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.
Wonder Valley is the large open area just east of Twentynine Palms -- there is no center "town" in Wonder Valley, but rather a scattering of homestead cabins that that extend about twenty miles out into the desert. Two parallel highways traverse the valley, one on the north side, Amboy Road (which eventually turns north toward Death Valley and Las Vegas), and one on the south side, Highway 62 (which you would take if you wanted to go straight to Arizona or the Colorado River). The heart of Wonder Valley, both literally and figuratively is a roadhouse restaurant bar run by the Sibley family called The Palms. Wonder Valley is home to an extremely diverse population and is the best location in the Morongo Basin for those who want solitude and wide-open spaces.
The Glass Outhouse Art Gallery is named for its latrine, a fully functional flush toilet in an outhouse built with two-way mirrors. The two-way mirror walls allow the user to look out upon the vast desert landscape in every direction while those waiting their turn see only their own reflection in the landscape. This glorious oasis of modern comforts is open for visitors to the art gallery and outdoor sculpture park located in Twentynine Palms.
The owner, Laurel Sidle, exercises a non-discriminatory first come first serve gallery booking process. She claims that the inspiration came from her own struggles to find places to show her artwork. She wanted a gallery that gave everyone a chance. After her husband passed away, she converted the former barn they used to raise and sell rabbits into the white walled gallery with three large rooms and track lighting. Two of the rooms feature solo exhibitions and the third hosts group shows. Laurel does not preview the artworks prior to booking the exhibition. If someone is interested in showing she'll put them on the schedule. The artists are responsible for hanging their work, sitting some of the open gallery hours, and providing refreshments for the opening reception. Exhibitions are up for one month with openings that feature live music on the first Saturday of the month. Artists have the option to keep the full payment for any works sold or to donate a percentage to help with general operating costs of the gallery.
Rows of solar powered bobble heads at the front desk introduce the whimsical treasures installed along a trail that meanders away from the gallery, around Laurels house , and to a storyland sized Chapel. With humorous installations of skeletons using exercise equipment, oversized scorpions, and a cowboy armadillo bandit holding up a frog and rabbit, the place feels like a desert fun house or a loony Terminator-themed miniature golf course.
The Glass Outhouse Art Gallery opened its doors in 2009 and as of April 2015 is booked through 2017. When we visited, Laurel was sitting the gallery herself because one of the artists whose work was on display is a truck driver and had to be on the road. She says that she loves the time she gets to spend with the exhibited artworks.
77575 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
The "Homestead Acts":
The "Homestead Acts" were several different US laws that gave applicants 160 acres of land, typically called a "homestead", for little or no cost. They were originally passed as an expression of the Northerners "Free Soil Party" which wanted individual farmers to own and operate their own farms, instead of Southern slave-owners who used groups of slaves to their economic advantage.
The "yeoman farmer", an ideal of Jeffersonian democracy, was a powerful influence in American politics during the 1840--1850s. Many politicians believed the Homestead Acts would help increase the number of "virtuous yeomen". The Free Soil Party demanded that new lands opening up in the west be made available to independent farmers, rather than wealthy planters who would develop it with the use of slaves forcing the yeomen farmers onto marginal lands. Southern Democrats continually fought (and defeated) previous homestead law proposals, fearing that free land would attract European immigrants and poor Southern whites to the West. The Homestead Acts required a three-step procedure: 1. File an application 2. Live on and improve the land for five years 3. File for deed of title.
Between 1862 and 1934, the federal government granted a total of 10% of all land in the United States. Homesteading was discontinued in 1976, except in Alaska, where it continued until 1986. About 40% of the applicants who started the process were able to complete it and obtain title to their homesteaded land.
The "Baby" Homestead Act:
The earliest known homesteader in Joshua Tree filed on a site in the Fall of 1911. The land in the desert was impossible to farm -- and in 1938 during the height of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt passed the Small-Tract or "baby" Homestead Act -- so instead of 160 acres, people were allowed to acquire a 5-acre parcel of land through the "improvement" of building a small structure on non-agricultural sites. Originally this required a 200 square foot cabin, but later this size was increased to 400 square feet. Some of the first homesteaders were World War I Servicemen who wanted to move out to the desert for health reasons (apparently the gases used in warfare had damaged their lungs, and the dry desert climate was easier for them to tolerate than more humid climates).
