This post was updated on April 21 at 4 p.m.
Jennifer Bolande spent hours taking pictures for an art piece that she says viewers cannot properly capture in photos.
Bolande, a UCLA art professor and professional artist, created six billboards along the north and southbound side of Gene Autry Trail. The images of mountains align directly with the real mountains behind them, illustrating a sharpened vision of the landscape beyond, so they would stand out in a driver’s line of sight.
The final project, titled “Visible Distance/Second Sight,” makes the billboards look like an animated film to drivers passing by because of the way the billboards whir by to create movement in the mountains. The impact is not the same when one stops to look at the pictures, because it lacks the cinematic moving quality experienced when driving by.
“You drive by, you probably miss the first one, and then you’re like, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ and then you look at the image in relationship to the background, and then hopefully to the actual landscape itself,” Bolande said.
[Read more: Exploring Coachella Valley art exhibition Desert X]
To create the art piece, Bolande collaborated with Desert X, an organization that curates an annual exhibition of site-specific.
She said the Desert X project fits with her art style and aesthetic, which incorporates ideas of still objects and motion, as well as her fascination with site-specific art.
“Things to do with perspective and scale relationships and mountains have been an ongoing subject of mine, and transience and the momentary,” she said.
Neville Wakefield, the artistic director for the project, helped select artists from around the world to participate in Desert X and aided in the production of art pieces, including Bolande’s.
Wakefield said Desert X’s mission is to open viewers’ eyes to the desert that they wouldn’t otherwise see; “Visible Distance/Second Sight” fits in with the message because Bolande’s work fuses movement and sculpture against the desert landscape.
“Her interests in cinema, photography, sculpture and her association with the desert made some sense (for the project),” Wakefield said.
Wakefield said Bolande took the medium of billboards, which are meant for advertising, and used them to advertise the landscapes themselves.
Bolande said the process of creating the art was tricky because she had to get her photos to line up exactly with the surroundings behind them from the perspective of someone in the driver’s seat of a car.
To take the photos for the billboard, Bolande stood in the middle of a field with her cell phone camera, taking picture after picture until she had all the perspectives she wanted. She then made multiple returns to the site with her wide-angle lensed DSLR camera for the final photos for the project.
She was playing with visible distance, which has to do with scale, time and peripheral vision. She wanted to play with how far the naked eye can see compared to what it looks like enhanced, so she made the billboards sharper than the surroundings behind them and displayed photographs from different times of the day. The slightly altered appearance made the billboards stand out to drivers during disparate hours of the day.
“There’s this lust we have for visibility – when you’re heading towards something, wanting to be there before we get there,” Bolande said.
The hardest part of the process was working with the billboard company, Lamar Advertising, to get the permission to put up the art, she said. She expected to install six double-sided billboards along both trails but ended up with only three because of complications.
However, she said the smaller number of billboards is a blessing in disguise because the driver is able to see the original advertisements, including some for Carl’s Jr. and a Pho restaurant, which contrasted with her artwork.
Coleman Collins, an art graduate student at UCLA and Bolande’s teaching assistant for Art 137: “Advanced New Genres,” saw her project a few weeks ago when he took a detour on his way back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas.
“It looks really good in pictures, but there’s just something about seeing it in person,” he said. “The scale was important as well as the cinematic element of it.”
Collins said he feels the piece is a critique of consumerism and a call to connect to nature and people’s surroundings.
“It’s very much about thinking about advertising, thinking about the way our visual field is polluted with commercials,” Collins said. “Everything about the market is about selling, selling, selling – it’s a reminder about nature and how what you actually have can’t be improved upon.”