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.
The name Joshua Tree refers to both the National Park, and a small unincorporated town and its surrounding community. The community of Joshua Tree sits roughly in the middle of the Morongo Basin -- a long basin that is traversed from west to east by a single highway called Hwy 62 (also known as 29 Palms Hwy). Each community in the Morongo Basin has a distinct character. Joshua Tree is considered to be made up of rock climbers, new-agers, hippies, and people from LA (or other urban areas) who own desert weekend retreats or run Airbnb businesses. Twenty years ago Joshua Tree consisted mostly of ramshackle homestead cabins and a few small businesses that would close during the hottest months of the summer. Now Joshua Tree has become a major tourist destination and is flooded with vacationers during busy seasons in the spring and fall.
On the first Saturday of every month, the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Associate holds their monthly Pancake Breakfast, which serves as a fundraiser for the Community Center. For the past couple years, they have been raising funds specifically to repair the roof, which is quite large. Kip, the CMMCA Board President and our dear friend, had been estimating that the roof repairs would cost upwards of \$20k so it would take many many pancake breakfasts to raise that amount of money. I think (am not totally sure) this is part of the reason they raised the price of the breakfast from \$5 to \$7 last year. This is still a pretty good deal for 2 eggs, pancakes, hash browns, sausage or bacon, and a shot of OJ or V8. Oh, and coffee.
It's always a really good crowd that shows up, many of the local Mesa residents, including our personal favorites, Mary Helen, Steve, Annelies, Patrick, Jay and Stephanie. Doesn't matter who you sit with, someone's got a good story about tweakers stealing stuff, hipsters taking over the neighborhood, or ATVers running over something. Maybe those aren't "good" stories, but they're definitely interesting local topics of conversation that you don't hear in other places. One of the best parts about breakfast, and really the community center in general, is the Treasure Room in the back. It's a thrift store that takes over the back half of the main Community Center and it's pretty good. Turnover isn't very high back there, but it's a pretty eclectic collection of items. Sometimes you can find something that's really useful, like a space heater or tire ramps, the book selection often has a couple of gems, and the clothing is often worth rummaging through.
Artists' Tea is a destination and community experience all rolled into one stimulating Sunday morning. When I happened upon this event series in early 2017, I participated in a juicing ceremony and explored mindfulness through drawing exercises, all because I noticed the delightful, hand drawn poster in the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor's Center.
Artists' Tea hosts different guest artists - all local or regional experts in their fields - to guide conversations and immersive experiences on issues related to Joshua Tree National Park.
Artists' Tea begins February 18 and runs through April 29, 2018; every Sunday 9am- 11am at Cap Rock, Joshua Tree National Park. Park entrance fees apply but the events are free and open to all. No need to be an artist, just come with a curious mind.
Bring your own mug to share in a cup of tea or cocoa during the program.
Something a lot of people don't know is that there is a trail that runs through the entire east-west length of Joshua Tree National Park. Forty-three miles in length, the CA Rising and Hiking Trail begins at the backcountry boards at Black Cove Ranger Station in Yucca Valley or the North Entrance in 29 Palms. The author of this entry has hiked the trail twice in its entirety, both times beginning in Yucca Valley and taking 2.5 days.
It is a backpacking trail with no services, but (!) you can easily cache extra water at intersecting park roads/backcountry boards that intersect it midway (like Geology Tour Road). If you start in Yucca Valley, the first section takes you up quite high in elevation and rewards you on day one with views of the Salton Sea. Then you pass through park highlights like Juniper Flats and wind your way during the last bit through Jumbo Rocks. The trail is well marked but not well-trodden -- I rarely encountered others on my trips. If you are quiet while you walk you will inevitably be rewarded with glimpses of park fauna.
The trail can also be hiked in segments, but I encourage you to plan a full trip. It is a wonderful way to experience the profound beauty of our national park.
Welcome to the beautiful Community of Copper Mountain Mesa, one of the most remote and pristine areas of the Morongo Basin. The way our elders tell the story: folks started homesteading up here in the fifties. Slowly but surely, families began to move to the Mesa, excited about the healthful air and panoramic views. Roads were cut, cabins were built and electricity wired up. Phone service didn't reach us until the 1960s. Water was not piped in until the late nineties.
