Since I am not able to be at Coachella 2020 this weekend I thought I would try to re-live some of the 2019 moments on the blog this week and discuss the art installations from last year. One of my most fun experiences at the festival last year was during the second weekend. I had arrived early because I had heard a rumor that Kenny G was going to be a surprise guest in a tent, which seemed odd but turned out to be true. After shooting Kenny at Noon I was walking back to the press area and the grounds of the festival were empty. I saw someone sitting outside programming the H.i.P.O exhibit with a computer. This was the first year I had attended the festival when the Hippos were part of an exhibit and I was fascinated by it and I always walked by it several times a day on the first weekend to see what the Hippos were doing inside the spaceship.
My friend Chris Victorio and I decided to talk to him and maybe get a picture if he was the artist. It turned out he was Dave Slodki, the Hollywood lighting and controls designer for the exhibit helping the artists who created it. He was amazing and asked if Chris and I would be interested in going inside the space ship. Of course, we said yes and he took us inside. We met the artists who designed it and then they asked us if we wanted to suit up and go inside the windows with the Hippos! I couldn’t believe it and we immediately said yes. We had to suit up in actual safari clothes to blend with the exhibit and look like we were photographing the animals in their natural habitat. It was so much fun and produced some great unique images like the one above from the inside. It turned out to be a highlight for me of the whole festival.
H.i.P.O. (Hazardous Interstellar Professional Operations) was created by artist duo Vanessa Bonet and Derek Doublin, known as Dedo Vabo. The duo creates absurdist, magical-realist worlds through architecture, robotics, multimedia elements, and performers dressed as hippopotamuses.
“We kind of like to use the hippos as a way to hold up a distorted funhouse mirror to society and just human evolution in general,” Doublin has stated. The works are almost like a shadow box you can peer inside, where the people in the audience are “observers or scientists that are witnessing these really bizarre things happening.”
Bonet and Doublin worked on their third piece for Coachella, H.i.P.O.—a 75-foot-tall rocket and laboratory manned by hippos—for around 10 months before last year’s event. They consider the Coachella festival in Indio to be the most exciting venue for art, given how ambitious they can be and the massive audience they can reach. The piece was made up of six performance spaces, where the hippos, who are inexperienced in rocketry, attempt to launch the spaceship and engage in deep-space communications and experiments. Though their works often spark confusion or extreme reactions, they simply hope to make an impression.