In 13 Beats: The Passenger Art Narrative
At Desert X 2021, experience “The Passenger” by Eduardo Sarabia, with guide Adam Lerner.
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All my work's been really personal.
I tell personal stories.
Putting yourself out there is hard,
so you never know what's going to happen.
But, um, I think, you know, over the years and the stories and the
narratives that I tell, um, I become really confident.
You know like, who I am. I think it's, it's,
I, I really wouldn't have it any other way.
Having these stories and having been really truthful to who I am and where I come from.
Um, and you know, my likes and dislikes, you know, I
I can connect to, you know, different types of people.
There's people who can connect to me.
There's something about this that feels like it's
actually made to function as a usable space
for a community, for, for a group of people who
wanted to create some shelter or some gathering space.
There's something that feels so practical, utilitarian about it.
At the same time, something
so, um, uh, natural, um, and humble.
I always feel like when my, my main medium is narrative or storytelling.
This 'Next Door Sky' is, uh, a piece that I wrote a few years back about
um, how, how we are divided by walls.
But, but the sky that we look up is, is the same.
And so that was trying to sort of portray that in, through my music;
and Eduardo thought it might be cool to bring that piece to his show.
He thinks there's some, uh, cool-.
I don't think. There is.
Okay there is. Okay.
When we first walked through and, um, I ended up in the same place you did.
And then you could start feeling the gathering happening and,
and the beautiful music that was performed during the opening.
I mean, those are the things that I think Eduardo has such a great touch with.
And, and, you know, that understanding of the intimacy, that can be part of the potential
of any artwork. And you see this in this work.
You know, it's, it's, it's a very simple, kind of like three ring triangle design.
Um, but you know, because of the sand and how slow your, you know,
your walk through it, you're..., I feel like you're able to experience the work,
you know, at a, at a relatively slow pace where you, you know,
you kind of engage with it more and engage with the walls
and, you know, like even the stitchings and you kind of start working even the sound of
the wind, kind of like blowing through them.
And I liked the noises. I liked the material.
I like the waviness of it, I liked the handmade, um, uh,
aspect, which was something really important when I was working with the installers.
Um, you know, how simple it can be,
but how safe it could feel.
Almost empathy the piece creates
And in a way, I wonder if like the path was meant for all of us to gather together
and for all of us to go through that shared experience
and then come together as a community.
I mean, that's one of the things that I think is very poetic about the piece.
Thank you. Thank you. Thanks.
It was a nice walk to get to the center
and just kind of like walking up the steps and sitting there for a minute, for a minute
I just kind of like taking it all in was, um, you know, it was great. It was something that,
it was a nice surprise to see everything come together.
It feels communal, it feels, um
like not just one or two people would be entering here, but
but hundreds of people would be entering through and
using this space.
And each of these, you know, they,
they each have this very human scale to them.
Something that they're made to sleep on these.
So each of these feels like it sort of
maybe is something that an individual or a family might sort of contribute to the whole.
And yet as a whole, it feels
Desert X is a really ambitious project.
Desert X is an onsite biennial in the Coachella Valley.
It's the third edition here.
The important contribution of Desert X is this notion of place
and how the desert really inspires artists.
I mean, you can go back into history and,
and understand the power of the desert, generation after generation.
It's really interesting to create a museum without walls.
It's it spans about 200 miles of different projects
kind of throughout the Valley.
I didn't think I'd ever be here
if it weren't for this work. Um
and, and that's like, that's interesting and that's, and it's not just incidental.
It's not just an accident that that happens.
Like that's the value that places like Desert X are able to provide.
It made me think about,
you know, the desert and my connection to it.
And, um, and I think a lot of, a lot of people who
migrate from Mexico, have that experience.
There are so many different ways that art can relate to place.
I mean, here in these works, the artist leaves everything exactly the same and just
switches out the content -
leaves the form exactly as it is.
And so you have pretty much an ordinary billboard,
but just a slight change.
You know, there's a real contrast between a work like this and
what Eduardo is trying to do.
What Eduardo is doing is really just taking the materials
from nature itself:
the jute, the rope, the mats,
the wood he uses, all of that
are just the kind of materials that you would find in a desert,
not too dissimilar from this one.