I crawled my way up to this Mesa in 1993, broken-hearted and disillusioned. I was a published author, but my book series "Kenya Cowgirl" tanked and when all the money was gone, my husband divorced me. I was decidedly unstable and, quite honestly, I simply wanted to fall off the planet! When I moved here, I had no money, no job, no phone, and no running water. I hauled my own water from the Surprise Valley Well four miles away. Any vehicle I owned soon broke down and there were long periods where I had no transportation, except hitchhiking with the neighbors!
My son was 5 years old when we came to live on the Mesa: previously, we lived in the luxurious Palm. I was drawn to this remote, high desert neighborhood because it reminded me of Kenya in East Africa, where I was born and raised. I loved the feeling of wilderness and I felt safe.
My new neighbors were a motley crew and ranged from: leathered homesteaders with their shotguns behind the front door; single mothers like me; people escaping from screaming reality (like me!); along with ex-cons; bikers; methamphetamine "cooks", "tweakers" and honest folks with families just trying to make a living, all liberally scattered about!
When I first played my African drum outside in the moonlight one evening, my nearest neighbor fired shots at me: so close I could hear them zinging overhead! Other neighbors also tried to terrorize me, but I persisted in my quirky native ways and over the years I have been accepted and welcomed; even though some people still call me the "Juju Lady"!
I first became involved with the Community Center in 2007, when I was asked to write the quarterly Community Newsletter. I have been on the Board of the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association since November 2007 and have been both vice-president and madame president too! I also write the weekly Copper Mountain Mesa Column in our local, Yucca Valley "Hi-Desert Star" Newspaper. (Go to www.coppermountainmesa.com to read the latest columns and visit 'archives' if you want to read every column ever written!)
I raised my Son and several foster children these past twenty years and I have come to love this desert lifestyle dearly. I have found dear friends and even romance along the way! I write, draw, think, feel, photograph, love and live my life with as much truth and courage as my heart can bear and I am so very happy to meet You. Stay well!
65336 Winters Rd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Stewards of Coyote Valley was founded by Stephanie Smith and Jay Babcock. In partnership with the Mojave Desert Land Trust, the Stewards of Coyote Valley intend to extend the land area protected by the trust via stewards who maintain parcels that line the edges of the conservation area.
The area of concern is a wildlife corridor, which shares similar qualities to Joshua Tree, just a few miles south. Those who live on or own land in the area can contact the Stewards of Coyote Valley to join their efforts to conserve the land through volunteered stewardship.
Important stewardship activities involve breaking down former roads, building up barriers to prevent the illegal use of off-road vehicles, picking up trash left on hikes, and hosting potlucks for community members to get to know one another and discuss potential projects aligned with the organizations stewardship mission.
Giving directions in the desert often involves instructing the traveler to turn right or left at a given marker---a small grouping of palm trees, a statue of a chicken, a pile of rocks. If you're heading east on the 29 Palms Highway, just past the town of Joshua Tree, you'll find Able 2 Help Bail Bonds on your right. It's unclear at first glance whether it's an operating business or an abandoned one. Such an unknown is not uncommon out here, where businesses, buildings, and homes seem to float in such a liminal space of existence. Often, those that look abandoned aren't and those that look relatively well kept haven't seen visitors in years. Able 2 Help Bail Bonds, though, is indeed in operation.
To visit the High Desert Test Sites artworks here, turn right onto the dirt road just before Able 2 Help Bail Bonds, and then immediately left towards a dead end. At the dead end, visitors can explore the artworks among the rocks. Two of these artworks are more readily visible, while the third has rusted into a color much like the rocks around it.
The first visible artwork is Julia Scher's Surveillant Architectures. Three white signs read initially as warnings against trespassing, and subsequently denounce their authenticity. One reads, "Contamination Field High Energy Microwave Field No Tresspassing Strictly Enforced" in large text, followed by "Security By Julia" in small text.
The second visible artwork is Sarah Vanderlip's CA Truck Heads. Two aluminum truck heads welded together sit struck between the boulders. The aluminum truck heads reflect blurry, imprecise images of the surrounding landscape and your body as it interrupts it. As the sky changes, so does the artwork.
The third less visible artwork is a metal mesh structure built between two days in April 2011 by Nathan Lieb. Nathan spent eight hours each day building the structure around his person, caught between the crevasses of two boulders. The shell remains around the ghost of his performance, Morongo.
