High Desert Test Sites , cofounded and directed by Andrea Zittel, is a nonprofit arts organization based in Joshua Tree, California. Started in 2002 by a loosely knit group of collaborators (Andrea Zittel, Andy Stillpass, John Connelly, Shaun Regen and Lisa Anne Auerbach), HDTS has since hosted the work of more than 450 artists, 11 expansive site-specific programs, and 25 solo projects.
As a conceptual entity HDTS is dedicated to “learning from what we are not” and the belief that intimately engaging with our high desert community can offer new insights and perspectives, often challenging art to take on new areas of relevancy.
To challenge traditional conventions of ownership, property, and patronage. Most projects will ultimately belong to no one and are intended to melt back into the landscape as new ones emerge.
To insert art directly into a life, a landscape, or a community where it will sink or swim based on a set of criteria beyond that of art world institutions and galleries.
To encourage art that remains in the context for which it was created - work will be born, live, and die in the same spot.
To initiate an organism in its own right-one that is bigger and richer than the vision of any single artist, architect, designer, or curator.
To create a center outside of any preexisting centers. We are inspired by individuals and groups working outside of existing cultural capitals, who are able to make intellectually rigorous and culturally relevant work in whatever location they happen to be in.
To find common ground between contemporary art and localized art issues.
To contribute to a community in which art can truly make a difference. HDTS exists in a series of communities that edge one of the largest suburban sprawls in the nation. Many of the artists who settle in this area are from larger cities, but want to live in a place where they can shape the development of their own community. For the time being, there is still a feeling in the air that if we join together we can still hold back the salmon stucco housing tracts and big box retail centers. Well maybe.
Who We Are
Lisa Anne Auerbach
Shaun Caley Regen
CURRENTLY ADMINISTERED BY
Andrea Zittel - Founder/director
Vanesa Zendejas - Administrative Director
Elena Yu - Administrative Assistant
Kristy Campbell, Aimee Buyea, Emily Endo, Sarah Greenlee, Eloise Hess, and Tayler Straziuso. Thanks to Bob Carr, Elizabeth Carr, and Zena Bender at the Sky Village Swap Meet!
High Desert Test Sites is grateful to The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Tides Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation - Arts Regranting Program/Inland Empire at The Community Foundation, Strengthening Inland Southern California through Philanthropy, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, The Ranch Projects, Sky Village Swap Meet, and our generous donors for their support.
When HDTS was founded in 2002, part of the original mission was to run on zero budget and generate relevant and rigorous programming through the most efficient means. Fourteen years later, the socio-economic climate has changed—Joshua Tree has changed—and the world has changed. HDTS artists have always been resourceful, but we are increasingly aware that an important part of showcasing and supporting their work is compensating them for their time, efforts, and ideas.
Bringing our audience such programming also wouldn’t be possible without the small, paid staff who we rely on. Each event that we host requires hours of planning, managing, and communicating—from finding the right site for an artist, to sourcing volunteers, to updating our website and managing the books.
Together, along with countless dedicated volunteers, we’ve managed over the years to:
- Showcase the work of over 450 artists and presenters
- Host 11 large, site-specific programs
- Support over 25 solo projects
- Produce 10 publications
- Host a monthly book club
- Maintain a local presence with our HQ
- Host workshops and community events
- Pass out hundreds of maps to HDTS sites
- Build a Desert Archive
- Provide an online resource for those interested in local sites and projects
As a small arts organization, in a rural community, we heavily rely on the support of our donors both from the High Desert region and beyond. Every contribution, large and small, helps support the staff and artists in continuing to offer more immersive and intimate experiences and exchanges between critical thinkers from many different walks of life.
(Please use the "add special instructions to the seller" box in PayPal to let us know if would like your contribution to directly support a specific upcoming project.) You can also mail a check to High Desert Test Sites at P.O. Box 1058, Joshua Tree, CA 92252.
Thank you so much for your support - any amount helps!
Although many of our projects are only temporarily sited, some are permanent and are located throughout the Joshua Tree region. The best way to find these works is to follow the directions on our current HDTS driving map.
The HQ at the Sky Village Swap Meet
The HDTS HQ is temporarily closed. We hope you'll visit us when we reopen (as soon as it's safe to do so)
The HDTS HQ is a visitor's center and creative hub where artists, craftsmen, visionaries, and friends engage with the high desert community through creative projects and performances. You can pick up a copy of our driving map to HDTS projects and other local sites of interest at the HQ every Saturday from 9 am–1 pm—and please check our website regularly to see what special events we have on the calendar.
