International Program of Artist Installations | Coachella

by Christopher Andrew Armstrong

For it’s 20th year in a row the Coachella Valley of Arts and Music Festival returns with yet another staggering, eclectic lineup of chart-topping popstars intertwined with genre-bending artists. Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, and Tame Impala headline two weekends in the desert which will indubitably feature celebrity sightings, fashion-forward outfits, and plenty of viral performances. All of which will show up on your Instagram newsfeed as soon as the attendees find a strong WiFi connection.

But amidst the chaos, there is the festival’s commissioned art pieces, which has become almost as legendary as the actual music performances. This year’s art installations mix together never-before-seen work with returning favorites and the festivals first ever “resident art piece,” which has inked a deal to make an appearance at Coachella for the next three years.

So, while you detox and repair your bodies after Coachella’s first weekend, acquaint yourself with the art pieces which appeared, almost like a dream, throughout your first trip to the festival’s campgrounds so you can appreciate them even more this next weekend.

Sofia Enriquez, MISMO, 2019

“Everybody wears paisleys: guys, girls, young people and old people, and people of different cultures,” says Sofia Enriquez, a California-based artist and fashion designer. “It’s a symbol that makes the equality in people stand out.” And it’s the paisleys which define her work, which shows up everywhere from upcycled clothing she designs for the fashion label Mucho to the installation she installed for this year’s Coachella. The garden of paisleys, pieced together with wood and some soaring up to eighteen feet in height, are painted with bright and bold colors which are juxtaposed against the desert’s backdrop of muted and pastel tones. It’s center focus is a sculpture with massive steps, perfectly designed for a place where attendees can cool down and relax before marching off towards their next favorite artist.


Francis Kere, Sarbale ke, 2019

Although he’s based in Berlin, Kere was born in the West African village of Gando, Burkina Faso where the phrase “sarbale ke,” is roughly translated into “the house of celebration,” which makes sense, because the twelve vibrant, colorful towers he designed for Coachella are all worthy of celebration. Inspired by the baobab, a tree indigenous in his native land, which is a place where “you get together, celebrate, and discuss. It also attracts animals. It is spiritual. Naturally you will walk toward it.” And there will be many Coachella dwellers who will find themselves blindly walking toward these towers, with some reaching nearly sixty feet in height. With the natural shade it will provide, expect this installation to be the festival’s primo spot during the afternoon’s abrasive heatwaves.


Poetic Kinetics, Overview Effect, 2019

The evolution of Coachella art installations shifted in 2014 with the appearance of Overview Effect, a massive, genderless astronaut which instantly achieved icon status as soon as it landed onto the Indio, California campgrounds five years ago. This year, the astronaut, created by Poetic Kinetics, makes its triumphant return, ready to once again dominate your Instagram feed. “All over its body there is evidence, or clues, of the fantastical story of where it went,” says Patrick Shearn, the founder of Poetic Kinetics. Although the astronaut’s aesthetic might have gained a few new battle scars, its overall use remains the same. It will continue hovering over the audience as a forty-five feet tall, impossible to ignore spectator, projecting faces and name on its helmet visor and space suit name tag. It’s there for all your angles.


Office Kovacs, Colossal Cacti, 2019

Golden cereus, saguaro, teddy bear cholla, buckhorn cholla. There are all types of cacti growing around California, but none are cooler than the Colossal Cacti, a garden of seven brightly colored cactuses which tower anywhere from 24 to 52 feet high. Positioned together much like a city skyline, the cactuses cast long shadows which presents an attractive and shaded gathering space for Coachella attendees. But don’t worry about prickly’s penetrating your skin, instead of spikes the Colossal Cacti have road reflectors which light up the installations at night and reflect the artist’s knack for finding used and ready-made materials in his work.


Newsubstance, Spectra, 2019


The most talked about art installation from the 2018 festival returns as Coachella’s first ever resident art piece. Spectra, the seven-story tower spectrum of color captured the imaginations of last year’s attendees as it “takes down the sound of the festival a few notches and provides a space for reflection,” says Patrick O’Mahony, the creative director for the piece. Reflection isn’t usually a word associated with a festival like Coachella, but Spectra allows concertgoers a chance to temporarily leave the nowness of the weekend and observe the beauty taking place around them. Inside the installation, light, color, and perspective are shifting with every single step. And when day gives in to night, the piece stands like a lighthouse in the middle of the desert, visible from miles away.

Debo Vabo, H.i.P.O – Hazardus Interstellar Perfessional Operations, 2019

Lurking within the Coachella campgrounds is a 75 feet tall rocket, which appears as if its being held together by masking tape, glue, and staples. Piloted by a team of hippos, this rocket is born with only one mission, to conquer the galaxy. Consisting of six performance spaces, the hippos are constantly seen working away with goals centered around deep-space communications (of course), trajectory monitoring, and calculation of launch coordinates. Created by Debo Vado, this piece specializes in the absurd, which leaves people asking themselves, ‘why are a group of hippos so concerned with reaching space’?

Robert Bose, Ballon Chain

Robert Bose, or “Balloon guy,” as most people know him, has become as synonymous with the festival as it’s soaring ticket prices. Known for his Balloon Chain installations, the chains reach thousands of feet in length and must be navigated through the desert’s treacherous wind conditions, as well as the other towering installations populating the festival. And Bose isn’t stingy with his balloon chains, he welcomes any attendee to take a turn holding onto one end of the line.

Do LaB

The Los Angeles-based creative team returns to the Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival to transform the ordinary, boring stages into something fresh and innovative. Their artwork carries an ethos of human connection and art as a transformative experience.

All photographs by Lance Gerber