Interview: Daniel Arsham on his Ethereal Coachella Installation

A mountainous work casting shade in unexpected ways at the Parker Palm Springs

Beyond the clichés at Coachella, there are plenty of genuinely impressive activations, installations and artistic endeavors. One such example is the pop-up at the Parker Palm Springs. The words “This is Just Fantasy” greet you when you walk into the iconic hotel—fitting considering Daniel Arsham‘s installation for the American Express Platinum House event. In typical Arshman fashion, the experience has more to it than meets the eye; as visitors discover while strolling from the large cavern-like entrance through the individual spaces inside the installation. With pop-ups from MILK make-up, streetwear brand Knowlita and more, the space offers a minimalist respite from the heat and chaos elsewhere.

We spoke with the artist (and Snarkitecture partner and co-founder) about his ethereal and futuristic space, and just how he envisioned the installation in a part of the world where the biggest obstacle is often nature itself.

Here we are at the Parker Palm Springs, in your own words can you tell me what we’re doing here? Tell us a little about how your installation came to be?

Well, first of all this hotel is amazing. It’s kind of a 1960s-period hotel. I’ve always loved Palm Springs and the architecture here and all this mid-century stuff. When American Express Platinum approached us, certainly I had seen some of the Platinum houses from when I visited Miami. I wasn’t at this one last year, but I saw what they did here and what they did in other places.

The party in Miami this past year for Art Basel?

Yeah, with Drake. Their brief for this one was “shade.” That was it. Make something with shade. Because, as you know, it’s blazing hot everywhere out here, and if you make a place that’s comfortable, with seating that has shade, people will be there, right?

Within our practice at Snarkitecture, there are always ideas that float around for a while that never materialize that we’ll keep on the back-burner until a later date. This concept of a kind of white mountain that’s built out of a structure has been floating around in the studio for years and, when we talked with the team about what the needs were with this site, immediately we went to that mountain. It was the first thing that we proposed to the American Express team and exactly what you see out there.

So the concept was to basically create something that, when you look at it from the outside, it looks like a mass. You’re not seeing a lot of people inside. It looks like this unusual form that you’re not expecting and you walk through this little bit of a canyon to get through to the entrance. From there, we programmed different spaces so they have things inside of the structure—bars, an ice cream cart, a make-up area—all of that to separate these areas that allow it not to just feel like one giant tent. The idea is that you’re discovering things as you move through it. There’s this area where we pull the fabric down and you walk inside of it and end up in this kind of oculus-type space.

Did the architecture of the hotel play a large role in the design and conception of the space? Did you want to build something that was complimentary, or that was a juxtaposition?

I would say, less so did the hotel, other than—as I said, I love it and I’m happy to have our intervention within it, but it was more so the landscape around here. We thought a lot about how the mountain is situated within the site, how you approach it, where you enter. The back of the installation has this slice off of it, framing the mountains and trees in the background.

It’s also interesting having the whole installation in white—when you look at it, it almost appears to be snow-topped mountains in the middle of the desert.

Yeah, in contrast obviously to the heat here. And just approaching that white thing—it almost feels cool. You’re compelled to be inside of it in this temperature.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when creating this installation?

I would say creating something on this short timeline. You know, the actual build on this was just like four days. So we didn’t actually construct it, you know we just design everything.

Just four days?

Yeah, it’s a thing. Then obviously we wanted to create an experience that would be sort of a threshold before you arrive at everything that they’ve got going in there. This sets the tone for the experience that you’re gonna have.

Images by Mike Tommasiello