop. Except that this week it was surprisingly green everywhere, (ok, greener). Yes, after almost 6 years in California under severe draught conditions, I have been reacquainted with rain! And a lot of it!

Don’t hate me just yet, let me earn your forgiveness with a post full of pictures this week as I give you Desert X, an exhibition of art installations throughout the Coachella Valley.

Fresh from a week where I have been looking at a lot of Impressionist landscapes with their beautiful captures of light effects and changes, Phillip K. Smith III ‘s Circle of Land and Sky basically challenged all traditions taking landscape art to yet another level.

He arranged a ring of mirrored poles, 300 of them, all angled at 10°. They act as reflectors of what’s around which honestly does not look like much more than an open field with a few scraggly bushes.

Yet with all the rain lately, Palm Springs is a desert oasis with breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks in the distance. The Circle of Land and Sky brings those all so close, refracted in sequence, almost fully recomposed if you position yourself correctly.

As I walked around the ring I could suddenly see the reflectors grab the landscape that I could see in front of me AND the scenery that was also behind me and that I could not see simultaneously.

Both sceneries super-imposed themselves in surprising harmony while walking on the inside or outside of the ring kept on making me disappear. Practically magic!

Starting to feel like in optic art heaven, I then drove to see Claudia Comte’s mural.

Curves and Zigzags looks deceptively simple.

Where does the curved lines shift into straight lines?

Where does an angle shift into a curved wall? Or is it the other way round?

And on which side? And then, when the arrows actually point to the snow-capped peaks (again!)? Nature becomes graphic!

Last but not least, Mirage by Doug Aitken. I am not sure words are sufficient to describe what’s been done here.

A ranch-style house perched on a hill and made exclusively of mirrors, both on the outside and the inside, Mirage captures every bit of the surrounding landscape reflected on its outside walls.

And it looks good in Black & White too!

Can you see Palm Springs showing like a frieze on the edge of the roof?

Where Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to bring the outside inside and the inside outside, Doug Aitken makes you wonder if you really need the inside. But just in case, he brings in the scenery and you feel like inside a kaleidoscope.

And then, while you walk around, you might suddenly see the house fully almost disappear from the landscape. Did I already say “practically magic”?

Palm Springs after the rain gave me a perfect day, blue skies and balmy temperatures. So why do I wish I could go back to Desert X to catch some clouds and the sunset hours? Because all these installations have limitless art in store…

Go see Desert X, these are only three of 15 installations. It is on until April 30, 2017.

Doug Aitken’s Mirage will stay until October 31, 2017.

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© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

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