To learn more about the artworks on this parcel, visit http://www.highdeserttestsites.com/sites/behind-bail-bonds
The founder of the Institute of Mentalphysics, Edwin John Dingle (1881-1972), was a journalist, author and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain. Born in Cornwall, Dingle was orphaned at the age of 9, and from childhood (according to the Institute's own published history), was drawn to the idea of "mystical" Asia. As a 19-year-old journalist he traveled to Singapore where he was assigned to report on "Far Eastern affairs" for the Straits Times newspaper. The constricting colonial life of Singapore soon lost its attraction, and he began to travel extensively through Burma, China, India and Central Asia, partly in an effort to produce new accurate maps of the region (writing travelogues and commercial and economic guides) and partly out of what was later described as a personal quest for spiritual enlightenment. He entered Tibet in 1910, becoming one of the first Europeans to visit and reside at a Tibetan Monastery. There he later claimed to have intensively studied Buddhist practices, teachings and philosophy with the resident lamas for nine months.
In 1911 he wrote the first of several accounts of his travels, Across China on Foot, and in 1917 published The New Atlas and Commercial Gazetteer of China. Upon his return to Britain in 1920, he began to present himself as a spiritual teacher, guide and sort of revealer of mystical truths from the East to the pragmatic, capitalist West. In 1921, he relocated to Oakland, California and by 1927 (having adopted the Chinese name "Ding Le Mei"), began preaching the tenets of what he called the "Science of Mentalphysics" -- a "universalist spiritual development" based on, among other things, vegetarianism, pranayama and the practice of extrasensory perception."
He wrote prolifically, producing in the 1930s numerous self-published treatises with titles like Man, The Monarch Of The Universe (1930), Your Mind And Its Mysteries: A Scientific Treatise on the Method of Discovery and Direction of the Great Subconscious (1930), Life\'s Elixir Discovered: Scientifically Proven Regime for Radiant Health, Beauty, Youth And Personal Charm, The Only Easy Way (1932), The Art of True Living (1937), Science at Last Finds God (1939), and Mysticism---Lost Key To The Kingdom: Inner Chamber Communication (1940). This conflation of disparate religious disciplines and practices, ancient and modern, scientific and spiritual, East and West formed the core of Dingle\'s Institute of Mentalphysics, formed in 1928 and fully incorporated in 1934 in Los Angeles. (Dingle also founded a center at the International Church of the Holy Trinity in Los Angeles, where he taught classes and also conducted correspondence courses). The Institute of Mentalphysics moved from Los Angeles to the current 420-acre Yucca Valley site in 1941. It boasts the largest collection of structures designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright's son, architect Lloyd Wright. Begun in 1946, the mid-century desert futurist campus includes buildings, dormitories, halls and sacral spaces with such names as the Preceptory of Light, the First Sanctuary of Mystic Christianity, and the Caravansary of Joy.
59700 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
"IN ENGLAND SEVERAL DECADES AGO, A BOY WAS BORN. He came and his mother went. There was no rejoicing.
About the same time in the forbidden land of Tibet, in a weird temple in the heart of inscrutable Asia, wise men were mourning the passing of a beloved brother lama and mourning still his infraction of their rigid code of conduct---an error which they held to be the psychic cause of his death. Believers in reincarnation however, they confidently expected his return before the passing of many years.
Though the two events took place on opposite sides of the world, though no one imagined their connection at the time, though the one group spoke English, and the other an ancient Asiatic tongue, though one was West and the other East, there was a link---it was ordained that in the boy just born the twain should at last meet. The boy's name was Edwin John Dingle."
So begins My Life In Tibet, the memoir and travel record of Edwin John Dingle, also known as Ding Le Mei, founder of the Science of Mentalphysics. On the Institute's website, Mentalphysics is defined as "an experiential method of self-realization that teaches the oneness of life embodied in all substance, energy and thought." It combines Eastern methods of breathing, diet, and yoga with Western (specifically Christian) religious traditions in a mash-up of East-West spirituality referred to as "super-yoga for the Western way of life." With an emphasis on methods rather than belief, this "provable philosophy" purports to offer keys for unlocking the hidden meaning of all the world's holy books.