The HQ is collectively run by a small group of volunteers who review and accept proposals several times a year. We are open to a wide variety of projects to present at the HQ, but are particularly interested in work that engages with our local community (who have a strong presence at the Swap Meet), encouraging their participation in a contemporary practice. Proposals are accepted via email and are reviewed about once every three months.
Directions: 7028 Theater Road (just off Hwy 247, right behind Barr Lumber), Yucca Valley, CA 92286; 760-365-2104
*Email us if you'd like to get involved with the HDTS HQ at Sky Village Swap Meet!
Ok. So I'm excited about the next HDTS event. What should I bring with me to the desert?
You are awesome. We love your enthusiasm. Bring plenty of drinking water and snacks. Bring sunscreen and a wacky wide-brimmed hat for extra protection in the bright sun. Bring a sweater or jacket, as it can get chilly at night. Bring lots of cash.
Cell phones and mapping apps don't always work out here, so be sure to look up directions and print out driving maps ahead of time (many addresses in the desert don't register properly on cell phone mapping applications, and service can be spotty).
Please remember this is a fragile desert environment. Leave no trace! Be prepared to haul out everything that you haul in.
I am coming to the desert this weekend, is there anything up to see?
Most of our current HDTS projects are short term or temporary, but you can download the current HDTS driving map for directions to ongoing HDTS projects and points of interest.
When is the next HDTS event?
Check our website as we do list all upcoming events well before they happen and you can also sign up for the HDTS mailing list to stay abreast of HDTS updates, events, and projects.
Does HDTS have a physical space? Where are you located, and what is your operational structure like?
HDTS is a conceptual project as much as a physical one – so while we have a full schedule, almost two hundred acres of land at our disposal, and a (small, part-time) staff - we do not have a physical roof over our heads. Because our mission supports work that actively engages the world at large, we like to spend as much time as possible out in that world.
We have a small core team who all work part-time on the project. We do lots of work remotely on our computers, or driving around out in the desert, and then tend to meet up in Andrea’s studio when we need a big table and things like envelopes, scotch tape, and a stapler.
You are welcome to visit the HDTS HQ at the Sky Village Swap Meet in Yucca Valley, open Saturdays 9–1PM.
How can I get involved?
We periodically need help assisting artists with their installations. This may include hard labor, sweat, and blisters, but installations are generally a lot of fun, and a good way to meet people. If you are sturdy, reliable, and up for the task, please email us, and we will let you know about upcoming installtions.
You can share information with us about a destination that we should check out, or an inspirational figure who we might be interested in researching.
I'm interested in proposing a project - are you accepting proposals, and what kind of proposals are you looking for?
We are not taking project proposals at this time, except for projects done at the HDTS HQ at Sky Village Swap Meet in Yucca Valley. Programming at this site is geared towards a diverse local audience, and due to its unique swap meet context we ask all artists to visit the swap meet at least once before sending in a proposal.
OK - I’m confused... What's the difference between A-Z West and HDTS?
A-Z West is Andrea Zittel’s home and land in Joshua Tree, dedicated to her life practice and special programs. It includes her home, studio, A-Z Wagon Station Encampment, and the Institute of Investigative Living. The activities that go on at A-Z West are primarily related to Andrea's practice and are separate from HDTS, but at certain times A-Z West will expand by hosting HDTS programs/installations/artists.
High Desert Test Sites is a non-profit support entity for artists whose practices explore the intersection between contemporary art and life at large. The HDTS sites include many different pieces of land used for projects and programming. These include A-Z West, as well as other parcels scatted throughout Pioneertown, Joshua Tree, and Wonder Valley.
I love what you are doing and can see that you are a small program desperately in need of resources - how can I help support HDTS?
How do I contact a High Desert Test Sites representative?
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the HDTS mailing list to stay abreast of HDTS updates, events, and projects.
Palo Verde Seeds
There are several Palo Verde trees (both Blue and Mexican) growing around the front of the main house at A-Z West -- their seeds can be easily harvested and eaten raw, or cooked or sprouted.
Palo Verde, Spanish for "green pole" or "green stick," are named because their trunks and branches are green. Although you will find "volunteer" Palo Verdes in this area, they are not native to the Mojave ecosystem (where A-Z West is located), rather they are indigenous to the Colorado ecosystem found in the lower parts of Joshua Tree National Park and the lower deserts like Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs. There are two kinds of Palo Verde that grow well in Joshua Tree -- the Blue Palo Verde (bushier with small round leaves) and Mexican Palo Verde (brighter green and more stick like needles).
The website Desert Harvesters has a wealth of information on edible desert plants -- here is a little of the information that they provide on Palo Verde:
HARVEST: Like other leguminous desert trees, both species of Palo Verde produce edible flowers and seeds. The trees generally flower in late April through May and then set green seed pods a few weeks after. The green pods will dry in June-July. Both green and dry pods can be harvested, preferably before the summer rains start.
