Last year, at Coachella, the star of the festival wasn’t Blur, or Phoenix, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers: It was the snail. The Coachella Snail, a three-story-tall art piece, is still a trending topic on Twitter (#CoachellaSnail) and fans were given instructions on how to build their own miniature versions at home.
So how do you follow up the success of an art project like the Snail? You build an even bigger piece—this time, the #CoachellaAstronaut.
The Coachella Astronaut (aka "Escape Velocity") is a 36-foot tall, 57-foot long, 40-foot wide creation, built on a forklift, that will traverse the Coachella crowd both weekends of the festival. He (or she?) is an astronaut who got lost in space and found himself in another dimension (aka the Coachella festival). "It’s massive," says Tyler Hanson, of Poetic Kinetics Inc,, who was responsible for both the Coachella Snail and the Astronaut. "It’s a really fucking cool thing. At night, the helmet and visor turn into a video screen—there’s going to be some interesting content, and there are also going to be Instagram competitions, where kids can get their face put into the helmet. They can be the astronaut for a moment."
The idea of building a kinetic art piece that roams through the crowd appeals to Hanson, who spends a lot of time working on brand activations at other festivals (he worked on the Lady Gaga show and the Doritos Vending Machine stage at SXSW last month). But what Coachella does is different—more akin to a proper arts grant than a branded piece of content. The festival commissions nearly $2.2 million worth of art for the attendees each year.
"Coachella is really unique," Hanson says. "They’re one of the largest budgets of large-scale art in the world, at a festival or anything else. They have always been commissioning awesome artists to build one-of-a-kind, unique installations. It’s definitely art-for-art’s-sake. It’s for the kids."
Ultimately, Hanson hopes that the Astronaut ends up being what he calls an "analog meme," something that travels the grounds of the festival and finds itself discussed by the attendees in real time and in real space, so his giant animatronic float—or perhaps puppet—finds its way onto social networks organically. With the base being a 12k variable-reach forklift and the body components being made out of steel tubing, chicken wire, and pin rods—with the clothing and skin created with fabric and batting—the astronaut looks like something most people rarely see on that scale. Plus, with the animatronics, he can flash peace signs to the Coachella crowds.
"The only thing you could compare it to is like a Macy’s Day Parade or something like that," Hanson says. "But those are all inflatables. This thing is a massive machine, and an art piece in and of itself."
To that end, it’s also going to be for sale: the last piece of the #CoachellaAstronaut puzzle is that it’s going to be looking for a home. "We’ve joked about putting it on eBay, just for fun," Hanson says, but they are looking for a giant warehouse, or maybe a really, really big backyard, that wants an iconic piece to display. By the time the two weekends of Coachella are a wrap, if it has the impact that Hanson and his team want it to, this thing is going to belong in a museum.