Dingle himself was a journalist and map-maker, a self-described "explorer of geography and the realm of thought and spirit," who spent over 20 years in China, India and Tibet, where he was (as described above) apparently identified by a holy man in a remote monastery to be the reincarnation of a deceased lama. His intensive studies with this holy man led him to create the Institute of Mentalphysics in 1927. The Institute has enrolled 216,000 member students since its founding.
The physical site of the Institute of Mentalphysics, also called the Joshua Tree Retreat Center (presumably to invite a broader range of visitors) is quite lovely. The buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright. The buildings are composed of many triangular angles and Wright's signature low-slung roofs, earth-hugging walls, latticed and jutting overhangs for shade. The chapel building is especially beautiful - the ceiling rises in triangular planes to a high peak, there is a crystal piano, and stained glass windows letting in colorful light. The grounds are landscaped with a huge variety of beautiful desert plants, a labyrinth, and medicine wheel for walking contemplations.
The land is supposedly home to multiple energy vortexes (areas of increased energy). The office offers a map of the vortexes so that you can seek your own energetic experience. Nobody at the institute could explain what constitutes a vortex or how to identify one.
If you choose to visit the Institute, it is best to check in at the office for maps and information. Sometimes, they host silent retreats and visitors are asked not to wander the grounds so as not to disrupt.
59700 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Joshua Tree National Park was declared a U.S. National Park in 1994 when congress passed the California Desert Protection Act. It had been a U.S. National Monument since 1936. The National Park covers a land area of 790,636 acres, an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. The park includes parts of two deserts, each an ecosystem whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert and lower Colorado Desert.
The Joshua Tree is native to California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, confined mostly to the Mojave Desert between 1,300 and 5,900 ft elevation. The name was given by Mormon settlers - the tree\'s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. Ranchers and miners who were contemporary with the Mormon settlers used the trunks and branches as fencing and for fuel for ore-processing steam engines.
This tree has a top-heavy branch system, but also has what has been described as a \"deep and extensive\" root system, with roots reaching up to 36 feet. If it can survive the rigors of the desert, it can live for hundreds of years, up to a thousand years. The tallest trees reach 49 feet. Unfortunately, they are predicted to be severely affected by climate change. There is concern that they will be eliminated from Joshua Tree National Park and that this will fundamentally damage the ecosystem of the area. The trees may also have difficulty migrating to more favorable climates due to the extinction of the giant Shasta ground sloth 13,000 years ago; ground sloth dung has been found to contain Joshua Tree leaves, fruits, and seeds, suggesting that the sloths might have been key to the tree\'s dispersal.
The west (Joshua Tree) and north (Twentynine Palms) entrances are both on Highway 62. During busy times, using the north entrance is worth the extra driving to avoid long lines.
I was an artist in residence at the Joshua Tree National Park for the month of November, 2015. I logged my activities each day. Some days, the entries were lists of little ideas, not fully written out. Sometimes it's hard to talk about an idea before it has bones, sometimes talking about it is just what it needs to be fleshed out.
I had a busy few months leading up to the residency. A week and a half was the longest I had stayed in one place for three and a half months, so three weeks in a cabin in the middle of the park sounded perfect.
Upon arriving, I was asked about my proposed project. I described it as an unbound, multi-media book tracing human and nonhuman land use in the park. I dug through the park archives, hiking and photographing, taking notes, mapping, volunteering with the wildlife ecologist, and gathering stories of people's encounters with nonhuman creatures by facilitating story circles in the visitors centers. All of the material I gathered was assembled into layers of documents, cutouts, notes, and photographs. A copy of the physical book will live in the park archives. An alternative assemblage of pages from the book will be available online.
I gave a presentation about my project at the Black Rock Nature Center as part of the parks evening program of presentations by park rangers. It's incredible that the park invites artists working in multi-disciplinary modes, and not only traditional modes of landscape painting or photography. But to a non-art audience I find it very challenging to define what I do. I define my practice as research based, and when people ask me "what my art is" I say that I make multi-media archives that explore human and nonhuman environmental relations to a particular place. I'm not entirely satisfied by my answer, but I'm also not entirely sure who my audience is. I'm not so interested in showing work in galleries, but in more community-based spaces such as environmental organizations or national parks, where the audience often doesn't have the access points that an art audience might. This is my challenge.