I mean, these billboards that you see around,
they really reference the aspect of humans
that have already experienced the
And, uh, Eduardo is taking us backwards
back in time to something. Um, prior to that, it's almost as if the journey into
the desert to cross a border is also a journey back into some more
essential element of what it means to be human.
Yeah. I think the landscape kind of
gives you that, you know, helps with that moment of suspense,
just kind of slowly walking through it.
I like, I like the soft sand walking through it.
It's such a, you know, it has a really like a nice pace,
and I don't know if it's just me, but it is
a little bit exhausting when you finally get here.
I liked that it, it becomes a little bit camouflaged in the environment
where you walk up to it and, you know, instead of having something
that feels heavy, it is very light.
It feels like the wind can blow it away.
Um, you know, it's very, it's temporal in that sense, which I really enjoy
You know, I was telling my mother that,
um, you know, I was like, well, you know, it kind of,
I'm doing this project in the desert and I,
I kind of want to share this story
and she's like, 'Ugghh', she's like, 'Ay, mi...'. Like, she's
just kind of, you know, it's a, it's a kind of a, you
know, it's, I dunno if it's embarrassing or not, but
I was like, you know, it is what it is like, this is our story.
You know, my mom crossed the desert illegally.
Really?- Yeah And so--.
Oh, Passenger's about that.
Yeah...So it's a little--.
That's so cool...!
But she always wants me to mention that she's now an American citizen.
But she, um, she crossed the desert, um,
you know, my, my father, uh, kind of arranged
for her to come and meet and meet him here.
And, you know,
and just kind of like her story about crossing the desert,
like what that meant, you know, how scared she was,
you know, excited as well.
She knew what she was leaving
and kind of, you know, dreamt and hoped
for something better. And that kind of kept her going
the unknown, which is, you know,
it's kind of a great, um, you know, great story,
you know, they're super happy here.
They kind of came with the idea that,
you know, they wanted to give their children a better life.
It's cool up here. It's a nice hour.
Yeah. yeah, it's magic.
I like the collaboration of working with somebody who
is a master in their craft
and the collaborative aspect of bringing out contemporary
elements to, to what they do,
um, is really interesting.
You know, I'm very, hands-on like I like
painting and drawing and I like kind of
making my own things. So I relate to what they do.
In that process of the making or the makers
is actually where the alchemy happens really. Right?
When you think about the work, the material that
he used for the installation, and that's, again, that's what I go back to it because
that's, I think where the success in the work is you feel
that inherently as you walk through it
The studio that I wanted to work with is, um,
just outside of Guadalajara in a small town outside of Ciudad Guzmán.
And they've been working on these
mats for many generations.
It's something that is, you know, slowly kind of fading away and,
you know, and helping them kind of support their practices.
I went there and I saw the mats. I thought they were beautiful.
I needed them custom sized. So,
you know, for, for this work. And, um,
and I said, you know, can you make, you know, I'd love to buy some mats and,
you know, a certain size they're like, yeah, of course,
how many do you need? And I was like 350.
They're like, what?!
Like, yeah, totally. Like it takes us like three days to make one
that's like, she's like, but don't worry. We'll get, you know, we'll get
everybody involved. And, uh,
they made it happen. Yeah.
I've always liked working with artisans. Um,
and this work is a reflection of that.
Visually, like the simplicity of the work was, was important
and just kind of being a little bit true to the materials and speaking
and how just, you know,
placements and, and, you know, the design of the installation
can kind of tell a narrative.
I was really interested to know what their process and
really get to know the people that I work with.
And that's always inspiring.
Can you hear me?-- Umh, come again.
Can you hear me now?-- Yeah.-- Okay, cool.
So this artist just cuts up,
uh, ordinary materials.
Like this is simply, um, I think
plastic that's used for water jugs
and, um, and
then stitches them together
in a kind of like quilt-like pattern.
One thing I like about this is,
uh, like a patchwork quilt or something like that.
Uh, you start to really feel the
the history of the object,
like, even though it's, you know, generally orange,
like the subtle differences in color,
and then the way you can see these,
um, like the labels on some of them,
it kind of gives you just a very subtle
sense of the life that this material lived,
you know, halfway around the world.
