Inspired by a 4,500-mile road trip they took across the Southwestern United States, Berlin-based artists Julius von Bismarck, Julian Charrière, and Felix Kiessling collaborated to make “Desert Now,” an intriguing mixed-media show that offers a stunning if dystopic vision of the American Southwest. Their spindly, cactus-like sculptures, triangular prisms, and colorful video works combine to create an imaginative desert landscape in Steve Turner’s Los Angeles gallery.
By combining variegated organic and electronic materials, the artists build a composite space that is familiar yet strange. A welded, lattice-like cube and “explosive residue” take center stage in the gallery, while in one corner sits a geometric slab of compressed sand dotted with Mojave yucca and outfitted with quaking electric motors. Nearby, a tumbleweed rests on a treadmill; a floor fan blows the weed forward in comical perpetuity.
In two crystalline sculptures, an Adderall tablet and an LSD blotter have been suspended in acrylic pyramids, their forms like mineral-rich stalagmites from Carlsbad Caverns. In both works, the artists explore the relationship between inorganic and organic forms as well as chemical relativity and our culture of overmedication.
Charrièr, von Bismarck, and Kiessling share a workspace in Berlin as well as a mentor: Olafur Elliasson, who runs the Institute for Spatial Experiments, an educational research project in collaboration with the University of the Arts in Berlin. Elliasson has a keen ability to transform conventional art spaces into immersive environments highlighted by a rich blend of media. His dynamic practice has undoubtedly informed the three artists’ mixed-media approach and their appetite for complex, immersive installations.
Visitors will notice the gallery’s sparse walls, devoid of didactic wall labels. Instead, a stunning black-and-white printed museum guide encourages more direct engagement with the layered themes in this “para-museum of the American wilderness.” With refreshing humor, the show addresses critical issues of population growth and ecological degradation while challenging our perceptions of land and space throughout the wild history of the American Southwest.