I love art for its willingness to deal with the odd and the uncomfortable. I'm interested in its ability to transform ways of knowing. But this implies that there is a right and a not so right way to know things, which can lead to didacticism, so often a characteristic of political art and the high art elitism that shuts people out. These are not easily resolvable issues, but I was glad to have the time and space to feel them out for a while.
Two miles northeast of the main intersection in Joshua Tree is a small old homesteader cabin at the end of a dirt road. Its' fading dust colored plaster submerges into the desert surroundings. Its' walls appear full of bullets, holes resulting from crumbling plaster. Its' windows frame the desert surroundings and its' ceiling beams dissect the almost always cloudless sky. The signs around the property and handwriting on the splintered walls have been blurred to confusion. Words like cabin, homestead, and compass are spelled "kabin, homestedler, and kmpass."
Artist and storyteller Eames Demetrios invented a people and a history of the cabin, detailed on the signs and walls, as part of his larger project Kcymaerzthaere, which he calls 3-dimensional fiction. The Kcymaerxthaere website states, "Most visitors to the Joshua Tree area eventually notice the many small cabins dotting the desert landscape. The vast majority of these were built after the Civil War to hold people the government considered to be heretics and refused to repatriate to their rump homeland of Satgun."
There is rarely more than one visitor or group of visitors to the cabin at a time, lending to a feeling that this isn't a tourist destination or historical site, but an accidental desert find hiding in plain sight just slightly at a distance. The surroundings are quiet and the views are expansive. It's easy to get lost in the fiction of Demetrios' world, to mistake it for fact. Many visitors don't realize the story is fictional, and have tried to research the fictional Wranglikan people after visting, to have been met with dead ends.
From 29 Palms Hwy drive north on Sunburst. Take a right on Crestview. Drive 1.3 miles and take a right on Border again. Drive about one \"block\" - the Krblin Jihn Cabin will be on your left.
Take a book. Leave a book.
That's the simple point behind the Little Free Library movement around the world. Sidewalk librarians - or roadside librarian, in the case of the location on Winters Road - install these little book houses on their property intending to share a love of books and reading... for free. The selection of books varies widely and this Little Library has never disappointed me. You might find a variety of western novels as easily as literary fiction. You will likely find a copy or two of books that has been read as part of Kip's Desert Book Club, a program of High Desert Test Sites.
Open the doors with an open mind and the right book will find you.
There are 60,000+ little libraries around the globe, so chances are there is one near where you live! Check the international map at www.littlefreelibrary.org.
Find the Little Library: 63452 Winters Rd. 1 mile East of Border, on the left-hand side. Look for the orange reflective triangle with LFL in the center.
In 1994, the California Desert Protection act established Joshua Tree and Death Valley as National Parks and the Mojave as a National Preserve. While national parks do not allow the removal of fish, game, plants, and minerals, national parks do. The Mojave National Preserve is a dynamic mixture of land use -- cattle grazing, private residences, mining, off-roading, wilderness protection areas, and conservation areas. Often, certain areas are closed to allow privacy for American Indian harvesting of traditional materials. The Mojave Desert Land Trust has been acquiring land parcels within the Preserve for the last 9 years in hopes of conserving it - meaning keeping it off limits to off-roading, cattle ranching and mining.
I headed out with three other volunteers from the Land Trust to camp for a few days and monitor some of the parcels. We camped in tents and used a small cabin owned by the Land Trust to prepare meals. The first night the winds were so strong and cold that we climbed into our sleeping bags at 7:45pm, after dinner and a game of dominoes. The wind beat on the tent walls. It woke me from a dream in which I was sleeping on a boat - the tent wind reminding me of sailing, tent parts like the ropes that banged the hollow metal mast of my friend's father's catamaran.
Each day, we woke with the sun, slow mornings of coffee and breakfast. Then, we began monitoring. We walked the perimeter of each parcel, and took a photograph at each corner looking into the parcel. We looked for signs of grazing or dumping or roads being carved, and photographed them to keep track of the coordinates. We hiked 7-10 miles a day through remarkably diverse territory. The first day we hiked through a Joshua Tree and Yucca Palm forest (the Joshua Trees were smaller here and the Yucca Palms were bigger, it\'s the other way around in Joshua Tree National Park). The second day we hiked through a Creosote forest, the third day through a sandy wash.
