Desert Breath is a huge, stunning piece of spiral Land Art located at El Gouna, Egypt, where the immensity of the Red Sea meets that of the eastern Sahara desert. It was created in 1997 by a collective called D.A.ST. Arteam, whose members include installation artist Danae Stratou, industrial designer Alexandra Stratou and architect Stella Constantinides. The land art, breathtaking in its vision and scope, was intended as an exploration of infinity: ‘The project is rooted in our common desire to work in the desert. In our mind’s eye the desert was a place where one experiences infinity. We were addressing the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind’ (Stratou 1998).
The spiral of Desert Breath covers an area of 100,000 square metres. In creating it, 8000 cubic metres of sand were displaced to create 89 positive and 89 negative cones of sand which become increasingly larger the further away they are from the centre. The 89 cones and 89 matching depressions spiral out from one another in two geometrically precise arms that increase in diameter progressively. In the centre is a 30m diameter vessel filled to the brim with water. The spiral is logarithmic – that is, one generated through an equation (though such spirals, also called miracle spirals, occur in nature).
The work can be explored in two ways: as a visual image from a vantage point on a hill, and from the ground, walking the spiral pathway as a physical experience. From the vantage point, the shape of the spiral reveals itself fully, imagined by the artists as a kind of ‘breath’ in the desert. From the ground, the viewer walks from the outside inwards. At the outermost point, the sand cones are twice the height of a person and have a diameter of 15m, but walking towards the centre, they successively diminish in scale, though this happens so gradually the viewer often doesn’t notice. At some point, the viewer realises they are now about the same height as the cone, engendering the curious, almost Alice in Wonderland, sensation that they have shifted in scale, grown larger as they walk.
Numerous small-scale experimental models were initially made by Arteam in Greece before the piece was finally constructed in Egypt. The actual work was undertaken by a large Egyptian construction company, supervised by Arteam.
Made in 1997, Desert Breath still exists, slowly disintegrating, so an instrument to register the passage of time. It can be seen on Google Earth at coordinates 27°22’54.59″N, 33°37’48.46″E. A video of the artwork and its construction can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZbTWE5XWoU