Hosted by Reem Fadda, Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield, the extraordinary outdoor show is once again free and open to everyone, giving us an exclusive insight into the history and culture of the desert. Located in the Al Mutadil Valley, participating artists responded to this year’s theme with new works on dreams, camouflage, fiction, disappearance, extraction, illusion and myth, while exploring the paradox between the natural and man-made worlds.
As part of a collaboration between Desert X and the Royal Commission for AlUla, Desert X AlUla is the first exhibition of its kind adapted to the site in Saudi Arabia. It hopes to bring together artists, curators, and international and local communities in a shared vision that takes the desert as its inspiration. It builds on the legacy of Desert X, the renowned event that takes place every year in California’s Coachella Valley.
Dana Awartani’s sculpture is inspired by the vernacular architecture of AlUla, taking the form of a concave geometric sculpture that references Nabataean tombs and mimics the shapes of surrounding mountains, gorges, caverns and rock formations. While land-based artist Jim Denevan has created ephemeral designs whose interlocking patterns “demonstrate the shifts in magnitude and scale that so often shape our experience of the desert and our attempts to position ourselves in the vastness of space unlimited”. Alicja Kwade’s architectural structures, meanwhile, reflect and frame the natural artifacts she encountered on the desert floor, which she rearranged and complemented to create shifting perspectives that draw a fine line between reality and illusion. .
Claudia Comte’s work presents a progression of walls imposing their architectural presence in the natural order of AlUla’s canyons, each bearing a section of a larger algorithmic pattern relating to the waveforms that shape sound and the surface of the desert. The orange desert backdrop and bright blue sky only add to the drama.
Elsewhere, Shezad Dawood’s work explores ideas of deep time and the geobiological relationship between the desert floor and the nearby Red Sea through a pair of coral-like forms whose temperature-sensitive surfaces reflect the effects of climate change. climate change and humanity’s ongoing struggle to find a lasting relationship with a rapidly changing ecosystem.
Stephanie Deumer created an underground greenhouse; alluding to the lush sanctuary of native plants below, a large array of puddle-shaped solar panels mounted low to the desert floor create an energetic feedback loop where the sun’s energy is captured, stored and transformed by photosynthesis in growth and transformation.
Serge Attukwei Clottey’s installation addresses the experience of globalization, migration and water equity by wrapping slabs of rock in meticulously crafted tapestries made from yellow gallons of Kufuor, which are plastic containers used in Ghana to store and transport water. While Khalil Rabah has created a mirage of an orchard of olive trees, which stand in the desert like living beings displaced from their native land and “longing to be repatriated, like an exploration of territory, survival and the citizenship”.
Ayman Zedani’s unusual soundscape installation in a rock cavern features horizontal sculptural wires and audio projection of music, voices and footsteps, creating a cacophony of sounds that add to the chimes of nature. Draped over a rocky hillside, the colorful threads act as roots for a large tree below.
“The desert concepts of mirage and oasis have long been linked to ideas of survival, perseverance, desire and wealth,” says Reem Fadda of the exhibit. “The oasis relates to ideas of finding prosperity or paradise, while the mirage is a universal symbol of the mysteries of imagination and reality.
“They also evoke the incomprehensible beauty and abundance of nature in its most helpless state – the desert – and humans’ obsessive desire to capture and control it. Under the theme of ‘Sarab’, the artists featured in exhibition – all of whom have spent time in the AlUla region – have developed ambitious and surprisingly innovative site-specific responses, all of which address deep-seated issues, which emerge from the local context but also resonate with audiences across the whole world.”
Desert X AlUla runs until March 30, 2022. For more, visit desertx.org