For the duration of the 2019 edition of the Desert X Biennial in Coachella Valley, California, Palm Springs visitors that are driving into town are not only greeted by the iconic modernist visitors center (formerly a gas station, designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers), but also a giant video screen that shows artist John Gerrard’s artwork “Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017” (2017-2019). It depicts the site of the Lucas Gusher, the world’s first major oil find (in 1901), located in Spindletop, Texas, now barren and exhausted. The site is recreated as a digital simulation, the center of which is marked by a flagpole spewing an endless stream of black smoke.
This is what the press text says about the artwork:
The computer-generated spindle top runs parallel to the Texas site throughout the year, the sun rising at the appropriate times and the days getting longer and shorter with the seasons. The simulation has no beginning or end and runs by software that calculates each frame of the animation in real time as it is needed. Situated at the gateway to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017 acts a stark reminder of not only the willful exploitation and depletion of resources that millions of years ago covered this former sea floor, but also of the energy taken to return the deserted land to its current state of artificial habitation. The invisible gas responsible for climate change is made visible. Flying the flag of our self-destruction, we are asked to consider our role in the warming of the planet and simultaneous desertification of once fertile lands.
John Gerrard (North Tipperary, Ireland, born 1974) is known for creating real-time simulated images set against austere landscapes. He uses this approach to convey messages of how power functions in society, exposing the intricate structures and overwhelming networks that dominate mass culture. The striking realism and monumental presentation of his simulations leave the viewer questioning reality, considering the events that would need to occur to make images.
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