And there's a kind of informality to it, too. He's not aiming for
this sort of perfect, um, tile.
He really kind of keeps it feeling very folkish,
and that gives it this real handmade feel.
And there's something that's like really powerfully
African about this.
I feel like, um, in very, very subtle, but yet powerful ways.
This feels like something that's not from here.
You know, not from place.
I love that this one has like much more texture to it
much because of the various colors
and the striations,
those stripes in the individual squares.
This one tends to be a little bit more,
um, just simple uniform blocks of color.
It's sculpted out of, um, the things that you would
kind of imagine, you know,
every household might use in some capacity;
and it's impressive that you have this, something that has this sort of
monumental sculptural quality
that also feels so handmade.
Like usually those two things don't go hand in hand,
right? That like the individual stitching,
this was clearly done by like people weaving together little squares of plastic and,
and to have like such scale for something that,
that, that is so sort of micro-- Personal?
It's something that there's a powerful juxtaposition
in this work. It would have a very, very different feel if this was like made
out of like ceramic tile.
Right? And this was like, you know, be beautiful, same beautiful colors.
Um, but it would, it would not feel quite
Like you feel the,
like the history
of all the individual families, they might've used these objects,
you know, you feel the, the hand of
the artists and the helpers who created this thing,
Trying to tell that narrative and kind of make connections, you know,
with people who have similar backgrounds and, you know, these mats are just,
you know, they're typical mats in Mexico
that people sleep on, they carry them. They're light.-- Really?-- Yeah. So it's like, a-- I
didn't know that--, It became like this whole metaphor for that trip and that journey.
I liked at the end, how,
um, you know, how those materials just kind of spoke for themselves
and the texture, the texture it already kind of had
and how to respect that,
to you know, to have these ideas come across.
And even the distressed quality of it,
makes it feel all the more,
Like these, these mats look like they've been used.
Or they would be used.
I wanted it to have a maze, and I wanted it to have this center area where,
um, you know, activations can happen
and have more of this kind of like dreamlike experience
with having people come and perform
and do, um, do different types of activations.
Um, there was a kid yesterday kind of running through it.
It made me really happy.
You know, I met this other kid who,
you know, kind of wanted to introduce himself
and it was kind of a great, uh, we had a great conversation.
He was, he was really moved by the work.
Um, you know, he was telling me his,
you know, his own personal story about his parents coming to this country,
um, you know, similar situation to, to my history.
Listening to people's stories
and, um, being receptive to that is like something I really enjoy.
Yes.-- Beautiful.-- Thank you. Thank you.--
We were just saying it's like it's breathing.--.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.--
It's like alive.
- -This is awesome.-- I like the idea of how it looks like it's, it feels like it's breathing.
I want to, maybe I should film the hallways.
Yeah,-- Yeah-- I took a video of just the walls moving.
You're trying to put me out of a job.
I like referencing the viewer.
And I think I liked that the passenger is the viewer.
Individuals get to walk in and, you know, make decisions and walk out or
how they experience the piece.
So, um, I liked, I liked the idea that
the title made reference to that.
I feel a little bit disoriented. I'm not sure where I'm going,
but yet it feels like a safe space.
And then you could see the light,
there must be something going on here. And then you have that sense of relief.
Like you've arrived.
You know, so many artworks
are about creating a distance between you and the art.
You know, like we saw Indian Land
or the Billboards, there's this real separation.
There's the viewer, and then there's this object
which is kind of a screen that you view; but this really immerses you.
It kind of, you enter into it.
I think that's why so many
people really, really love being in here. Why it's just so popular.
The beauty of the work is of approaching it,
uh, not knowing really what it is initially. And then you find that entry point.
At that moment, things become very intimate,
and it closes down on you in a very beautiful way, but with a path forward.
And that, that implies a kind of journey
that I think Eduardo was looking for in this piece.
It was really simple metaphor to, to how you start a journey
and how it can be scary and the choices you have to take and make.
In a way, the maze functions like good architecture.
Your body knows how to flow through it,
instinctually and how you get funneled through.