We didn\'t find much out of the ordinary. Some of the parcels butted up against ranching land and where we found coils of barbed wire and fence posts to report. The sun went down around 5pm. We tried to stay up until 8pm. Waking up at 5:30am meant 9.5 hours in bed - or in a bag - which is kind of a long time. I learned a lot about the early counterculture days in Joshua Tree. Two of the other volunteers, Al and Ann, have lived in Joshua Tree since the late 60s, first on a commune, and then when that burned down, in a house with an older woman named Teroma whom they looked after with a few others from the commune. Travelers would camp out behind the house. Frequent travelers included a woman named Krishna and her daughter Tree Wind Water, and a man named Teddy. Teddy studied poetry at Yale, and then dropped out to live in the boulders and study Hinduism. Evidence of his life remains in the rocks.
Reminiscent of African American vernacular yard traditions in the rural South, the museum exists as an open-air collection of over 100 assemblage works scattered across ten acres of the Mojave. Much like his previous career in public policy, Noah Purifoy's oeuvre reflects an enduring commitment to activating social change. After leaving LA for Joshua Tree in 1989, Noah Purifoy created work on this remote property until his death in 2004 - large-scale installations typical of his disruptive, under-recognized art historical contributions to sculptural abstraction.
Known for early work constructed from charred debris that Purifoy collected in South LA after the 1965 Watts Riots, the desert sculptures also reconfigure found objects charged with aspects of identity, race, and Purifoy's civil rights activism. These complex, towering assemblages remain in constant collaboration with the elements, their discordant materials bearing witness to prolonged exposure - tattered, sun-bleached fabric remnants tied to fences or stapled to leaning poles, sand and detritus-swept wooden platforms, peeling layers of stark white paint, and warped shoes soles and plywood planks upturned in half-smiles.
The Noah Purifoy Foundation also maintains an on-site archive of Purifoy's writings and documentation, providing a valuable resource available to scholars and historians engaged in research.
Hours: Sunup to sundown
62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
This 10-acre outdoor gallery holds just some of Noah Purifoy's large-scale sculptures created entirely from junked and found materials. From toilets to bowling balls and bicycles to toasters, Purifoy assemblages in the Mojave Desert reveal the history of an artist using art as a social change tool outside of the institutionalized art world. He built more than 100 works on this site from 1989 until his death in 2004.
Exposed to the harsh desert elements of wind, heat, sand and rain, the works are purposely left to fend for themselves against nature. Visiting the site year after year reveals the effects of time, nature and decay.
The site is cared for by the Noah Purifoy Foundation (NPF) whose mission is to "preserve and maintain the site Noah Purifoy developed in Joshua Tree, California as a permanent cultural center and sculpture park open to the public."
Remember, this is still an art gallery so please respect the work as you would in any museum.
Brochures for a self-guided tour of the installations are tucked neatly in a box at the entrance to the Outdoor Museum. Private group tours can be arranged through NPF and are led by former colleagues of Noah Purifoy who knew him well.
The site is open every day of the year from sun up until sundown, free of charge. Donations are always welcome. Park in designated spaces.
62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
This is a not to be missed trip for residents and visitors of the high desert alike! Noah Purifoy (1917-2004) was a celebrated artist and arts educator who resided in the high desert for the last decade plus of his life. Noah was a trained artist (at Chouinard Institute now CalArts) whose expertise was in assemblage art. He was a master at putting materials together in profound and deeply moving ways.
The 7.5 acres of sculptures that make up the site have been weathered by the harsh desert environment (sun, wind and rain) over time -- just the way he imagined and wanted. In recent years, some of the pieces have been "spruced up" by his foundation, but all remain in place. Meandering through the site reveals an artist at the height of his powers with a wealth of human experience. Early pieces are on the western side of the property and generally radiate out from the trailer that was his home and its attached workshop. Final pieces include the "gallows" and a large Quonset structure that while he was living, served as a gallery for a collection of wall based work.
Noah was always working on several new pieces and designed them all in his head (never sketching them out in advance). He understood his process as an improvisational one -- where he was working collaboratively with the materials he could get (and the power they held from their earlier use), his assistants and the environment of Joshua Tree.
