Exclusive Interview With Office Kovacs, The Artists Behind The Stunning Colossal Cacti At Coachella 2019

In addition to the array of the world’s favorite artists, the magic of Coachella would not be complete without its spectacular art installations that scatter the festival grounds. The Colossal Cacti, which debuted at Coachella 2019, is a breathtaking arrangement consisting of seven large sculptural cacti, loosely arranged in a spiraling ring formation to create a plaza and entryway for festival goers.

At the base of each of the seven cacti is a stepped plinth, inviting festival goers to rest, dance on top, meet up, lounge in the shade, people watch or listen to music. Four of the seven cacti are made of wood, and these are the largest of the seven structures. The remaining three cacti are made of steel with the intention to become permanent after the festival (more info on this to come!).

All seven cacti are covered in bright colors that up close provide a fun and playful backdrop to produce an image, and from a distance, make the overall configuration of the seven cacti appear like a sprawling skyline. Each of the seven cacti are covered with a grid of road reflectors, as found on the horizontal surface of a highway—referencing the spines that appear on natural cacti.  

Office Kovacs, the team of artists behind the Colossal Cacti, is led by Andrew Kovacs, who teaches in the UCLA Architecture Department. Andrew, a Chicago-native, moved to LA to work at UCLA as part of the inaugural teaching fellowship in UCLA’s School of Architecture. In between grad school and his move to LA, he worked for a number of offices all over the world, but that entailed working for someone else. With his move to LA, Andrew began to work on his own projects, including a Bust of Medusa, a model constructed with found objects that speculates on the possibility of collective, densely populated human habitation. He currently collaborates with Erin Wright, a UCLA alum herself, who joined Office Kovacs in 2016.

We had the rare opportunity to chat with Andrew and Erin about the Colossal Cacti installation. Here’s what they had to say:

Her Campus: Do you have a certain response you want from viewers?  

Office Kovacs: The form and size of a Saguaro cactus is very architectonic. It is like a tower, with many other towers emerging from it. It's a form that we like and appreciate. We wanted to create a space that would be a meeting place for festival goers. The Cacti provide shade throughout the day, and the stepped plinths at each Cacti’s base allow for people to sit and rest, listen to music or people watch. We also decided to use a wide range of bright and playful colors. From a distance, the use of different colors makes the form appear like a skyline far away. But up close, these brightly colored facades become a great backdrop to produce images. Ultimately, our goal was to make something that is recognizable and fun for festival goers, while also being functional.

HC: Is there any effect on viewers you hope for?

OK: We hope that people will leave the installation with a greater appreciation for art and architecture. 

HC: Was this your interpretation of the desert? Or, what was your inspiration for this piece? 

OK: We are inspired by a lot of very different things, and I think many of these things find their way into our work at different quantities and levels. 

Firstly, as mentioned, the form and size of the Saguaro cactus is a very appealing one to us. I really love historical images of people standing next to large Saguaro’s—a kind of ancient selfie. At the same time, we were also inspired by phenomena like the Paul Smith wall in Los Angeles and the Leaning Tower of Pisa—both being places where people really seem to love to take their photo, and photos that they want to share with the world. Additionally, in our design work, we like to use bright colors, recognizable forms and found objects with the intention of hopefully reaching a broader audience for architecture. In Colossal Cacti, this continued with the brightly colored facades, but also the use of road reflectors laid out in a grid pattern to reference the spines that appear on natural cacti.   

The desert is a super inspiring place, but I don’t think the installation is a totalizing interpretation of the desert. When one ventures out into desert communities, one can see the symbol of the cactus used as an iconographic trope—on cafes, stores, etc. To me, this is appealing because it clearly has a cultural resonance for people. We tried to tap into this, along with the above—Colossal Cacti is like a desert roadside attraction that has been marooned into the festival master plan of Coachella.  

HC: What does creating art do for you? 

OK: It gives me pleasure. I love what I do, and I have a lot of fun doing it. I am incredibly lucky that I am able to do it. 

HC: By the way, how many gallons of paint?  

OK: A great question, and to be honest, I have no idea. We figured out how much square footage each color would take up, but I have no idea how many gallons of paint were actually used. A lot.  

HC: And, how did you get all of that into the middle of the desert?

OK: Thankfully, we didn’t have to move it all there! The pieces were fabricated on site. The team at Coachella is incredibly talented and amazing. They are absolutely wonderful to work with. 

HC: What do you think about your piece being the backdrop for every person's latest Instagram? 

OK: I think its great, I’m happy that people like it. Today we live in a world where we are inundated with a massive quantity of images constantly. I think if festival goers that engaged the installation leave with a greater appreciation for art and architecture, then we have succeeded. Generally, something is always in the background of an image, and in the physical world, architecture is always in the background of all of our lives. I’m super happy that we were able to create the background for people to take their selfies. 

More information about the permanent Colossal Cacti will be coming soon—they're thinking it will be placed in downtown Indio. So if you didn't get a chance to see its greatness at Coachella, you're not out of luck.

For more information about Office Kovacs, please visit o-k-o-k.net or check out Andrew's blog, Archive of Affinities. You can also find him on Instagram