And that's what was so brilliant about the piece.
When you're, when you're really walking through, you're looking at the materials
that he chose and the reasonings behind that,
uh, it just created this kind of, um,
immediate connection to the body, to the mind.
It brought you in, took you into a different space completely.
Again, the beauty of the maze is that it opens up.
And then there you are, in this really beautiful place.
I like the idea of the journey and travelers,
and kind of talking a little bit about my migration in this area,
especially, um, California, the desert.
A lot of people's
journeys have this, you know, this is kind of like maze and feeling a little bit lost
and walking through it, getting somewhere.
And, you know, it's such a confusing process as well.
Like all the legality around it, too,
in the politics around it. Um, which I don't want to talk about politics.
You edit all that out, but--
Even though this work is not explicitly political,
it almost brushes up against politics, you could say.
It's almost as if, um, it evokes the ideas
of the border wall or the idea of illegal immigration.
Topics which are extremely loaded within society.
Um, but it doesn't make any kind of statement about it.
It doesn't say that this or that policy is good or bad.
I don't like arguing about politics more than anything,
but I focused on my interpretation and my stories from my mother.
Um, you know, who, who went through this
The works, they don't need me to stand right next to them
and talk about these stories and these narratives,
I feel like people bring their own narratives to them.
And I think it's so charged with
these ideas of a migration and journey that,
you know, people bring, you know,
they have their own backgrounds and they bring their own stories to it.
That's a very meaningful way
for art to engage with politics,
to be able to, to, to shine a spotlight on the activity,
without making judgments.
When you put something out in the world,
you almost have no control of what's going to happen,
which is exciting.
The work transcends politics,
you know, thinking about a 3-dimensional sculpture
in just kind of the vastness of the space, um,
seemed, seemed like a challenge.
And also, um, you know, uh,
a challenge that I kind of, uh, you know, like
like put to myself was, you know, working outside of my comfort zone
and materials, um,
was what's something, you know, I didn't want to do something made out of ceramic tile or anything.
Um, I liked the idea of working with new people.
Is there anything else you want to mention about Eduardo?
I just, that I love his work and,
you know, he's a, he's a very important artist.
I sort of learned about him being involved with Desert X
and gave Eduardo an opportunity to really, uh, uh, you know,
expand his practice in a way that really dealt with site
in a, in a very interesting context.
My projects are, are they're there. They don't end.
They just kind of keep growing. I think I do more research.
I meet more people, you know, the
same kind of ideas are there, but, um,
you know, they just kind of keep accumulating.
There's no, um, you know, there's, there's no end to anything.
To really get inside the world of an artwork,
you actually need to let it work on you.
And therefore, I'm not going to tell anybody that they
need to spend any amount of time.
And if they want to only get a two second experience, they can,
but they'll basically remain within their own world
in two seconds.
Once you start to spend more time and like, let a work, just work on you,
you start to enter into its world
and it starts to have these efffects on you.
Like, wow, the, the feeling of scale,
like, wow, the feeling of uncanniness
in front of a work like this,
those are the kinds of reflections
that, um, often will take a little bit of time.
You could just, if you look at it for two seconds,
you might say, Oh, this is a one-liner,
this is a, a little turn of phrase.
Um, but I think that most works of art,
will pay back to you more,
the more time you give to it.
Yeah. Art is just the ability to
create something that shifts the patterns of thinking
and seeing, and feeling.
And this really does alter the way
you experience the world.
It really does make you think you're in some place that that's
special. That's different from everything else.
You're seeing this work without many people here,
and maybe it's something to do with this light. I don't know, but I'm,
it's important to notice that
there's something just impressive
about it. There's something that's powerful about it,
even as just a kind of collage as just a interesting
surface and, and, and a form
that's in the desert,
um, even before you get to any of the symbolism.
And then when you add on that extra layer about
culture and history and his personal story,
then you realize it's a very impactful work.
I like this idea of setting up the situation where,
where you kind of like walk around, you kind of wander around
and before you get to a place where you're kind of like
sit down, relax, you know, be able to kind of like
dream or experience something
and maybe have you changed,
like changed the way you think for just a split second
before you walk out.