The Good Life: Electric Desert


The Electric Desert was a pop-up immersive installation at Tortuga Gallery on Saturday, 8/11/18. The piece consisted of four “saguaros” and a “prickly pear,” each made of large cardboard tubes, each painted with desert-inspired imagery, that were assembled improvisationally across that day, in preparation for a public event from 5:30-9:00pm. Participants were invited to move through the space created by the five free-standing sculptures. Participants were further invited to play with a building system I brought into the space–a box full of 12” PVC pipes and various pipe fittings. Artist Jon Pearson made a soundscape over the course of both the build and the event, and through it, participants were encouraged to dance together.


In the process of developing my last big project, the collaboration with Lee Fearnside on “O! Relentless Death!”, I learned that the focused and formal work of making images creates a kind of spillway in me for the less formal work of installation. When we were mostly done with the production of the book part of ORD, I still had creative ants in my pants, and so for a couple weeks before the opening/Kickstarter launch party, I set the ants loose on building a “Lamentation Hut” out of cardboard and paint. It was a companion piece to the book, in that it depended on the book for its context, and yet expanded on the book, being more general, and more metaphoric than the whole book process was. It was also a very different kind of embodied, immersive experience, one that would appeal to the kinesthetic learners in my community.

So back when I was planning my part in the Good Life exhibition, I thought I’d replicate the situation that had worked so well for me with ORD. As a companion piece to my Good Life cacti imagery, I came up with “The Electric Desert.” 

I wanted to know how it feels to walk amidst artificial life. I wanted to be able to touch the digital landscapes of my Warcraft days. What would it be like, I wondered, to be dwarfed by a cardboard low-poly saguaro? I thought the saguaro the perfect symbol of the kinds of dislocations I felt in those digital landscapes. The saguaro is a symbol of the Southwest for non-New Mexicans; but Burquenos know that it’s only found near Tucson, not in New Mexico. The joy and alienation of that dislocation was the seed of the piece.

For weeks, I schemed and sketched and brainstormed on the sidelines of the Good Life painting process, until the Good Life opened. With my head full of the visual vocabulary of the Good Life paintings, I spent about 70 hours building the thing. 

At the Good Life opening on Saturday 8/3/18, Abq painter/musician Jon Pearson volunteered to make a soundscape for “Electric Desert.” I accepted. And so on the day of the event, Melty Smiler’s chaotic cubby of  jalopy synthesizers broke the air, dropping shards of connections and non-connections from the sky. 

I’d imagined that the Electric Desert was like a nightclub. With the help of excellent Abq humans, I’d made a playlist of downtempo electronica with roots in the glitch music of mid-90s European music heroes like Aphex Twin, Autechre, SeeFeel and Oval. The list was good, and I love that cold, crystalline vibe, but I was wrong. The Electric Desert truly came alive with the much warmer, more personal worlds that Jon called to life. By the end he was using the playlist as one channel amongst many that he was playing with. Perfect.


The whole thing is a child’s building toy scaled up. As such it’s modular, lightweight, intuitive. Fast (relatively), cheap (sort of) and out of control (definitely). I bought concrete footing tubes from Lowe’s. I then: cut them to a variety of sizes, primed them 2x, cut joining slots in them; painted base colors 2x; gathered, primed 2x and then cut 3-ply corrugated cardboard into saguaro arms and prickly nopales; re-used cardboard flowers I’d made for Johnny Wilson; spray painted saguaros and ocotillo on all of the tubes; and lastly, after dozens of hours at all that, drew on all the tubes. 

Holy crap.

It was worth it.


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