Desert X, an outdoor site-responsive exhibition that took place in the Coachella Desert two years in a row, is presenting its third iteration in Saudi Arabia. Organized in collaboration with the Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU), Desert X AlUla 2020 features 14 interactive installations, bringing together a plurality of voices. Co-curated by Saudi curators Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza with Desert X Artistic Director Neville Wakefield, it is the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia.
Continuing on its exploration of desert culture, Desert X in Saudi Arabia seeks to create a cross cultural dialogue between artists from Saudi Arabia and its surrounding region and artists from previous iterations of Desert X in California. Set against the extraordinary landscape of AlUla, this exhibition is not to be missed.
Desert X AlUla will be on view until March 7th, 2020. Each desert site will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Let's take a look at the stunning works on view!
Featured image: Rashed Alshashai - A Concise Passage (detail). All images by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Desert X.
For her installation, the artist Lita Albuquerque imagined Elyseria, a 25th-century female astronaut whose mission is to teach about the stars and their related fields of astronomy and navigation. She arrived on the planet in the year 6000 BC, immediately losing sight of her objective, over time reconnecting with a mysterious group called the Star Keepers, the guardians of the stars.
Albuquerque has already been telling the fragments of the story of her fictional character through massive installations set in distinctive locales across the world. A continuation of Albuquerque’s projects in the great deserts of the world, NAJMA (She Placed One Thousand Suns Over the Transparent Overlays of Space) features a sculpture of Elyseria sitting atop a boulder in the site of the hidden valley, painted in striking ultramarine blue pigment that is reminiscent of the expanse of the cosmos.
Featured images: Lita Albuquerque - NAJMA (She Placed One Thousand Suns Over the Transparent Overlays of Space). Images by Lance Gerber.
In the desert of Saudi Arabia, a puddle has a capricious presence, forming once in a while for a short period of time in nonporous environments. Manal AlDowayan's Now You See Me, Now You Don't is a set of puddle-like installations designed to last for a few months; they do not belong to this landscape, and yet they appear, paused, contained, existing in the crevices of the AlUla rocks.
Made of massive trampolines that can be touched, laid upon, jumped on, and observed, these "puddles" turn into moon circles in the evening, activated through a series of lighting techniques as people interact with them. This interactive installation stands as a symbol and indicator of the impending water crisis.
Featured images: Manal AlDowayan - Now You See Me, Now You Don’t. Images by Lance Gerber.
For the work Glimpses of the Past, Zahran AlGhamdi laid out approximately 6000 tin containers of different sizes across 80 meters against the terrain of AlUla.
An ode to AlUla’s agricultural wealth, it consists of repurposed containers that are traditionally used for the storage and transport of dates. Filled with five different shades of sand and mirrors, their display resembles a sparkling, flowing river with multiple tributaries that appears as an organic part of the landscape.
Featured images: Zahran AlGhamdi - Glimpses of the Past. Images by Lance Gerber.
Nasser AlSalem's installation is a passage-way with its circumference shaped by calligraphic letterforms that read Amma Qabl (loosely meaning "what precedes"). Standing in the site of extraordinary megalithic structures, towering rock-carved facades that have stood statuesque-still for more than 5000 years, the words, elongated to 9m, are architecturally transformed into a tunnel.
This phrase, which has no entirely satisfactory equivalent in the English language, implies deferral, a liminal time and space of pause between greeting and content. It is part of the artist's Amma Baad series which articulates varied reflections on the exponential changes that are reshaping Saudi society.
Featured images: Nasser AlSalem - Amma Qabl. Images by Lance Gerber.
Throughout history, AlUla, with its natural rock formations and freshwater springs, provided shelter and safety for travelers in trading caravans. This helped turn the area into a cradle of successive civilizations.
Considering these compositional elements of trade histories, Rashed AlShashai has created a pyramid out of plastic pallets that are typically used for shipping goods. The pyramid’s shape itself points to AlUla’s importance, not just as a cradle of civilization of old, but more importantly, to its reawakening, while the material used for it symbolizes the modern trade system. The structure is split down in the middle, inviting the viewer to enter it.
Featured images: Rashed AlShashai - A Concise Passage. Images by Lance Gerber.
Drawing a subtle comparison between human time and geological time, Gisela Colon's The Future is Now encourages a humble sense of perspective and appreciation of the expanse of history from a non-anthropocentric perspective.
Part of the Parabolic Monolith series, this high-tech, space-age, and futuristic monolith, which is at the same time visceral, primitive, and reminiscent of ancient cultural artifacts, stands as a beacon of transformation, renewal, and hope, exploring intangible connections between the Earth and the cosmos. Surrounded by massive geological “earth monuments” harking back billions of years to the Precambrian Era, it summons an awareness of the precariousness of human existence in the Anthropocene.
