Artist Eloise Fornieles and her sea of pennies in the desert

Photo: Kristen Peterson

Performance artist Eloise Fornieles is waist-deep in a hole behind a Tecopa, California, home, charging at the rocky desert with a shovel. Viewers look on, cameras in hand, documenting her every move against the breathtaking vista behind her. The loosened soil and rock fly off, forming a pile. A half-empty bottle of Pellegrino sits within reach, and bags of pennies totaling $1,000 are stacked nearby.

Fornieles brushes aside her hair—a futile effort in the wild afternoon wind that has her loose tank top billowing. She’s been digging for two hours. This athleticism is nothing new to the U.K. artist, known for the physicality in her performative works. She’s walked an hour on a treadmill carrying a dead goat across her shoulders and danced for 12 hours in a pool of blood.

Today, she’s digging a deep narrow grave, which will hold the pennies that created the sea in her art residency at the Cosmopolitan’s P3 Studio. It was a month-long journey inside a mock natural environment, an installation designed to exude Las Vegas glitz and spectacle. There she sat in a wooden boat, accepting pieces of paper from guests who’d written down their hopes and fears. But it’s time to burn the boat and put the pennies to rest—return the copper to the earth—and, she says, suspend their story by halting the exchange that’s been passed through thousands of hands.

The immediate community is part of her work. Fornieles has swapped oysters for stories of loss and peeled and cut vegetables with her mother at a kitchen table, giving soup to participants who’d sat with them and shared stories about giving or receiving help.

Here, she connected with the locals and tourists in the mock environment, then took the experience to the natural world, landing on VAST space projects’ new artist residency site, overlooking the Tecopa meadows. When the pennies are buried, she’ll burn the boat and its hand-written passengers, releasing the journey and the collection of hopes and fears into the cool sky, leaving only ashes in the dirt.

Photo of Kristen Peterson

Kristen Peterson

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