San Bernardino County was enthusiastic about "getting lands on the tax rolls", and was not concerned about infrastructure (roads, water, power, schools) to support such development. Because of this, dirt roads are not part of the county maintained road system so the property owners pay for maintenance. Much of the original grid-work of desert roads is now melting back into the desert.
The "baby" Homestead Act boom reached its peak after World War II when thousands of claims were filed in the Morongo Basin, sometimes sight-unseen in unbuildable washes or rock piles. Local companies such as Homestead Supplies grew by serving the "Five Acre People", developing the quick-rising "jackrabbit" cabin models that could be put up almost overnight to help meet the requirements for proving up a claim. The boom petered out and homesteading came to an end by 1976. Today, the 5-acre homesteads, decaying, rehabilitated or acting as ruined catalysts for new forms of off-the-grid living have become the basis of a special "edge-culture" built upon a combination of resourcefulness, creativity, lack of traditional infrastructure, determination, and diversity that is increasingly rare in the monotonous suburban landscapes of California.
Do not drive on Iron Age Road unless you have experience driving on soft sand, have a truck, have your wits about you, or know a towing company. Lots of bad things happened to us on Iron Age Road. We got out of the car to look at something and the battery died. We sent our pin to a local JT'er and friend of A-Z West, Rachel Burgos, who came to rescue us and jump start our battery. Then our phones died. Then her dog Banshee ran away and it was getting dark. With our car jumped, we were ready to leave the area but encountered a large sand pit, where we got severely stuck. Rachel came to check on us again once she found Banshee a few hours later, found us stuck, helped to call a towing company, and had to go around the back way to escape Iron Age Road herself, only to get deeper in. The whole encounter on Iron Age Road lasted over 6 hours. Beautiful sunset, though.
The HDTS Ironage Road parcel is a 40 acre site out at the most eastern edge of Wonder Valley in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness area. Ironage Road is the dirt road that connects Hwy 62 and Amboy Road (so you can reach it using either access road)
The Palms owners, the Sibley siblings, also make music and perform in their Mother's quirky rock/folk act, The Sibleys.
On occasional Saturday evenings, The Sibleys take stage at their very own Palms. Laura and James both sing while Laura plays guitar and James plays drums. Their mother Mary writes the lyrics, which adds yet another level of familial charm as the siblings sing their mother's words in their family restaurant and bar in the middle of nowhere. Watching them perform feels a lot like being let in on a family secret that might feel somewhat like your own family secrets, but louder. Take a few of the lyrics from their song "It's Your Family,' for example:
It's your family and we're coming to see you/we're calling ahead just like you asked us to/I know you won't answer the phone/but you're probably home... quick quick hide the cats cause you know we like to play with guns we'll have such a good time/maybe we can borrow some money if you have any/ we'll have such a good time we know you like nobody else does
The Sibleys have released two full-length albums, both recorded live at The Palms. CD's can be purchased at The Palms, and streamed at, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8Kcz_rxD5G4BmcWpHNMhjw/playlists?shelf_id=3579731707244514300&view=50&sort=dd
The Palms is the only business to be found for miles in Wonder Valley, east of Twentynine Palms, off of Amboy Road. On Thursdays from 3pm-6pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 3pm-8pm, stop by the bar and grab a two-dollar beer, a five-dollar whiskey, or any variety of hostess cupcake products. If your timing is right, you're in for an epic desert sunset that paints the entire bowl of sky above.
On Sundays The Palms is open from 9am-6pm. Get there early to order their homemade waffles shaped like the Death Star of Star Wars, any combination of eggs, breakfast meats, and two-dollar Bloody Mary's. If the staff can tell it's your first time, they might remind you that you're in the desert, where things move a bit more slowly. They might ask if you're willing to wait quite some time. The only reasonable answer is, YES.
While you wait, enjoy the random assortment of old school chairs, the chandeliers hanging from the trees, the out-of-tune piano, and the mannequin with a cat mask for a head.
The Palms is owned and operated by the Sibley siblings, Laura and James, and the bar is often tended by their mother Mary. It is certainly a desert institution.
