There are several places in the natural world to which artists can turn for inspiration. Take the rainforest, for example, with its vibrant wildlife and bright greens and earthy browns. Or perhaps the sea, with the many and varied forms of life that can be found therein.

Then there’s the desert. This may not be the most obvious source of artistic inspiration, due to the fact that there’s barely anything worth taking note of. However, true artistic genius can find a mountain of inspiration anywhere- quite literally, in the case of the desert.

This is exactly what can be found to be taking place in the Coachella Valley, Southern California. It is here that Desert X is taking place. This exhibition, stretching from February 25 to April 30, 2017, is being held both indoors and out on the desert landscape itself. By using the surroundings as a canvas, the artistic output will be amplified through nature.

Lita Albuquerque is an artist who is subjecting her art to the desert treatment in aid of this exhibition. Her work is mainly being created through the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands Centre and Gardens. This place is known as an area where all kinds of people congregate and meet each other, from the political (a number of presidents have embarked on retreats here) to the artistic and scientific (authors and scientists mix perfectly well here). Albuquerque is one of the latest artistic talents to utilise the area’s facilities, using them to curate her opening performance for Desert X on February 23 with her piece, hEARTH.

This piece is a treat for all the senses, with a basis in sculpture and an infusion with audio material. The sculpture depicts a life-size female figure painted in ultramarine blue. Set in the sandy stretches of the desert, the woman holds her ear to the ground. What is she listening to? The same thing that the audience listens to: an audio track of a libretto written by Albuquerque. This is where the silence of the desert really comes into play: it amplifies the act of listening to and engaging with the piece.

The title of the piece, hEARTH, plays on two separate ideas: hearing (based on the audio part of the piece) and earth (the materials used to create the piece). Perhaps if we were to listen hard enough, we’d hear the secrets of the earth itself.

Another artist whose contributions can be seen at the Desert X Exhibition is Jennifer Bolande. In this artist’s work, artificiality is combined with the true wonders of the desert- specifically, the mountains in the desert. If you were to take a drive down the Gene Autry Trail, you might notice certain billboards which appear to be advertising the mountains that you would find in the area. If you were to look at those billboards from a certain angle, you would also notice that those mountainous billboards blend in perfectly with the mountains spotted in the distance. The difference between the artwork of humanity and the artwork of the world can sometimes be difficult to spot.

A desert need not be a dull place. Where there is emptiness, there is space for creation- as long as that creation is in the name of artistic beauty and genius, not destruction. Perhaps if we were to follow the example of the Desert X artists, the already beautiful world in which we live may well become even more beautiful.

Luke Mayo, Correspondent (Art)

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