Back in 1940, a lovetorn Mexican teeanger, by the name of Consuelo Velasquez, wrote the Spanish ballad “Besame Mucho,” which loosely translates into English as “kiss me a lot.” Despite an inexperienced interpretation of letting a lover go, the bolero became an international hit, and was later covered by a myriad of well-known musicians, including The Beatles and Frank Sinatra.
But to the designers of Miami-based R & R Studios, made up of Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt—partners in both their artistic medium and life—they interpret the phrase as freedom and togetherness. To enhance one of the most social events of the year, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival located in Indio, Calif., they came up with a graphic installation displaying the phrase which beckons patrons to interact with, and around, it.
“What we are after, first and foremost, is an architecture of emotions,” says Behar. “That is able to transmit a sense of place, perform, and create events. A lot of people talk about public space, but we talk about public pleasure.”
“Social sculptures for public pleasure,” Marquardt astutely adds to her husband’s fervor in regards to what is the driving component behind their practice. To achieve this, they produce an aesthetic melded by popular culture, contemporary art, and architecture.
Realized as a 130-foot-long by 28-feet-high sign, the site-specific “landmark,” as the designers put it, is the most two-dimensional of the featured projects for the arts portion of the annual desert festival. And yet it manages to extend these confines by creating a public space immediately in front of it that goes on for several yards. Their most obvious pop culture inspiration for their interpretation of Californian ambience resides about two hours west of the annual desert event in Los Angeles: a little milestone known as the Hollywood sign. This is Behar and Marquardt paying homage to Ed Ruscha, their favorite Los Angeles artist and who they believe most understood the power of graphics in the American urban landscape.
But to ensure it is regionally appropriate for the desert, Behar conjured the imagery of a mirage, rather than directional or promotional signs found within the City of Angels. Inspired by Westerns he would watch as a little boy, he wanted to depict those characters’ journey through Death Valley and how they would see mirages when faced with the harsh elements until they would finally arrive at the Pacific Ocean and have a happy ending.
“So in this case, the mirage of a sign that is asking to kiss a lot,” he says, “it’s not asking you to buy anything, so it’s a critique of all the signs one may see on the road on a trip from the East to West.”
To incorporate the idea of uninhibited interaction even farther, the designers decided to also incorporate flowers within the typographic confines of “Besame Mucho.” To convey an element of “flower power,” or the idea that peace and love are agents for change in the world. The letters were fabricated over the course of three months, which included attaching over 100,000 silk flowers colored red, orange, and yellow onto the pieces in Miami with the help of five volunteers, before shipping it to California. Once there, it took about four days to construct on site. To Marquardt, each of the letters is like a painting in that there was an idea of exaggerating the colors and texture.
“It’s good that the piece worked from far away, and could be seen as one,” says Marquardt. “But as you got closer, instead of performing like a typical sign, it becomes more interesting, more like a tapestry.”
Part of their intention in this project was to embody the essence a festival. Walking through the grounds, you can see couples kissing, friends embracing one another, and groups of people lazing about on tapestries when it casts a forgiving shadow in the later hours. There was reportedly a proposal that took place as well.
"Our aim is for the piece to speak to the people. That the people belong. That the piece belongs to them. That they can take the piece with them," says Marquardt. “For example, everybody is taking pictures, and own it with that photograph."
This aspect of taking pictures with and of it by festival goers also helps to elongate the lifespan of the temporary installation, and help it transcend for years to come, just like the original song.
"It really performs as an icon, all of our pieces do well in terms of landmark, status, or iconic quality,” says Behar. But it’s not about just viewing an icon, as is the purpose of many. Their pieces are performative in nature, and become alive by the people around it. And for this piece, it is also activated by the sounds emitted by visiting musicians.
“It’s a moment where money disappears and music takes over,” says Behar. “It’s a utopian instance.”