To many Egyptians, the desert is a hostile place: water is scarce, terror cells hide in its vast expanse, or land mines make crossing them a death trap. But the Desert Breath land art project near Hurghada on the Red Sea coast reminds us that Egypt, despite its many troubles, is a place of extraordinary beauty.
Danae Stratou, an installation artist, Alexandra Stratou, an industrial designer and architect, and architect Stella Constantinides formed the D.A.ST. Arteam in 1995 with the purpose of working together in the desert – a dream that the trio shared.
Two years later, they created Desert Breath, a series of conical sand mounds that form two spirals around a pool of water.
“In our mind’s eye the desert was a place where one experiences infinity,” they wrote on their project website.
“We were addressing the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind. The point of departure was the conical form, the natural formation of the sand as a material.”
A site-specific work located in the eastern Sahara desert near the Red Sea in El Gouna (said to be MENA’s first carbon neutral city), the project comprises an area of 100,000 square meters.
The group used 8,000 cubic meters of sand to form both positive and negative “conical volumes,” which are precise – no easy feat in a dynamic desert where the winds are constantly shifting the sands.
Two interlocking spirals composed of these giant sand cones move out from a common center with a phase difference of 180 degrees, according to the group, surrounding a vessel with a 30 meter diameter that is filled to the brim with water.
“Located between the sea and a body of mountains at the point where the immensity of the sea meets the immensity of the desert, the work functions on two different levels in terms of viewpoint: from above as a visual image, and from the ground, walking the spiral pathway, a physical experience.”
It took two years for the D.A.ST. Arteam to complete this project, a time frame that is appropriate for a desert environment – so unforgiving, so taxing, and yet worthy of such deep reverence and respect.