Lighting Up The Desert Night

Writer Fadi Sitto
Photography Courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden

20th century French philosopher Jacques Maritain said, “Art comes from a deeper part of the intellect, not the reasoning part alone. There is an interpenetration of art and nature so that a place comes alive because of its history.”

The alive and breathing botanical history of the Sonoran Desert is as glorious as ever with light and sound this winter. Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is once again gifting us an outdoor gallery of nature, colors and art imitating actual life. Electric Desert, a garden art installation, is here.

Electric Desert is an immersive virtual nightscape exhibit of original music, sounds and light emanating directly onto the distinctive and sprawling Desert Garden landscape. Uniting in a mesmerizing display like never before, the garden’s cactus and desert become a living canvas in this nighttime journey, unlike any other exhibit experience to visit Arizona.

Klip Collective, based in Philadelphia, is a creative studio that uses virtual reality, projection mapping, storytelling and soundscapes to create captivating, immersive sensory experiences. Self-taught creative and Klip Collective founder Ricardo Rivera designed this integrative experience after studying the natural desert. He played off the vibe of the space, bringing the nocturnal desert to life, and succeeded in accentuating the form and movement by creating pattern off of pattern.

Klip Collective has been creatively beaming cutting edge projection events in a diverse array of environments across the world since 2003. They broke through on the arts scene in 2015 with a similar show, “Nightscape,” hosted at Longwood Gardens just outside of Philadelphia. The show received international acclaim and had over 175,000 visitors.

The Electric Desert exhibit in Phoenix encompasses seven site-specific locations, with each experience inspired by and related to the garden.

The exhibit showcases unique abstract imagery mapping accompanied by ambient electronic soundscapes. It took over a year to create, six weeks to install and a crew of 40 to build.

As you walk under the Phoenix Sonoran moon, it’s hard to fathom that there are over nine acres of landscapes covered by light. The desert is a vibrant, pure abstraction.

“I just want to inspire people, ignite their imaginations and create a place where people are in awe,” says Ricardo.

Ricardo Rivera is a filmmaker at heart and a true pioneer of video projection mapping, having earned a United States patent for his technological breakthroughs in the medium. His work has been featured multiple times at the Sundance Film Festival, including the commissioned festival bumper in 2014.

He doesn’t take for granted the subtle splendor of our surroundings here in the Arizona desert. The scenic outdoor garden environment is the perfect setting for Electric Desert’s illusionary vision and shapes.

Imagine a cactus garden under the Arizona desert sky. Now imagine that garden as a living canvas of inspiration and eye candy for your senses. Quite possibly the most inspiring phase of Electric Desert is the cactus gallery. The majesty of the seemingly endless stretch of nighttime cacti of different sizes and shapes are eye-opening, unapologetic. It’s as if they want to tell you their story as you walk by.

“Take your time.” That’s what Ricardo told me when I asked him if he had any advice for me when visiting the Electric Desert exhibit. Taking his advice to heart, I purposefully took my time taking it all in. The artist’s advice was spot on.

Standing still at one of the trailheads and taking in the large vista, an intuitive perspective rushes through you, as if you are part of a family of all things alive and thriving right in front of you.

I felt a sort of camaraderie with the other people walking through the Electric Garden. The self-guided walking tour allows you to interact with the surrounding beauty on your own terms. Just wandering off in any direction within the garden trails, you’ll feel a sense of well-being while being happily lost amongst the desert plants.

The Desert Botanical Garden, located within Papago Park in Phoenix, is a stunning 140-acre botanical garden. This world-class natural treasure was founded by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society in 1937 and established at this site in 1939.

Thanks to a small but passionate group of local citizens who saw the need to conserve the beautiful desert environment, and the support of social influencers of the time such as Gertrude Divine Webster, the garden’s presence grew.

This popular city garden sees almost a half a million visitors annually and has more than 50,000 plants, including 379 species that are rare, threatened or endangered. Plant life is carefully displayed throughout themed scenic walking trails and exhibits that illustrate topics such as conservation, desert living, wildflower plants and people of the Sonoran Desert.

Today, Desert Botanical Garden is a spectacular open-air museum and a landmark of pride for Valley residents. Electric Desert is one more delightful way to experience its beauty.

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