Green Palo Verde seeds can be harvested when the pod is green and the seed inside has developed but is still small, green, and tender. When green they can be eaten like peas or edamame. Taste before harvesting! The green seeds should be sweet. (If they are chalky, it's too late to harvest them fresh --- best to let them ripen even longer and harvest when dry on the branch.) Gently pull the whole pod off the tree and place in a canvas or paper bag, bucket or basket.
Dry pods are beige and the seeds inside are brown. At this stage they are best eaten sprouted. Rather than picking by hand you can put a clean tarp on the ground and gently shake the dry pods off the tree. However, do not harvest dry pods/seeds off the bare ground.
PROCESS & STORE: Whether green or dry, Palo Verde seeds should be cleaned and processed for storage as soon as possible after picking to preserve freshness and reduce the chances of the pods moldering.
Fresh green pods and seeds should be blanched the day you pick them to prevent ripening or moldering. They can be blanched in the pod or shelled like peas and then blanched. To do this, wash your pods or seeds in cool water. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add green seeds to boiling water and boil for at least 90 seconds. Remove, drain and immediately place seeds in ice water for 90 seconds. Once cooled, drain and package in labeled and dated plastic freezer bags, getting out as much air as possible.
Dry brown pods and seeds are also best processed the day you pick, but can also be stored in an unsealed container outside until you do. Do not store in a plastic bag or they will molder! To process dry seeds, free them from the pod by hand or by laying them on a clean tarp, covering them with a clean sheet, and walking on it to crush the dry pods. Winnow out the pod, leaving just the dry dark brown seed. Freeze seeds for two days to prevent bruchid-beetle infestation. Store in the freezer until use or take them out, dry thoroughly and then store in a sealed jar.
- EAT:* Palo Verde flowers can be eaten raw in salads or candied for use in desserts.
Although they can be eaten raw, both green and dry/brown stages of seeds may be most easily digested when blanched, sprouted or cooked.
After blanching green pods, salt and eat the green Palo Verde seeds from the shell like edamame. Or use them in salads or soups, as garnish, or sauté or roast with seasoning.
Dry seeds are best eaten simply sprouted, or sprouted and then parched/roasted. To sprout: soak overnight and then rinse daily until seed coat splits open and sprout emerges. Remove sprouts by squeezing the split seed coat. Rinse with clean water and then use sprouts raw or lightly cooked. To parch/roast: Sprout seeds just until the tiny root emerges (1-2 days). Dry seeds in the sun, solar oven, or conventional oven set to 150 F. Once dry, put seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat to cook until seeds pop. Season with salt or other spices.
Neither the desert nor the earth need saving. They will be fine. It is the human species that will eradicate itself. That is the trajectory. It is up to us to change this and there are solutions. Just one quick very simplified example: the rhizoshpere. The rhizopshere is the thin layer of the earth's surface that is designated to plant root space. If we were to increase that layer by 10% we could sequester carbon out of the atmosphere, enough to return it to pre-industrialized standards. That is huge. It's so enraging that the reasons these kinds of solutions are not being implemented on a large scale are due to corporate greed, power, short term gratification, convenience, laziness, self indulgence, denial. My anger isn't exasperated enough and the concepts and the conflicts haven't resonated deep enough in me for it to become compassion yet, but I have glimpses. And I want it to become that.
A desert phrase that I keep hearing float around is the claiming/exclaiming of the desert as a "blank canvas". It's not a blank canvas! Nothing is a blank canvas! That phrase is a colonizer's phrase and it makes me look down when I hear it. I've been asking about indigenous culture here. There isn't much of a presence in Joshua Tree. My inquiries have led me to the Morongo Reservation in nearby Riverside County. I went to visit their museum a few days ago (the Malki Museum). At the entrance I was met by a guard who asked what I would be doing on the reservation. He then gave me this pass that read:
"This pass only permits you to go to the address listed. If you are located on the reservation at a location other than that used on this permit you will be trespassing and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of California state and federal law. Firearms are not permitted on the reservation, even if you have a state license or permit to have the firearm. Possession of any firearms is strictly prohibited."
He was nice enough, but the exchange and the tire spikes I slowly drove across made me feel tense. When visiting reservations in the past, I've never experienced a guard, simply signs on the roadway clearly stating that you are entering a specific territory. There are many ways I could unpack my feelings - I wrestle with my own white guilt and privilege. This isn't due to any direct encounter in my own life or any familial heritage I know of. But working with and learning about cosmologies from the Inca, the Maya and to a much smaller extent the Apache over the last 12 years has shown me the reality of the colonial discourse that is in no way in a post era. A source of my guilt comes from the fact that I have at times chosen to ignore this reality in order to continue on, pursuing other goals in my life easily accessible to me as a white middle class female. I have reached a point where I can't do that anymore and am beginning to see the interconnections throughout the different kinds of work that I've done and how the simple goal to live better can be enacted as one, incorporating them all. But that means no more denial, and the recognition of blind spots when they are revealed.