Featured images: Gisela Colon - The Future is Now. Images by Lance Gerber.
Inspired by a Bedouin anklet given to the artist by her mother, Sherin Guirguis' Kholkhal Aliaa takes the form of this powerful object, scaled in relation to a vast landscape.
As a piece of jewelry, "kholkhal" is meant as a public symbol of union, connection and promise, conveying power, elegance, and female agency. Transforming the object into a massive installation that levitates between the two walls of an enclosed crevice and forms a shelter and a bridge, the artist turns the landscape into a kind of collective body.
When seen from afar, the work appears as a single line in the landscape that interrupts the rocky ravine. Only upon approaching the crevice, the work's elliptical shape and ornamentation are revealed.
Featured images: Sherin Guirguis - Kholkhal Aliaa. Images by Lance Gerber.
A site-specific installation composed of 320 sculptures that vary in size and hue, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim's Falling Stones Garden is inspired by the natural rockfall at the base of the sandstone cliffs surrounding the exhibition area in AlUla. Painted in the vibrant palette, the rocks challenge the monotony of the landscape.
Reflecting the artist's conceptual art practice and his distinctive land art works, but also his fascination with the desolate, rocky terrain on the eastern shore of the United Arab Emirates, the work is both autobiographical and collective.
Featured images: Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim - Falling Stones Garden. Images by Lance Gerber.
Within the crevices, recesses and pinnacles of the shifting flux of AlUla sands, there are thousands of life forms visible only to those who know the secrets of the desert.
Nadim Karam created a fantastical procession of nature's creatures, putting them in plain sight. ON PARADE celebrates the flora and fauna's diversity and echoes the movement of the caravan people.
Featured images: Nadim Karam - ON PARADE. Images by Lance Gerber.
Drawing from his French-Tunisian heritage, eL Seed's work straddles the gap between East and West. He uses Arabic script as a tool to communicate his messages of unity to the various communities that witness them. Taking reference from the walled city of AlUla which was an oasis in the desert valley, Mirage is based on poetry by Jameel Bin Abdullah Bin Moammer, a poet from Wadi Al Qura who wrote to his sweetheart Buthayna:
If only the prime of the youth were new and old times come back, Buthayna, should my poetry spend a night in Wadi AlQura, then I’m happy.
Coming from within the heart of the region, these words offer a lens through which to witness the entire landscape. Embedded within its surroundings, the work surrenders to the immensity of the landscape embodying the sense of humility concurrently felt by the individual.
Featured images: el Seed - Mirage. Images by Lance Gerber.
Set against the mountainous landscape, Wael Shawky's video work is derived from Dictums: Manqia I – inverted, rendered in negative and re-oriented in portrait mode. It features a herd of prize black camels or majahims that glide across desert sand dunes towards an unknown destination.
Transforming into bodies of light and appearing ghost-like due to the film being in negative, their spirits seem to be returning to their original home. Working with the idea of inversion, the artist also sought to highlight themes of memory, history, and nomadism.
Featured images: Wael Shawky - Dictums: Manqia II. Images by Lance Gerber.
With her work The Lost Path, Muhannad Shono reminds us that the journey is always greater than the destination, pointing us towards our own personal buried histories.
The path starts from a single line, creating a sense of being led towards something, but soon grows and expands so as to become the treasure itself, a sculptural relic waiting for visitors to explore it. It is created of plastic pipes, a byproduct of the petroleum industry and a material the artist has been exploring in recent works.
With this installation, the artist sought to provide a childlike sense of wonder to those who choose to journey with it.
Featured images: Muhannad Shono - The Lost Path. Images by Lance Gerber.
Comprised of several sets of three-seated swings conjoined by a zig-zagging orange support, Superflex's One Two Three Swing! invites its users to activate the socially transformative potential of collective movement, challenging society’s apathy towards the political, environmental and economic crises of our age.
Designed for multiple users at the time, it acts as a human-powered pendulum powered by their coordinated pushings and pullings. The work has already been shown around the world, with its colors always changing to represent the specific colors of the national currency of the country in which it is installed.
Featured images: Superflex - One Two Three Swing!. Images by Lance Gerber.
The Trans-Arabian Pipeline is, as of today, the only physical object that crosses the borders of five countries. Rayyane Tabet's Steel Rings is a sculpture that replicates this object in ten-centimeter sections manufactured to the same diameter and thickness of the original pipeline, each engraved with the distance from the pipe’s source and its corresponding geographic coordinates.
Representing the last 40 km of pipeline that run through Saudi Arabia, they act as a relic charged with the history of the pipeline project. The installation explores the way relics come to possess meaning, a process shaped by the forces of history and culture.
Featured images: Rayyane Tabet - Steel Rings (from the series The Shortest Distance Between Two Points). Images by Lance Gerber.