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
Vanesa Zendejas - Acting Director
Elena Yu - Programming Manager
Kristy Campbell, Emily Endo and Sydney Foreman. Thanks to Elizabeth Carr and Zena Carr at the Sky Village Swap Meet! RIP Bob Carr.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
David Knaus - Chair
Andrea Zittel - Director Emeritus/Treasurer
Aram Moshayedi - Secretary
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 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 (closed July-August)—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.
Pioneertown proper is located at the top of Pioneertown Road. It was originally built the 1940s as an old-west motion picture set. Movies were shot on Mane Street and the actors stayed in what is now the Pioneertown Motel. Some of the films shot in the area include The Cisco Kid and Judge Roy Bean.
Pioneertown has an interesting history and wound up in the possession of USC and the Catholic Church before being sold off to private individuals who then moved in to make real homes in buildings that once were fake movie homes. Now, as tourism increases, businesses are starting to take over these structures as Pioneertown invents itself yet again. There is also a gun slinging fake shootout every weekend, and Pappy and Harriet’s, a bar and restaurant that is a widely acclaimed music venue and weekend destination.
The area commonly known as Pioneertown also includes other smaller adjacent communities like Rimrock and a large swath of Pipes Canyon.
Nestled in the far off landscape of Pipes Canyon (near Pioneertown) are a few High Desert Test Site artworks awaiting visitors willing to drive the dirt roads to the 100-acre site where they rest.
The most immediately visible artwork is Scout Regalia’s Trail Registry, a large wooden frame fitted with aluminum rods for visitors to take or leave notes or moments from or on. The frame visually dissects the bit of desert visible between the aluminum rods. It looks like a giant musical instrument for the wind.
The next most visible artwork is Halsey Rodman’s gradually/we become aware of/of a hum in the room, a three-sided structure divided into three identical rooms. Each of the three rooms holds a circular window through which visitors of all kinds (human, animal, spiritual) can enter and exit. Light streams through each window to cast circular shapes across the brightly painted walls, and through the spaces between the walls and roof to cast fascinating geometric patterns across them.
The last easily discoverable artwork is Tao Urban’s Tap Water Pavilion, a small structure under the sun that holds three twenty-five liter jars of water from three different rivers, the Sacramento, Owens, and Colorado. Between each jar of water there’s a bench and a cup dispenser, where visitors can sit and enjoy the refreshment.
To read more about the current, less visible, or former artworks on the parcel, visit http://highdeserttestsites.com/sites/andys-gamma-gulch-parcel
(excerpt from the 2015 Institute of Investigative Living reader)
Garth (Clyde Garth Bowles) has been living on 640 acres of high desert land for the last 30 years. His primary residence is a very small Teepee made out of concrete, skimmed over newspaper and cardboard. The interior is elaborately decorated, partly with his mother’s old Christmas ornaments. Adjacent to the teepee is an outdoor kitchen and living room area. The area above Pioneertown, where Garth lives, is higher in altitude and gets very cold in the winter, which makes his ongoing outdoor lifestyle even more exceptional. There is no power or phone reception up at Garth’s so people who wish to visit him generally approach without any advance notification. It is generally appreciated and expected that visitors make a financial contribution.
I’m curious to know more about the circumstances under which Garth came to the desert. I remember he once explained that he came to this land after living homeless on the streets, while wearing all white and engaging in a spiritual quest. We should ask him about this on our visit. The road that leads to Garth’s was originally named “Devil’s Gate” but Garth re-named it “Gods Way Love”. Garth is deeply invested in permaculture and has slowly been “greening” his land by building tiered walls across a long valley in order to catch the water when it rains, and adding organic matter to create soil. The valley still appears fairly natural but now has an orchard and vegetable gardens. Giant strawberry and asparagus plants look as if they are growing wild.
When we visited Garth in 2012, there were 14 people living on his land in various structures. Nicademus, from South Africa, was building a sustainable house out of concrete and dirt packed into sand bags along the road that enters Garth’s Property. Another former guest built a house on top of a large boulder that appeared to be part of the rocks. Others live in trailers and RVs tucked around the property.
Garth’s overall ethic is to respect the land, although much of his land is “tended”. It is interesting talking to him about the parameters of what he considers appropriate interventions. For instance he was unhappy when a former resident built a wooden deck on top of a rocky outcropping because it was clearly a man-made structure. However he has also built an amazing swimming pool and sauna out of concrete that is directly grafted onto the boulders. “My spiritual theory is my life,” he told photographer Alec Soth in 2008.
Originally working under the professional pseudonym Women, designers Scott Barry and Neil Doshi were awarded a Creative Capital Grant for a five-year initiative in which they planned to inhabit a different location and set of working conditions each year. Their house, which was begun as the first phase of the project, has been sited on Garth’s land. They called this phase “Connections” - the structure will one day culminate into two living structures, which will operate as a design residency and a library. The buildings began with no plans or drawings, the terrain’s large rock formations and natural environs were used to dictate the form. Aiming for a “total design”, from the construction of the buildings, to the furniture that fills the interiors, to the utensils that are used for eating, each component is considered part and parcel of the whole. The project, which began in June 2012, remains unfinished. Scott left the project in late 2013 and since early 2014 Neil’s been working with Jaime Beechum, a photographer, to complete construction.