62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Every Friday and Saturday night at 7pm at three locations in the park - Black Rock, Jumbo Rocks and Cottonwood - a Ranger does an hour-long presentation on a topic of their choice. Rangers are pretty cool. Each has a handful of topics of specialty. I went to one with Ranger Lorna Shuman, who has degrees in science and history. She\'s been at the park for fifteen years and spent a few years gathering creation stories from the Cahuilla and Chemehuevi elders in the area.
I gave a presentation as a resident of the parks Artist In Residency program. It was a Saturday, when Ranger Sarah Jones usually does her night sky presentation as a way to get over her fear of telescopes. I gave a presentation on the project I was working on with the park. It was the first time I gave a presentation about my artwork to a non-art crowd. It was a tough crowd, but everyone signed the project mailing list. There were lots of looks of confusion. Luckily, the drunk ones were uninterested. As I work more towards methods of social engagement, I find that art jargon often gets in the way of a connection with an audience. Overall, it was good practice to feel those moments when the audience felt lost. It gave me a sense of where to adjust the language.
We did a number of hikes in the National Park but the highlight was a dawn hike up Ryan Mountain. Our timing was slightly off. We arrived at the summit a while after the sun had risen, but it was still beautiful, of course, and perhaps a bit safer. The temperature was cool and breezy. We only encountered one other person on the trail, plus some big horn sheep. We got back in time to have breakfast in Joshua Tree and join the rest at AZ West for the Hour of Power.
Aside from beer, Sam's is also well stocked with all sorts of other foods and household needs when you really can't go back to Wal-mart one more time. They have all basic food items: eggs, milk, bread (good bread actually from a bakery in the lower desert) but they also have a great canned food selection including Hispanic and Indian foods. You need coconut milk? They have it. You need refried beans? They have it. You need some weird 4-pack of flavored jello shots? They have it. I've often been really impressed with their selection especially when I'm in a pinch and I need something like brown sugar or corn meal. Plus, their miscellaneous aisle is also pretty good---I recall buying kleenex printed as dollar bills and a water gun in the summer.
It took me about a year of living here before I discovered the "beer cave" at Sam's Market, the local convenience store owned by members of the same family who owns the Indian restaurant next door (where you can get curry pizza). The "beer cave" is a dimly lit, long and narrow refrigerated room running behind the convenience store's typical cold drink aisle. In the main part of the store you'll find regular beers PBR, Bud Light, Tecate, Pacifico, and the like. But step into the refrigerated beer cave and you'll find dozens of craft beers you've never heard of.
It didn't take long to realize that whoever stocks the shelves is a fan of peanut-butter beer, as well as many other unusual varieties. Turns out the master of the cave is Harry, the guy who'd talked my ear off a multitude of times during checkout, even with a slightly annoyed line of people piling up behind me. I asked Harry if he could recommend a good sour beer, and despite having customers in line at the front of the store, he launched into a 5+ minute tour of recommendations ranging in price from \$6 to \$35. I was loving it, so I asked for stouts, which prompted another long list of recommendations.
This kind of variety is normal for a fancy L.A. grocery store, but my mind is still blown that the local convenience store where I'd bought bread and Takis so many times has this juicy secret (friends who've lived here for 5-20 years haven't even heard of it). Harry is a true beer enthusiast and a convincing salesperson, so my friend and I ended up walking out with \$40+ worth of beer, including "autumnal mole stout," double IPA brewed with juniper berries and sage, Ballast Point's "Indra Kunindra," and a ginger sour.
61380 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
The Joshua Tree Saloon is one of the first buildings you see when driving into town from A-Z West. Although it looks like a shanty shack from the outside, inside is a cozy place to get burgers, drinks, and most importantly, sing karaoke. Karaoke is offered every Wednesday and Friday, and is administered by the one and only Ted Quinn.
Friday nights are always a hodge podge of rowdy weekenders from LA and Marines from the nearby base. While that can be a good time, there can be fierce competition to get on the line-up, and less diversity in music (mostly Nickelback and hair metal). Wednesday nights are always locals, less assholes, and performers who seem to know their song inside-out. Either night, you'll have a great time, so long as you follow these guidelines:
Get a drink. I recommend a Dark and Stormy. Halfway through, you'll be ready for anything.
