Inside Robolights, The Most Intense, Sci-Fi Holiday Display In SoCal
Robolights is the type of sprawling art made from found materials that one might encounter in Detroit’s Heidelberg Project or at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Museum of Assemblage Sculpture in Joshua Tree. Except artist Kenny Irwin Jr., 42, lives in the Movie Colony East neighborhood of Palm Springs. He's turned his property—about four acres—into a surreal display that melds holiday cheer and science fiction into an enchanting world all its own.
Using recycled or donated materials, he crafts brightly colored sculptures of cyborgs, trains, aliens and animals. In one area of the installation, which he calls Microwavo Land, guests can find various electronics that have been warped via a microwave. There are tunnels of lights, shelves of pink skulls and dancing yellow mannequins. Though one can technically view his vibrant sculptures all year long, it’s around Christmas that it all really comes alive. That's when guests are invited to come inside, versus just peering at the oddity from the sidewalk. The holidays are also when it glows with millions of twinkling lights—almost nine million, according to We Like L.A. The pictures above were taken at an event facilitated by Atlas Obscura.
Irwin has lived in the home since he was a child and began making art when he was nine, according to LAist photographer Tod Seelie, who stopped by to photograph this year's display. Irwin put up his first display when he was 12, making this his 30th year. His father passed away earlier in 2016, and so Irwin has dedicated the attraction to him this season. Irwin told the Times in 2015 that his father was supportive of Robolights, and had helped fund the attraction to make sure it would be up and running that year.
Though Irwin's displays are centered around Christmas, the artist does not personally celebrate the holiday, as he converted to Islam many years ago. "I am a Muslim, I don't celebrate Christmas. What I do celebrate is spreading light in the world, and this does parallel the holidays," he said in a video interview with NTDTV.
At one point, things looked shaky for Robolight's 30th anniversary. The City of Palm Springs cited Irwin for various safety issues after an overheated pool motor caught fire last spring. While Irwin took care of many of their cited issues, including some electrical concerns, the city still had a problem with inflatables on Irwin's roof in November, according to the Desert Sun.
Assistant City Manager Marcus Fuller tells LAist that the inflatables—a Santa and Godzilla—are very large and the concern was that a high gust of wind might cause one to fly off and possibly harm someone. Additionally, Fuller said a freestanding wall was a second concern for similar reasons. The city pursued a temporary restraining order in an effort to get more information about both items. On December 14, Fuller says a structural engineer contracted by Irwin was able to provide that information, which indicated that Godzilla and his pals could withstand 125 mph gusts. The city will later inspect to confirm.
Irwin wrote about the December 14 ruling a post on Robolights' Facebook page.
On that same day, the City of Palm Springs issued a news release stating that Irwin had complied with "life/safety violation request," emphasizing that their intention was never to shut the attraction down.
During a hearing today, the property owner finally provided documentation to the City’s Building Official as well as the Riverside County Superior Court, originally requested by the City more than six months ago, regarding the construction and installation of two potentially unsafe and dangerous structures located on the premises of the residential property.
Fuller, too, stressed that the city was never interested in shutting Robolights down, only in confirming that it was safe for the public. Fuller says that the city continues to cite Irwin over decorations he has allegedly placed outside of his own property without an encroachment agreement.
Bureaucratic issues aside, Irwin has big plans for Robolights. He hopes to build an even bigger Robolights, called Roboworld, that would be more like a theme park. It would also have a carousel made from 50 toilets.
Robolights is free to check out from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily through January 1. (If it's off-season, you'll need an appointment.) However, donations are encouraged to help with operational costs. Guests may also donate clothes or toys for Syrian refugees.
Robolights is located at 1077 Granvia Valmonte in Palm Springs. Robolights is open to the public daily from 4-9:30 p.m. through January 1, 2017.