The blogosphere has been abuzz this week revisiting a 1997 land art installation, Desert Breath, located in the Egyptian Sahara desert. Created by the D.A.S.T. Arteam–installation artist Danae Stratou, industrial designer Alexandra Stratou, and architect Stella Constantinides–Desert Breath continues to resonate in the public imagination with its sense of place, magic, and infinite and as a striking example of monumental and transient art.
A sublime 9-minute documentary of the project is certainly worth your time:
Danae Stratou narrates:
We found ourselves in the desert bordering the Red Sea, a place where the infinite of the sea coexisted with the infinite of the desert….
…the union of sea and desert generated the call of Desert Breath, which was the tension between positive and negative volumes and the final equilibrium through the element of water.
In describing the form and function of the installation, Stratou continues:
Desert Breath, aerial view.
The choice of the spiral functions on two levels. First, it symbolizes and coexists with the infinite of the desert. The spiral could theoretically expand forever, but has a definite point of departure, a source of life, a source of energy.
Secondly, it conspires with the way the viewer perceives the work. It is a logarithmic spiral, and so each cone is carved accordingly to its distance from the central point. The viewer therefore begins to walk from the outside inwards. At this point, the cones are approximately twice the height of a human being and have a diameter of 15 meters.
As the viewer walks slowly towards the center, the cones successively diminish in scale. This happens so gradually you almost don’t realize. At a certain point while walking the spiral walk, it strikes you that you are now at the same height as the cones. Approaching even closer to the center, to the pool of water, the cones become, in relation to the viewer, almost objects. Then comes the sensation that you have shifted in scale, growing larger as you walk. In this strange inverse way, you start to comprehend the relationship between the human scale and that of the desert.
Only after you have distanced yourself and climbed the nearby mountain to obtain an aerial view of the work does the shape of the spiral reveal itself in its entirety. You can see from afar the stretch of sea and desert and you come to acknowledge that desert breath grew out of this very landscape.
Although eroding away in the sands of time, the art installation is still very much in tact. It’s even visible via Google Earth. In checking it out in the satellite imagery, I must admit the nearby roads and other visible human development seemed to strip some of the “infinite” from it all, generating in my mind an interesting response to place and art and landscape and human impacts. I wonder how the landscape has changed since the project was completed in 1997.
There is a time zero, the moment of completion. At this moment, the work is surrendered to the forces of nature, and here begins the slow process of absorption back into the landscape which originally gave birth to it.