I haven't read too much of Bruno Latour's work, but am familiar with his ideas to the degree that he is a strong, very present voice in the philosophical debate around the climate crisis via ontology. I recently read this critique on ontology as "just another word for colonialism" written by a self proclaimed indigenous feminist academic after attending a talk by Latour in Edinburgh. I've looked for the talk and found 6; listed as Gifford Lectures via the University of Edinburgh, and I'm not sure which one she is specifically referencing (perhaps the one focusing on David Hume?). Her argument immediately made sense:
"I waited, through the whole talk, to hear the Great Latour credit Indigenous thinkers for their millennia of engagement with sentient environments, with cosmologies that enmesh people into complex relationships between themselves and all relations, and with climates and atmospheres as important points of organization and action. It never came. He did not mention Inuit, or Anishinaabe, or Nehiyawak, or any Indigenous thinkers at all. In fact, he spent a great deal of time interlocuting with a Scottish thinker, long dead, and with Gaia."
So, in the spirit of the desert not being a blank slate to be claimed by American rugged individualism (though those stories and histories have their fascinating elements) - here are some brief notes I've gathered about how the Cahuilla Indians lived on and related to this land for thousands of years, bound to the north by the San Bernardino Mountains, to the south by Borrego Springs, and the Choloclate Mountains, to the east by the Colorado Desert, and to the west by the San Jacinto Plain and the eastern slopes of the Palomar Mountains.
From the book, Mukat's People: The Cahuilla Indians of Southern California by Lowell John Bean:
NATURAL ELEMENTS AND EXISTENTIAL SPECULATIONS RELEVANT TO ADAPTATION TO THE ENVIRONMENT:
Wind patterns were very significant to Cahuilla existence. Seasonal variations caused dramatic fluctuations in the abundance of flora and fauna. Prevailing winds come from the west as cool ocean breezes, the hot Santa Ana winds came in summer from the southeast, and winds off of the desert floor during the day rose up mountain sides and were rapidly cooled by night and moved quickly down the mountainsides.
Snowfall provided a delayed run-off so that streams, springs and rivers could flow from high mountain melting during drier parts of the year.
Flooding was always a danger but would also enrich and expand the soil base of the alluvial fans where a diversity of edible and medicinal plants thrived.
Permanent springs were common but their distribution on the surface was irregular because of snowfall and flooding. Natural artisan wells occurred where impenetrable soil sealed certain areas, preventing subsoil infiltration. Little is known of the precise location of these bodies of water because modern water control measures have radically changed the prehistoric situation.
Desert lakes could extend up to 60 miles in length and were formed because of melting snows, torrential rains, and overflows from the Colorado River. Where water was 10-30ft below the surface, deep walk in wells were dug and small lakelets were created by banking sand around the well. The water table would rise and fall after an earthquake which caused physical disturbance in the environment, but also disturbance to the psyche:
"...one time - I was very small, I could not remember yet - there came such earthquakes as had not been known to any of the people. Whole mountains split - some rose up where there had been none before. Other peaks went down, and never came up again. It was a terrible time. The mountains that people knew well were strange places that they had never seen before.
Then it was that Tahquitz Creek went dry, and only ran water in the winter time, and other streams that ran good water all year around have only been winter streams since. And so the Indians could not raise crops on that mesquite land any more. The climate seemed to change. The Andreas Canyon Creek that only ran in the winter became an all year stream, as it has been since. Before the earthquakes, the only water to be had there in summer months was from a small spring which ran always in the creek beneath the caves. There were many springs on the mountain sides and on the level land. When the rains came less, they dried out and went away. No one knows where they used to be anymore." - Francisco Patencio, Cahuilla
The Cahuilla universe is systemic - all phenomena are potentially unstable and unpredictable. All matter was subject to unpredictable change. Since ?iva?a is quixotic, it might leave unexpectedly, causing any number of disasters. ?iva?a is a power or energy source, the basic generative force from which all things were created. It was very intense in the beginning, but has constantly and elusively diminished through time.
-The universe is divided between phenomena containing will (?iva?a) and the potential for action, and phenomena which did not have the potential to act.
-Some groups had greater amounts of power than others. ?iva?a was greater to the west and diminished as it moved east, thus the cultural dominance of the Pacific Coast cultures of the Gabrielino and Chumash, who had greater access to ?iva?a.