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A Closer Look at Four of the New Coachella Festival 2023 Installations

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023

Lance Gerber - courtesy of Coachella

Opened last Friday, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival returns with new, large-scale immersive works from renowned local and international artists and designers. The newly commissioned works include sculptural pieces by creatives across the globe: Kumkum Fernando, Vincent Leroy, Güvenç Özel, and Maggie West. Their works will act as fresh, colorful, and architectural beacons to attract, inspire, nourish and guide festival-goers, offering them a sense of joy freedom, and calm. transform the iconic Coachella landscape at various times of day and night.

From totemic figures that rise across the expanse of the Empire Polo Field to playful, floating mobiles and photographic-based installations and digital interventions, the massive installations by a selected roster of creative talent complement structures like Spectra, the seven-floor architecturally-inspired pavilion, Robert Bose’s quarter-mile long kinetic Balloon Chain, and Don Kennell’s Mustang.

 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023

The Messengers by Kumkum Fernando, comprises three monolithic figures, which appear at first as giant robots or action figures. But his “idols” — arranged in a row to create a colorful gathering place — pack volumes of meaning into their larger-than-life forms. The Sri Lankan artist, who lives and works in Vietnam, draws inspiration from the vivid colors of South Asian art and architecture, particularly Tibetan and Hindu temples, as well as from folk tales filled with gods and demons that resonate from his youth. In his practice, he collects objects, patterns, and items containing different iconography and reimagines them as contemporary art objects.

“Whenever I travel, I collect and document,” says Kumkum. “I have a library that I go through at different points in time. When I put them together, I often see unexpected things. I made a series of work completely out of window grills, another series from patterns from Persian rugs, and another from temple patterns. One day, I was arranging objects, and they appeared to form a figure. Then I thought I should make figures with these patterns.” 

The three figures at Coachella soar to between 65 and 80 feet, each standing on plinths with a base of steps where visitors can gather around the idols. Each idol is accompanied by a self-penned poem.

 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023

With Molecular Cloud, the Paris-based French artist Vincent Leroy imagines molecular clouds in the form of light, glossy inflatable objects floating above the vast green field of the festival. The artwork slowly changes, forming strange and organic shapes that reflect the surrounding revelry. As you move closer to the massive mobiles, the ground, people, and sky appear in Molecular Cloud’s reflective surfaces in a phantasmagorical spectacle that plays with your perception and detaches you from reality.

Leroy, who oscillates between the real (natural) and virtual (artificial), is interested in experimenting with the phenomena of perception. Movement is almost always his focus — the kind of movement, he says, that “inspires life, amazement, and a permanently shifting viewpoint.” Leroy slows this movement to uncover and magnify the gaps that often go unnoticed in today’s frenetic pace and performance. With Molecular Cloud, ripples, reflections, superimpositions, and the play of light plunge us into another dimension — light and airy, dreamlike, and meditative.

 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023

Los Angeles–based artist and architect Güvenç Özel engages the spectrum of human experience, from the physical to the virtual. His 60-foot-tall Holoflux is a portal to a broad digital ecosystem of ever-changing forms that you experience throughout the day. At night, the reflective surfaces of the sculpture’s spherical forms become lighting features, pulsating bright colors rather than reflecting the environment. Indeed, Holoflux is a hypermedia object with flickering lights, projections, graphics, and changing color schemes that cycle through different identities. From a distance, it appears as a sculpture, and it becomes architecture as you approach it. The nighttime projections of real-time video showing the festival action create an effect in which the sculpture appears to become invisible and then reappears.

“I consider myself a cyber-physical architect and a critical technologist,” Özel says. “Cyber-physical, meaning the work covers cyberspace and physical environments and the interaction between the two. Critical technologist, meaning engaging with new technological tools — their meaning, their impact on our social interactions, their impact on our environmental and political considerations, and how we can create more meaningful and engaging experiences to enhance the way that we socialize and communicate with each other.”

 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023

The Los Angeles–based artist Maggie West has created one of the world’s largest 3-D photography installations, reproducing her floral photographs on 20 steel structures, each covered with wood and vinyl, ranging from 6 to 56 feet tall. To create Eden, West photographed a variety of plants, each in two color schemes: warm (a combination of peach, gold, white, or pink) and cool (shades of blue, teal, indigo, and lavender). She uses lighting, not Photoshop, to color her photographs.

“By photographing familiar objects with multicolored lights, my work helps viewers look closer at some of the nature they might take for granted — like the texture of the snake plants and the stamens in the centers of the lilies,” says West. The high-resolution images appear on vinyl sheets, the warm palette on one side of each sculpture and the cool palette on the other. After dark, the sculpture comes alive with mapped projections onto the sculptures that create a vibrant light show that adds an extra colorful dimension to these already vibrant images.

 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2023

“Surprise encounters with these outsized projects in the middle of the valley, surrounded by music and the collective energy of the crowd has become a much-anticipated shared experience at the Festival, and some of the works have been woven into the archetypal imagery of Coachella,” commented Paul Clemente, who manages the art program for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. “The arts program has evolved significantly since inception and the participants, who come from around the world and from Southern California are well-respected in their fields, presenting extraordinary and thoughtful works in a setting where they can inspire, inform, and invite direct engagement with art and current social and cultural themes and ideas. It is a unique aspect of this Festival, and we really endeavor to carry that spark into the community with adjacent school programs and our on-site Coachella Arts Studios.”

Curatorial Advisor Raffi Lehrer added, “In selecting projects from around the world, our intention is to bring together artists, architects, and designers whose practices invite participation, inclusion, and transformation. We strive to create a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural program that reflects our audience and the many performing artists that grace the stages of the festival. The resulting works will become icons — part of the identity of this year’s show. These installations act simultaneously as way-finding markers, points of the congregation, and most importantly, accessible entry points for all show-goers to experience art.”