Towering high above the 2019 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival sits a massive wooden rocket designed to carry live, aquatic mammals to the farthest reaches of the universe. As tall as the Mercury Redstone-3, the first rocket to carry an American into space, this rocket isn’t built by NASA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic or any of the major players in the Southern California aerospace industry. This particular rocket is built and run by hippopotamuses.
H.i.P.O. -- Hazardus Interstellar Perfessional Operations -- is the brainchild of the Los Angeles art duo Dedo Vabo. The installation is the culmination of a year's worth of work. The 8-story rocket, launch tower and surrounding platform acts as a medley of different artistic mediums, all mashed together into a massive performance art installation that defies explanation. Inside, performers dressed as lifelike hippopotamuses, bang on rocket parts, build warheads and conduct experiments. The show runs uninterrupted, for 12 hours a day, and takes place on every inch of the installation. This allows viewers to navigate around the piece and always see something different happening inside. It is an unending ballet of chaos and comedy.
H.i.P.O. Fast Facts:
Installation name: H.i.P.O. -- Hazardus Interstellar Perfessional Operations. (Yes, it's spelled that way. Hippos can't spell.)
Size: Approximately 80 feet tall by 80 feet wide
Staff: A total of 202 designers, costumers, set decorators, stage managers, riggers, and performers
Terry Sandin, Mechanical Effects Designer
T.J. Lewis, Mechanical Effects
Jason Hadley, Prop master/Set Decorator
Charles Wills, Mask Designer
Steve Lassovszky, Designer
Melvin Ocasio, Set Dresser, Live Music on Moog Synthesizer
Past Coachella Installations:
2013: Power Station
2015: Corporate Headquarters
About Dedo Vabo
Dedo Vabo was formed in 2011 by Derek Doublin and Vanessa Bonet, two artists who share a love of magical realism and absurdist art. The duo got their start with performance art installations in a gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Their first installation with the hippos blossomed into a regular affair at the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk. Their first installation became so popular, crowds would gather in the streets, prompting the LA Fire Marshall to clear the area. Their constant presence in the LA art scene catapulted them into the spotlight and evolved into large-scale pieces that defy explanation.
Vanessa and Derek have collaborated for over a decade. Vanessa brings her background in wearable art and sculpture, as well as more than 15 years experience in the realm of large-scale art. Derek has been an artist for 25 years, starting in film and mixed media. He was a former director for Jimmy Kimmel Live and his painting “State of Pause” was placed on display at The White House.
“We began collaborating when we realized we saw the world through the same lens. Our art highlights the absurdity in the mundane, everyday aspects of life that people often don’t pay attention to,” Vanessa said.
“We enjoy making art that holds a twisted reflection of humanity,” said Derek. "There's a clumsiness to human evolution that we like to mirror. Much like people, the hippos try their best, but we’re not always sure if they have positive intentions, and they seem to veer off track quite a bit."
While in name Dedo Vabo may represent two artists, the work itself represents an entire community of fabricators, engineers, scientists, artists, performers, and weirdos who come together to make their vision a reality. Every single room surrounding a Dedo Vabo installation is filled to the brim with special effects. For H.i.P.O., Terry Sandin and Chris Stockton led the special FX teams that helped create the animatronic hippos, robots and mechanical gags that brought each room to life. In the art department, Jason Hadley helped create the textures and visual aesthetics of the piece.
“The hippos don’t perform inside fake, theatrical sets. Their environments are real. When a performer pushes a button on a control panel, something happens,” says Derek, “Shelves collapse, a clock may pop off the wall, smoke may pour out of a vent. The performers are in a truly immersive world.”
“This piece is the largest and most complicated piece we’ve ever made in our lives,” says Vanessa, “It is over twice as big and there are three times as many effects. We’ve been working on it for the past 10 months.”
Until this year, Dedo Vabo’s largest installation to date was the Corporate Headquarters, a mock office building that stood over 35 feet tall with a full-size helicopter on the roof. The piece received accolades from dozens of outlets, including Rolling Stone and the L.A. Times.