To create from scratch is something very special. I sometimes forget as a professional creative human, that my ability to take something that once lived secretly in my mind and watch it develop and become real before my eyes, is pretty magical. It is something we all have to remind ourselves in times of stress and when we are feeling overwhelming pressure.
I creative directed this desert dinner for a pop up series called Forks + Vinyl with Chef Shanti Medina. I had this concept for a while now based off of the dried brush, pale hues of the rocky desert sands and dusty pinks of a desert sunset. I wanted to focus on the beauty of the earth. The magic that can be found hidden beneath the stone and dried across our deserts. Pieces of earth that are overseen, that to some may just be dead and dirty, -- But to others may be treasures.
I go to the desert and find myself collecting treasures every trip. I can't help myself. I have always been a collector of sorts, and the desert lands are filled with so many magical things. When I am out there, amongst the vast open space and cascading layered rock, I feel more connected to our earth and universe then anywhere else. I day dream of what these lands must of looked like decades ago, when they were untouched by man and filled with new. This thought always leads to what I imagine the distant planets and moons must too look like. All the untouched rocks, floating with us in this universe of rock. All glowing, one by one, inspiring us to think beyond our boards, beyond our lands.
These thoughts may seem grand, and more than what you may believe is necessary to creative direct an event, but at the core of my work, I believe in story-telling. In creating an atmosphere that sparks intrigue and shows someone something new. Even if they don't realize the depth beyond a styled table, or dried installation of palm fronds. With me, everything has meaning, the placement is intentional and there to tell a story.
Trying to take the essence of the desert and bringing it smack to the middle of downtown Los Angeles, was definitely a task. One of the key visuals for the dinner was a dried palm wall. A simple concept that took me days to find pieces to. I found myself driving around Los Angeles for hours, searching for fallen palm fronds, and palms that hadn’t been kept up to clip from. I was that girl on the side of the road hoarding random bits into my car. I found them in parks, along the LA River, and along the side of the road. Being mindful not to take from anyone’s property and looking kinda like a crazy human. It was something I had many moments of doubt about, while loading and unloading my car, while stuffing massive pieces and thorny tumbleweeds into my storage unit for safe keeping. It was something that seemed overwhelming and messy and way bigger than the small person that I am. I am grateful I didn't give up tho, because with hard work and crazy dedication, you can turn dead bits of earth into art-- and that’s what being an artist is all about.
To do these things and take on these projects is extremely difficult, and I’m still not sure if it is always worth it, but then I stand in front of something I made, something that I didn’t see before and then copied, something that came simply from inside my little brain, even if it be as simple as this —- and I think it is beautiful, I smile — and then I know why I am create. For me.
The Wonder part of the dinner was found in the Geode Rock Garden. An interactive experience that allowed you to run your fingers though the cool sands of the Mojave Desert and explore what is hidden beneath our feet. Crystals have always been a big part of my work and inspiration. The concept that something so beautiful can be found below the crumbling and subtle facade of a rock, is the antithesis of wonder and beauty.
I hope to create experiences like this over and over again. Especially for those who either forget or are unaware of the power that nature has.
I used my watercolor paintings throughout the design of the event. This pale watercolor moon(or planet) on the back side of the menu, represents the revolving theme of rock and how it connects with both our plant and the universe.
The first hour of the event is a Cocktail Vinyl Hour. Christine Renaud created two cocktails for the night, one being a smoky Palo Santo whiskey drink, to connect us with the holy wood often burnt in desert landscapes. The other being a cooling botanical gin cocktail with hints of rose and cucumber, to remind us that the desert is a hot terrain.
Forks + Vinyl is a Pop-Up Dinner Series surrounding the idea of "what does this song taste like?!" Created by Chef Shanti Media.
Concept + Creative Direction by Valerie Noell
Creative Assistants : Arielle Bodenhausen + Kristine Edinchikyan
Cocktails Created by Christine Renaud
Special thanks to the Forks+ Vinyl team and everyone who showed up and helped make this dinner a beautiful reality.