People traveling to the Coachella Valley in California this weekend for the opening of Desert X, a free, public art exhibition that brings large-scale installations to the desert, won’t be seeing a new work from the artist Jenny Holzer, at least not as it was originally conceived. Ms. Holzer’s work, “BEFORE I BECAME AFRAID, 2019,” a text-based projection piece about gun violence, has been postponed indefinitely.
The reason? The area’s ailing bighorn sheep population.
“There’s been a pneumonia outbreak in the bighorn sheep population in this region, so they’re in a more sensitive, vulnerable state,” Jack Thompson, the regional director of the Wildlands Conservancy, which oversees the land where the installation was set to take place, explained by phone. “The site that we had planned initially just became not viable after we had observed increased activity of the bighorn sheep next to the site.”
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Mr. Thompson said that the conservancy started to realize that there was an outbreak in November and since then, it’s seen at least 25 bighorn sheep die from the infection. “But I wouldn’t doubt that it’s quite a lot more than that,” he said, adding that the Fish and Wildlife department will have a more concrete estimate after it completes a survey in March.
It’s not clear what kind of affect Ms. Holzer’s installation would have had on the sheep, but Mr. Thompson said that because the animals had been wandering closer to the site, and acting “more unpredictable,” the project, which was initially approved, became “an unacceptable risk to animals and visitors as well.”
“The right thing to do was either move or postpone the project out of respect for the environment and these particular conditions that are affecting the sheep at the time,” the Desert X artistic director, Neville Wakefield, said in a phone interview. “These are the things one encounters in this kind of show.”
Ms. Holzer is one of a handful of artists who created site-specific work for the sprawling exhibition, its second iteration since 2017. The artist’s contribution was initially going to be a projection of text from people affected by gun violence, including survivors, family members and activists, onto the side of a cliff wall in the Whitewater Preserve, part of the Wildlands Conservancy. Now it’s unclear whether it will be shown in some alternate way. The festival runs through April 21.
“We do want this work in some form or other to be a part of the show,” Mr. Wakefield said. “We have a number of months in which we can do it and adapt it to the circumstances.”
In a statement released through her studio, Ms. Holzer said, “I hope we can realize another projection by the end of Desert X so that the writers’ important text can be seen, felt and echoed.”