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"Electric Desert" Illuminates the Sonoran Landscape

Written by M.V. Moorhead Category: Visual Arts Issue: October 2018
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Desert Botanical Garden's latest exhibit combines light, sound and technology to make the landscape come alive.

No one would suggest that the natural beauties on display at the Desert Botanical Gardens require any enhancement. Nonetheless, they’ve been enhanced. Opening October 12 at the horticultural wonderland is “Electric Desert,” an after-hours light and sound show that gives the sections of the garden extra dimensions of spectacle.

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The immersive experience, designed by Philadelphia-based studio Klip Collective, dresses the flora and terrain in shifting patterns and colors of light, synced to ethereal electronic music. The cacti and succulents are ringed and robed in lights that strobe and pulse in cool shades; snakelike motifs slither along the branches, and alternating, undulating waves of green and crimson blossom from the rocks, somehow more appropriate to sea life in the Great Barrier Reef than to the desert southwest.

The show’s grand finale is the view of the craggy, saguaro-studded hill toward the Garden’s southern reaches. It’s bathed in dramatic, Spielbergian Close Encounters-style light effects. Sometimes it looks like dawn is breaking, other times it looks like Anasazi petroglyphs are spontaneously taking shape on the face of the slope.

There are a few interactive stations along the trail to give the kids something to do beyond gawking; a big illuminated pegboard that resembles a giant ‘70s-era Lite Brite, for instance, or a luminescent skyline that can be drawn on with thick pieces of pastel-colored chalk. But the strongest appeal of Electric Desert is just the atmosphere that comes with strolling through the Gardens after sunset during the cooler and more tolerable months here in the Valley; it’s unearthly, yet serene and soothing.

Electric Desert opens October 12 and continues through May 12, 2019 at Desert Botanical Garden. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $24.95-$29.95 for adults; $12.95-$15.95 for youth 3-17; free to kids younger than 3. Call 480-941-1225 or go to dbg.org for details.

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