Larger Than Life
By Tamara Vallejos
With Coachella’s combination of up-and-comers and all-star headliners, it makes sense the buzz leading up to the festival each year is all about the tunes. But once concertgoers make their way to the Empire Polo Club, they find themselves greeted by massive installations and larger-than-life structures that serve as a reminder that, oh yeah, this is an art festival, too.
That’s not a reminder Paul Clemente needs. He’s Coachella’s art director, and the one who curates the visual pieces erected in Indio each year. “Coachella is more than just a place to see music once a year,” he says.
He and the festival’s producers field about 100 proposals from artists each year before narrowing the field, typically look for structures that pop against the now-recognizable landscape of mountains, palm trees and sky. There will be 18 pieces on display this year, but the details are largely hush-hush.
“We try to keep everything a surprise so fans can really get the full effect when they walk through the door Friday,” says Clemente. “But we are for sure going bigger and bigger. One installation this year even requires a FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) permit. Another is over 12 stories tall, and another has towers of fire.”
The secret will be out following Coachella’s first weekend, since Clemente says both weekends will be identical not only in terms of lineup, but art as well. Even so, he’ll only hint to what people can expect. But he’s happy to reminisce on some of his favorite pieces from recent years—like artist Syd Klinge’s iconic Twin Tesla Coils, with its lightning display.
“It’s so memorable, just due to the raw power of the piece and the sound and visual it creates,” says Clemente, adding that the Tesla Coils won’t make an appearance in 2012, but Klinge will present another piece.
It’s common for artists to return year after year, and Clemente is particularly excited to have the Los Angeles-based Do LaB back, which has provided multiple installations in the past, like the large-scale Oasis Dome (a crimson and white tent piece that has played host to DJs and revelers) and the shady orange and yellow Pagoda.
“The Do LaB has become an integral part of Coachella, and its main installation really becomes a sixth stage for us, with music all day long. And one of the actually performance art pieces we have, the Lucent Dossier Experience, is on its stage, as well.”
This year, the Do LaB will also replace the giant Terrace tent—a go-to spot for food at Coachella—with a structure of its own, named The Triad.
Some of Coachella’s artists are themselves art, and Clemente says no one exemplifies that better than Shrine, who specializes in creating pieces using found materials and adding his signature style of painting.
“Some might call it garbage, but we refer to it as found art,” says Clemente. “He’s doing a new piece for us this year, and I’m sure it’ll be spectacular, but the amazing thing about Shrine is that if you saw him standing next to one of his works of art, he’d almost blend in. He’s covered in tattoos that he’s created, and he really is his work. We’re looking forward to seeing what he’s created.”
Whatever each artist comes up with, and whether it’s a new piece commissioned specifically for Coachella, or an old favorite, the goal is to provide an unparalleled weekend.
“I’ve met a lot of bad-ass kids from the Inland Empire and Coachella Valley who have been coming since year one. We want to blow them away with a combination of music and art that they can’t experience anywhere else.”