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 email@example.com. Sign up for the HDTS mailing list to stay abreast of HDTS updates, events, and projects.
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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officer from the Needles field office sounded surprised to hear from me when I called him a few weeks ago. I wanted to know if they had a copy of the police report that I saw them write while they were questioning me about my High Desert Test Site project. He said that since they never pressed charges, they didn't bother to keep the report. This disappointed me since I was hoping to use a copy of the report in an upcoming exhibition.
By the time I made this call, the High Desert Test Site project had long since been taken down at the request of the BLM, and under the threat of legal prosecution. And though my idealism urged me to play the role of the rebellious and anti-authoritative artist, I ultimately chose to avoid being charged with baiting wildlife and disruption of an environmentally sensitive area. So the project only lasted two months. Though at the time this was a disappointment and it seemed that the project hadn’t been able to reach its completion, my subsequent interaction with the BLM provided valuable and unexpected insight. The theme of my project, combined with the timing of a soon to be published land and water report addressing whether or not to continue to maintain wildlife guzzlers in the Mojave Desert, made these BLM officers understandably cautious about what I was doing in the foothills a few miles northeast of twenty nine palms.
The project was called the Mojave Desert Mule Deer Wildlife Refuge, or MDMDR for short. The project was proposed specifically for HDTS 2013 and was based on my long-standing interest in the complex relationship between humans and Nature. Much of my recent work explores ways in which wildlife management entities like the BLM and the National Park Service (NPS) address environmental issues at a large scale and how their actions affect the ways we perceive and conceive of Nature and natural landscapes. One controversial example of wildlife management is the use of guzzlers. Guzzlers are permanent or semi-permanent structures installed in arid locations that act as reliable water sources for local fauna. Their purpose is to support and replenish populations of native animals. The debate about the use of artificial water sources in this way exists mainly between environmental groups who favor no management, and hunting organizations who do favor these types of interventions. The purpose of my MDMDR project was not to make a statement about who is right or wrong, but rather to shed light on the debate itself, which I find to be most interesting.
In the MDMDR, I examined the controversial tactics of active wildlife management by creating an ideal habitat in accordance with the recommendations suggested in the NPS’s most recent study of Mule Deer habitats in Southern California. Functionally, the project provided food, water, and shelter for the mule deer population in the Mojave Desert. Conceptually, the project was intended to create a conversation that addressed both the successes and futilities of human attempts to control and to “manage” Nature. I saw the MDMDR as closely tied to Mel Chin’s Revival Field, which sought to “sculpt a site’s ecology” by extracting heavy metals from contaminated soil by the use of plants with the capacity to draw these heavy metals from the soil. In much the same way, the MDMDR attempted to sculpt the population of the Mojave Desert Mule Deer – a gesture that alludes to the ways in which wildlife management organizations also sculpt the ecologies of other environments.
But these particular BLM officers did not seem convinced of the project’s artistic merit. I spoke to them in the shade of their big and white SUV. They were both dressed in dark green and wore bulletproof vests, which made the situation seem very serious. The SUV was parked on Ironage Road, at the location of The Secret Restaurant, another HDTS project. I was on my way to visit The Secret Restaurant when I saw them parked there. I stopped and thought about the possible outcomes of my surrender, then walked up to them and told them I was the one who had built the wildlife water guzzler a few miles up the road at the base of the hills; That I was the one who had planted all those plants; And that while looking at the images from my sensor activated camera from the previous day, I had noticed that some BLM officers looking very much like yourselves might want to have a word with me. Indeed they did.
They asked me the most obvious questions first, like what was I doing. I had flashbacks to my Master’s thesis defense, except unlike with my defense, the consequence of failure seemed that it might be jail time.
Did I know that I needed a permit to build on public land? A person can't just do whatever they want because its public land.
No I didn't know I needed a permit (I did).
Why did I build a guzzler there? Was I trying to photograph animals or something? Yes, in a way, I said, and wasn’t sure what to say after that. Explaining my art to law enforcement was proving more difficult than expected.
It was an emulation of the guzzler project that has been going on around here over the past few years. I was trying to create the ideal conditions for the Mojave Desert Mule Deer as recommended by the National Park Service in their recent reports suggesting they could increase the population of Mojave Desert Mule Deer with the use of artificial water sources and habitat restoration.
Are you protesting something?
Well, no not really. I said. It’s more of a distorted emulation or mirroring of current wildlife management practices than anything else.
They didn’t write that down.
I spent some more time in the shade of the white SUV while they called a supervisor. They wrote down my name from my license, took some notes and sent me on my way. They said they would be in touch with me, that I might be fined for damaging wildlife habitat, but that it wasn’t the worst crime they had seen. They both handed me their business cards and said if I don’t hear from them in the next few weeks to contact them.
I heard from them about a month later. They said that my case had been given to a different BLM officer in another Wildlife unit because technically, the land that my project was on was just beyond the Barstow BLM field office’s jurisdiction and was in fact in the Needles BLM field office jurisdiction. I found this distinction fascinating. Paperwork had to be filled out by a different, uninvolved officer because the project was not within a specific boundary. Protocol must be followed despite the specifics of the circumstance or what might make the most sense. This new BLM officer told me that if I removed everything from the site and “made it look as if I had never been there,” then they wouldn’t press any charges. I said thank you for being understanding of the situation and that I would remove my project. He also then added, “and also make sure to rake out the tire tracks that we left when we went to look at the site.”
“No problem.” I said.