Pick the right song. At the DJ control station, you can browse the binder with all their availabilities. Pick a song you know well, the audience knows well, and you can dance to. The goal is not to showcase your incredible vocal talent, but to let loose and have a good time.
Be supportive - Applaud strangers as much as you would applaud your friends. Getting up there in front of strangers isn't easy, but if you show your consistent support, you'll have a room full of new friends by the end of the night.
Find a partner - If you'd rather not go through the embarrassment alone, find someone equally tipsy/enthusiastic to join you. This person should be of similar or lesser vocal talent, but better at dancing.
Sing your heart out - This is your big moment, your name gets called and you rush to the microphone. As soon as you start singing, you realize the speakers are pointed away from you, leaving you unable to hear yourself. Don't panic; let it go, start moving. The only way to make up for your vocal imperfections is to dance it out.
Know when to stop - So you've sung a few songs and the crowd seemed to like it, but don't let it go to your head. No one likes a microphone-hog, and no one wants to feel like you and your crew are turning the saloon into a private party. Give someone else a chance, and enjoy the sweet potato fries.
61835 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
An animal inside of his brain tells Simi Dabah what to do. He is not in control, the images come to him. The images turn into monumental iron sculptures, some 30 feet tall, at the rate of 50 or 60 a year. Simi is 89 years old. He's been making these monumental sculptures for 40 years in his backyard in Joshua Tree. The sculptures are simultaneously reminiscent of minimal Piet Mondrian paintings and primitive cave drawings.
He scavenges the iron from scrap yards in Los Angeles. Simi and his partner Julie invite me into their modest and minimal desert home. We sit and chat about life, how to be who we want to be, how to make money and follow our passions. I am inspired by his life, his way with materials, his inability to not make art.
Talking to him about the function of art in our current world reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, which is all about how artists create work that falls outside of the dominant capitalistic mode of exchange. Creativity is joyful, and the act of giving something away ties an object to a person and a process. Simi has donated sculptures to the town of Yucca Valley, the town of 29 Palms, the Motel 6 in 29 Palms, Copper Mountain College (he has a whole sculpture garden there), College of the Desert, The Hi-Desert Medical Center, and more. His style is unmistakable. I see his work everywhere.
Simi and Julie spend most of their time in Los Angeles, where Simi welds the sculptures in an alleyway studio where he has a forklift, a truck, and an assistant, Bob.
Simi and Julie walk me outside to see his 700+ sculptures. The wind hits my face and my eyes water -- I'm reminded of my late Fall days picking apples in Vermont. Julie remarks, \"they blend into the landscape, reflect the desert browns and tans, space....\" The more I spend time with them, the more I feel their scale, their freedom, their purity.
*The Simi Dabah Sculpture Foundation recently formed as a 501c3 and is moving forward with their mission to place Simi's sculptures in as many public sites as possible.
John Samuelson, a Swedish citizen, spent his early life at sea. In 1926, he appeared at pioneer Bill Keys' ranch looking for work. Keys hired him to help with his Hidden Gold Mine, located below the overlook at Keys View (within the current bounds of Joshua Tree National Park). By 1927, Samuelson had decided to homestead and located a piece of property in the middle of the Lost Horse Valley to the south of Quail Springs. On top of a small hill he called The Rock of Truth, he built a wood and canvas shack where he lived with his wife Margaret. When not working the Hidden Gold Mine, he carved defiant, topical, impassioned, sometimes puzzling and often witty political statements on the rocks surrounding his house. When Samuelson attempted to file on his homestead in 1928, the land office discovered that he was not a U.S. citizen and ruled that he could not legally hold title to the land. He sold the land to the Headington family and moved to Los Angeles. The following year, while at a dance in Compton, he got into an altercation with two men and killed them.
Erle Stanley Gardner, who first met Samuelson in February of 1928, discovered that, although arrested for the murders, Samuelson was never tried. Instead he was judged insane and sent to California's State Hospital at Mendocino. He made his escape in1930. He evaded the authorities and made his way north to a lumber camp in Washington. In 1954, Samuelson wrote to Bill Keys that he would like to return to the desert but was afraid the authorities would catch him. Keys later received a letter from the lumber camp where he was working reporting that he had suffered a serious logging accident. Soon after, another letter came informing Keys of his old friend's death.