83131 Amboy Rd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
(excerpt from the 2015 Institute of Investigative Living reader)
My friend Kip and I have been trying to piece together the history of a bar way out in the middle of Wonder Valley called The Palms. The bar is run by Mary Sibley and her two adult children Laura and James. Laura and James are also in a band called "The Sibleys" -- Laura plays guitar and sings, James plays drums, and Laura's ex-partner Thom Merrick plays bass. They are sort of the mascots of Wonder Valley. The Palms is pretty much ground zero out there -- you can buy all sorts of things at the bar like motor oil, used clothes, boots, and books. I asked Kip what he remembers of their story and he wrote back:
"I don't think that I have a complete time line on the history of the Palms, but I'm working on it. The Genesis of the story starts with Laura having a dream about her family owning a restaurant, back when they lived in Venice. If I have learned one thing about Laura Sibley, it's that when she has a dream about something, it's as good as manifested. Another interesting story is the history of how Laura learned to shred on the guitar. Turns out they were living near Pioneertown, when she was 14, and Laura would ride her horse to Pappy and Harriet's where one of the bands that played there took her under their wing and showed her the basics. Can you imagine riding to your music lessons at a biker bar, on a horse, with a guitar on your back? That's way cool. I assume soon after that, when Laura was 15, one of Mary's friends told them about the burned out shell of a roadhouse in Wonder Valley. They scrounged up all their money, and then some, and bought the place and set out to rebuild the kitchen that had been destroyed by fire. That's when they were living on the stage, and then the bus, from what I gather. This transpired 15 years ago, and now they have a house, the bookstore and 7 weekend rental properties (each with a hot tub) that have been keeping them running ragged this spring. One of the rentals is getting a 400 square foot addition. Currently, Mary lives in the house, Laura lives in the converted RV garage (with 10,000 books stacked from floor to ceiling) and James lives in whichever rental house is vacant or needs work. I have been soaking up stories and pearls of wisdom from Mary and the "Wonderites" at the bar which I'll be more than happy to share with you when we catch up."
83131 Amboy Rd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
Sprawling over 180 square miles of California's Mojave Desert, Wonder Valley was founded in the early 1950s and today is an unincorporated rural community of approximately 1,000 residents located east of Twentynine Palms. Set in a desert valley between the Pinto and Bullion Mountains, the community's landscape is expansive and unsettling, featuring a chaotic assortment of residences that include abandoned homesteads, squatter settlements, artists' studios, middle-class cabins, and luxury vacation properties. There are three distinct Wonder Valley identities---homesteaders, dystopics, and utopics. Arriving in the 1950s, homesteaders were Wonder Valley's first inhabitants and express a practical connection to the landscape that is interpreted in terms of environmental reach, specifically, the creation, maintenance, and extension of environmental and place order. During the 1970s, many homesteaders abandoned Wonder Valley, dystopics arrived and today include two subgroups: first, a criminal element pulled to Wonder Valley because of its local isolation but regional proximity to Los Angeles; and, second, destitute squatters pushed out from other communities and having nowhere else to go. The third group identified is utopics, primarily artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco, who arrived in the early 1990s, attracted by Wonder Valley's natural beauty and sacred ambience. These three groups arrived at different times, for different reasons, to create vastly different landscapes, to engage in opposing aims and activities. Thus Wonder Valley's meaning as a place varies greatly depending on the resident or identifying cohort. These differences in meaning are most directly expressed in the common areas of public land, which have often become sites of inter-group tension and conflict, particularly in regard to abandoned homesteads and the use of off-road vehicles. To interpret this group conflict conceptually, I borrowed a word used to describe a phenomenon present in the natural world: "ecotone," - literally an environment in tension. The term is used to describe "a region of transition between two biological communities." For example, a beach is an ecotone in that it is a transition zone between the sea and the land. As I explored Wonder Valley, met with its diverse inhabitants and reflected on its essential nature, I found that the idea of overlapping identity groups was analogous to the phenomenon of an ecotone. The contrasting landscapes, activities, experiences, and contradictory meanings of Wonder Valley's three identity groups create a type of existential ecotone---or a significant overlapping of different modes of human experience. In Wonder Valley, there is an obvious overlapping of radically different worlds that is relatively unique in the United States, in that they usually do not occupy or claim the same space at the same time.