Watch: Badir McCleary Captures the Sublime Beauty of Desert X
"Dude, I didn't even know that existed."
It’s a phrase Badir McCleary hears often these days. A few months ago, the L.A. filmmaker grabbed his camera and headed east across the San Gorgonio Pass into the arid lowland of the Coachella Valley. Sometimes called the Desert Empire, Coachella Valley is home to several widely loved events, including the Stagecoach Festival, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
But Badir wasn’t headed toward throngs of festival goers dressed in flower crowns and grungy plaids. Instead, the filmmaker took a planned detour, tracing a solitary route through the lonely expanses of the Coachella Valley. He stumbled across a sleeping figure made of colorful shipping containers, a totem of loudspeakers spewing imaginary conspiracy theories, and a massive yellow chain-link fence with labyrinthine corridors. Dotted unevenly throughout Coachella Valley, these surreal landmarks are sculptures in an exhibition from Desert X, a nonprofit organization that produces site-specific desert installations annually. Even though Coachella Valley sees millions of visitors each year, Desert X remains a relatively well-kept secret hiding in plain sight of L.A.
Badir seems to agree. “Even though [L.A.] is bustling with a bunch of creatives and creative things, […] there's just so much more out there,” he says, explaining the idea behind Remote, his upcoming six-part video series on public art, of which “Desert X” is first. “I go to a lot of places in search of art, especially out and around California,” he continues. “There's a lot of stuff that's out in the deserts and just an hour or two drive right outside the city.”
Though many of his projects support or resurrect visual culture in L.A. neighborhoods, Badir is a self-described “heavy traveler” who helps artists transform public spaces worldwide. In 2011, he founded Art Above Reality, an art consulting and curatorial firm that works with beginners and seasoned pros alike. Since then, the longtime filmmaker has built a reputation for breathing life into forgotten pockets of creative culture. His video series Fallen Through the Cracks highlights overlooked Black artists in short, digestible snippets, while his work with Gallery 38 helped reinvigorate the eclectic arts community in the historic L.A. neighborhood of West Adams. Similarly, the Remote series explores the impact of public art on surrounding cities, landscapes, and communities.
While “Desert X” documents the sublime beauty of the desert landscape, the subsequent Remote shorts will explore the changing arts community of Bombay Beach, large-scale installations in white cube spaces, and the longstanding battle between street art, murals, and graffiti. “They're exciting, I can tell you that,” says Badir.
“People use and apply public art in their everyday life in so many different ways now that it's important for everyday life,” he continues, reflecting on his interest in public art. “These structures, these sculptures, these interactive pieces, [they] allow people the time to stop and think for a moment.”
Available to view here only, Remote is an exclusive video series created by Badir McCleary in partnership with NOT REAL ART. Watch the premiere of “Desert X” on the player above, or scroll through to see the video stills. Make sure to mark your calendars for the next episode of Remote on Aug. 16, 2023.
“[Public art] allows people the time to stop and think for a moment.” — Badir McCleary
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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