I have not yet heard from anyone who declined to participate in Desert X Al Ula, but I’ve started seeing reports from people who did. I would have said that the exhibition and all the spectacular work in spectacular scenery was taking place right where it had been planned all along: in the #desertxalula hashtag. But then I saw a slideshow of the artworks from a new instagram account, saudiarabianholiday, which promotes the same as a hashtag, but their link-in-bio is to an unfinished website registered two weeks ago to an anonymous tour packager run out of an Irish coworking space. The point of Desert X Al Ula is to turn Saudi Arabia into an international tourist destination.
While scrolling and marveling at the budget for the Desert X installations, I idly considered what project I would execute [sic] in the stark sandstone cliffs. I decided I would recreate the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Tinted shotcrete over foam block, how hard could it be?
Then I saw the post from @colinjr, a California real estate photographer who was attending the Desert X press/influencer junket. He captured fellow Desert X photographer Lance Gerber and their Saudi driver sharing a moment swinging on a tandem swing. It was Superflex’s contribution to the show, a multilevel swingset sculpture titled, One, Two, Three, Swing!, one of several elements from the group’s 2017 project that began in the Tate Turbine Hall and have since expanded to sites around the world.
I imagined MBS and Neville Wakefield sharing a similar moment, sitting next to each other, working together, in sync, on a common goal of an experience, toward a common spectacular end. And I marveled at the simplicity of the gesture, and the symbolic power with which Superflex captured the spirit of the entire exhibition enterprise. Superflex told people that by using the three-seat swings, they would set the orange line over their heads in motion and potentially change the trajectory of the planet. And it must be working; I do feel like a shift is happening. I apologize for ever doubting them.