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Desert X Returns to Coachella Valley

Matt Johnson,.Sleeping Figure (2023).

After the 2022 Desert X exhibition was presented in the ancient Saudi Arabian city of AIUIa, the immersive art exhibition now returns to Coachella Valley, exhibiting works from eleven artists from Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia. Desert X 2023. The exhibition is free and runs from March 4 – May 7, 2023.

Co-curator Diana Campbell writes, “Contrary to the archetype, a desert is not defined by the absence of water. The desert landscape is formed by the memory of water.”

Desert X 2023 does not forget water. It flows with the circulation and changes of water across states, bodies, and time, celebrating the interconnectedness of life on our planet and the tenacity and imagination needed to maintain life on it across extremes.

The artists in the exhibition create instruments of self-awareness that make visible the forces that we exert on the world: how we design our environments, how we live, the messages we send that reinforce systems that might or might not be beneficial for us.

One of the participating artists is Matt Johnson, whose Sleeping Figure might be a cubist rendition of a classical odalisque, except here the cubes are shipping containers belonging to the globalized movement of goods and trade. Conceived at the time when a Japanese-owned, Taiwanese-operated, German-managed, Panamanian-flagged and Indian- manned container behemoth found itself for six days under Egyptian jurisdiction while blocking the Suez Canal, Johnson’s figure speaks to the crumples and breaks of a supply chain economy in distress. Situated along the main artery connecting the Port of Los Angeles to the inland United States, the sculpture gains local relevance from the recently approved siting of distribution centers in the north of Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs. Casual and laconic, it overlooks the landscape reminding us that the invisible hand of globalism now connected to its container body has come to rest in the Coachella Valley.

Another of the artists, Torkwase Dyson describes herself as a painter working across multiple mediums to explore the continuity between ecology, infrastructure and architecture. Dyson’s abstract works are visual and material systems used to construct fusions of surface tension, movement, scale, real and finite space. With an emphasis on the ways black and brown bodies perceive and negotiate space as information, Dyson looks to spatial liberation strategies from historical and contemporary perspectives. She seeks to uncover new understandings of the potential for more livable geographies, recognizing that many landscapes, infrastructures, and built environments were actively shaped to devalue Black life.

Liquid A Place is part of an ongoing series that started from the premise that we are the water in the room, inviting viewers to consider their bodily interconnection with rivers and oceans that surround us. After all, around 60 percent of our bodies and 70 percent of the planet is water, and these waters circulate across our bodies and the planet as they shift states from solid to liquid to gas.

For this iteration of Liquid A Place, Dyson creates a monumental sculpture that is a poetic meditation connecting the memory of water in the body and the memory of the water in the desert. How do we go to the water in our bodies to harvest memory? Can this liquid memory help us reconsider scale and distance as critical forms in holding onto liberatory life practices? What kind of scalable infrastructure can our bodies resist and invent, making cities more livable? How are new geographies formed from the architecture of our bodies?

Desert X is produced by The Desert Biennial and Its guiding purposes and principles include presenting public exhibitions of art that respond meaningfully to the conditions of desert locations, the environment and indigenous communities; promoting cultural exchange and education programs that foster dialogue and understanding among cultures and communities about shared artistic, historical, and societal issues; and providing an accessible platform for artists from around the world to address ecological, cultural, spiritual, and other existential themes.

Our structures of survival in these extremes speak not just to the physical adaptations of climate but to the social formations that give form to a world increasingly shaped by climate crisis and the political and economic migrations that follow in its wake.

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