The town was first built as a live-in “Old West” motion picture set in the 1940s, which provided an on-site location for the actors to live and at the same time to have their “lodgings” used as part of the movie set. A number of Westerns and early television shows were filmed here, including The Cisco Kid and Edgar Buchanan’s Judge Roy Bean. Roy Rogers, Dick Curtis, and Russell Hayden were among the original developers and investors, and Gene Autry frequently taped his show at the six-lane Pioneer Bowl bowling alley. Its construction was credited to one “A.E. Thompson” in 1947 and Rogers himself rolled out the first ball in 1949. School-age children were hired as pinsetters until the installation of automatic pin-setting equipment in the 1950s. According to the Morongo Basin Historical Society, the bowling alley is one of the oldest in continuous use in California. To retain the old-west flavor and spirit of Pioneertown, the re-enactment group, Mane Street Stampede Wild West Show, performs a variety of shoot-‘em-up acts on Mane Street every Saturday in the summers.
On July 11, 2006 some of Pioneertown was burned in the Sawtooth Complex fire, which also burned into Yucca Valley and Morongo Valley. Firefighters managed to save the historic movie set buildings, but much of the surrounding desert habitat was damaged. Among the structures saved was Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.
In the 1990’s, the alt-rock band the Counting Crows wrote “we drove out to the desert/just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars/we stood up at The Palace/like it was the last of the great Pioneertown bars.” And indeed, that is just what Pappy & Harriet’s is, a palace of a bar that sleeps under a bowl of stars in the desert of Pioneertown. Pappy’s, as it’s referred to by the locals, is a large bar, restaurant, and music venue in an old Western motion picture set built in the 1940’s.
Before it was Pappy’s, the building functioned as a cantina set for old Western motion pictures. Later, it became a fully operational outlaw biker burrito bar called The Cantina, owned by Francis Aleba. In 1982, Aleba’s daughter Harriet and son-in-law Pappy bought The Cantina and re-named it after Pappy and Harriet’s. In 1994, Pappy passed away. Harriet still lives nearby. Today, Pappy and Harriet’s is owned by a couple of New Yorkers.
Lots of famous musicians have performed at Pappy’s, including Paul McCartney, Ricki Lee Jones, Queens of the Stone Age, Neutral Milk Hotel, Niko Case, Modest Mouse, Leon Russel, and Robert Plant, amongst many more. Often, bands in the area for Coachella will stop in and perform between festival weekends.
The food at Pappy’s is delicious, especially the BBQ, but even their vegetarian additions. They are open Thursday through Monday for lunch and dinner. Reservations are highly recommended.
53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268
The idea of the “American West” took root in the sandy, wild landscape of the western United States. The film tycoons who founded Pioneertown loved it for its versatile terrain —- scenery of severn western states could be duplicated by immediate surroundings. The true origin story of Pioneertown is hotly contested. The legend of the place often overshadows its true historical trajectory, and the more people you talk to, the more scrambled it gets. Alice “Honey” Fellers, who wrote the book Pioneertown, Then and Now, was quoted saying, “Psychologically speaking, Pioneertown is not a town. It is a legend.” What we know is that Pioneertown began in 1946 when perennial movie bad guy Dick Curtis —- a strapping man with a black mustache —- whoa’d his horse on a grassy knoll and proclaimed, “This is the place.” Other accounts say an old lady owed him twenty-five dollars and repaid him with a deed to an unseen homesteader plot. Along with Curtis, Roy Rogers, Philip N. Krasne, Gene Autry, Russell Hayden, and the Sons of the Pioneers (for whom the town was named) were some of the original investors and personalities who helped build and invent Pioneertown. More than fifty films and several television shows were filmed there, most notably The Cisco Kid and The Gene Autry Show.
Pioneertown Motel exists at the nexus of desert culture —- a mélange of experimental art and philosophy, kitsch and caricature, wild, natural beauty, resourcefulness, spiritual searching, rock n’ roll and the proverbial “Escape from LA.” Though only a few minutes from Yucca Valley, and a few more from the glitz and fanfare of Palm Springs, Pioneertown feels a world away. There’s security knowing you’re not far off, but a convincing solitude and remoteness nonetheless. You are safe, but you are free —- a rare and utterly appealing sensation.
5240 Curtis Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268
Emmanuel and Kiloo moved onto Judy’s land in 2015 or 2016. They were looking for a new place to live, in their beautiful vintage RV, lovingly referred to as “the Barth.” Emmanuel had recently acquired several goats so wherever they moved had to accommodate a small herd of animals as well. Kiloo had been helping the local “goat lady,” Judy, who had been getting on in age. She could no longer fully manage her 20 goats on her own and was also having trouble keeping control over her 30 cats. So it seemed like the right fit—-Emmanuel and Kiloo permanently moved the Barth onto Judy’s land and have since been helping her take care of the land and farm, which includes: goats, cats, dogs, chickens, fruits and veggies.
Emmanuel and Kiloo took care of both their goats and Judy’s: walking, milking and midwifing. Emmanuel started a small dairy processing endeavor—-they produced so much milk that he took orders once a week from friends for goat milk, yogurt, cheese, and kefir, $5 per jar. It was heaven.
At the end of 2016, tragedy struck—-right before Christmas, Judy’s house and barn burnt down to the ground. She had amassed a huge collection of newspapers and books which had unfortunately fueled the fire. The Barth was not damaged, but several goats and other animals died in the fire. It was awful. But the community rallied ‘round and thousands of dollars were raised to purchase Judy a trailer to live in temporarily, while Emmanuel and Kiloo rebuilt the barn and a small house for her.
Everything is still under construction and the goat milk products have gone on hold, but the goats still need to be walked. They’ve become known for inviting friends on these walks, which are magic. Emmanuel leads the way, the goats follow, and maybe you’ll see some petroglyphs.