December 13, 2016

Photo Essay: Upon the Christmas Robot Apocalypse (Updated for 2019)

[Last updated 12/13/19 3:35 PM PT: While some of Kenny Irwin's art is still at his residence, "Robolights" in Palm Springs is closed. It may reopen in 2020 at a new location in Desert Hot Springs.]

In Palm Springs' affluent "Movie Colony" neighborhood... called because of the Hollywood movie stars who flocked to it in the 1930s through 1960s...

...there's something the neighbors don't like very much.

...In fact, they haven't liked it for the greater part of the 30 years it's been there, predating some of their move-in dates.

They call it a hazard.

They call it an eyesore.

But its creator, outsider artist Kenny Irwin Jr., calls it simply "Robolights."

Kenny makes larger-than-life robots out of found objects—mostly computer monitors, TVs, machine parts, and toy guns—but he also populates his yard display with a variety of mannequins...

...and a candy cane-chomping shark.

Walking through, it's a spectacle all right, but is it Christmas?

Sure, there are Christmas carols playing in the overhead music (or, at least, some twisted version of them).

There are plenty of Christmas lights to glare into the Movie Colony neighbors' windows.

There are even antler-wearing bunnies pulling a sleigh.

But this is some otherworldly experience, where a melted snowman reveals inner layers of toy heads like those of a Matryoshka doll.

This is where Spiderman drives a tanker, with a skeleton man as his copilot.

What does it all mean?

Have these figures assembled here for some purpose other than to entertain?

Do they have a message for us?

Surely, this must be the end of the world.

In fact, every Christmas seems like it will be the last for Robolights, though its creator tirelessly keeps modifying it and building onto it—despite all the citations he's been receiving from the City of Palm Springs.

For me, it was actually a far better experience this year than it was two years ago, when I found myself hopelessly lost, walking in circles, unable to take it all in. This year, the paths seemed wider and the route seemed clearer, making it easier to appreciate the new additions to the apocalyptic scene (like a couple of new Christmas tree sculptures).

Thanks to Robolights, Kenny has really ceased to fully be an outsider. His neighbors may hate what he's done to his parents' house, but most of the people who were walking through it early on that Saturday night were parents with little kids.

Somehow, they weren't terrified of what they would behold. Maybe for them, this is a refreshing change from the holly and jolly of more traditional Christmas lighting displays. Maybe they don't find it necessary to understand it.

If we ever get to the point where we all understand it, that'll probably be the right time for Kenny to take it down. But something tells me it will continue to baffle us for quite some time.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Robot Christmas Nightmare at Robolights
Photo Essay: A Museum of Misfit Artists

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