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.
Today I rode my bicycle down Twentynine Palms Highway to pick up trash in Section 33, a nature preserve bordering the highway. The preserve is owned by the Mojave Desert Land Trust who organized the clean up event. I locked up my bicycle against a round, sort of trash can looking cover with an advisory message about a gas line that I didn’t stop to read and climbed up the soft shoulder into the desert. A group of teenage boys were already filling up large plastic bags with trash that had been thrown or accidentally blown out of people's car windows, deliberately dumped, discarded by hikers, who knows. An employee of the land trust came over and introduced himself and his kindergarten-aged son, “This is Tommy, the Chief Engineer.” He handed me a black plastic bag said we are trying to pick up, “anything that is not natural”.
We spread out in rows like a disorganized military formation and combed a fifty-foot wide strip of desert tracing the highway. I wandered through the low vegetation, scavenging toilet paper wrapped around hedgehog cactus making it look like a miniature mummy, candy bar wrappers threaded between the spines and purple flowers of beavertail prickly pear, flickering silver plastic wrapping woven in the zebra striped branches of creosote bushes, rusted cans and broken beer bottles collected in the dales of washes. I lamented about the plastic bags that blew away after I left them in the drying rack in the outdoor kitchen my first day here. I looked at the teenagers and remembered what it was like to be their age and find myself at a community service event feeling half-abducted, half-fascinated at a situation totally outside of my routine. I thought about how we have being mining landfills for metals and other useful materials and wondered if we will reach a point where we begin scavenging the desert for them. The most annoying and dishartening trash were the pieces of plastic that would just break into infinitely smaller pieces as I reached down to pick them up—making me feel like I was only doing more harm in my attempt to help—a feeling I have so often in my life it trails me like a shadow.
There are varying estimates for how long it takes plastic to degrade—or if plastic degrades at all and instead just fragments into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic water bottles are estimated at 500 – 1000 years. There is also a lot of trash that isn’t plastic that will linger longer than I will live: an aluminum can takes 80-200 years to degrade, a rubber tire 80-2,000 years, cigarette filters may break down in 10 years, but their acetate fibers do not fully degrade—nor do the 4,800 chemical compounds in cigarettes, at least 69 of which are carcinogenic and bleed into the ecosystem they are extinguished in.
When I bent down to pick up a burst balloon shriveled up like a squid, a cactus stuck me in the leg. As I pulled the cactus spine out my sock, the spine pulled my skin outwards, making a thin and tight peak. I got a little worried that it wouldn’t come out because of the barbs lining its surface, but it finally relinquished and I followed a couple up a sandy wash pulling up half-buried plastic bottles and cardboard. A woman with a broken swing wrapped around her head carrying a bag filled twice as big as mine smiled and said, “I wear my trash well”. Renée and I talked trash for a while, “It’s when I see the younger people littering that I lose hope. The older people still do it but that doesn’t bother me because they grew up in a time when you could just throw things on the ground because everything was biodegradable.” I thought about how her observation of this shift in postconsumption pertained to my recent trip to Jordan staying with a group of Bedouins in the desert and all the trash that tumbled through the wind past their goat hair tents. “I don’t feel angry at the people that litter, but the companies that design this indestructible stuff in the first place,” I tossed in as I told her about one of my friends, who is the most staunch environmental activist I know, who hates recycling because it puts the onus on the consumer. I pulled a piece of paper out of the sand and dusted it off to read it:
3rd LIGHT ARMORED RECONNAISANCE BATTALION LONG-RANGE TRAINING PLAN AND PRE-DEPLOYMENT TRAINING PLAN
I scanned its list of “events that would be evaluated at the company level”:
a) Individual marksmanship
b) Team and squad attacks
f) Casualty processing
g) Tactical site exploitation
h) Detainee handling procedure
n) Actions on contact (IED, complex ambush, direct/indirect)
o) Squad night ambush
p) 81mm mortar platoon live-fire
I figured it must have blown out of a marine’s car, driving to the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the largest Marine base in the country, located just 15 miles from Joshua Tree and measuring 295 square miles—and planning to expand. Further up the wash I teased another sheet out the thorny branches of a cat’s claw:
FOOD STAMP BENEFITS: HOW TO REPORT HOUSEHOLD CHANGES
The list of “What you must report on a Quarterly Report” included:
- Anyone’s citizenship/immigration status changes or receives correspondence from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services
- Any household member fleeing from the law or in violation of probation
- Any household member convicted of a drug-related felony after August 22, 1996 for manufacturing, sale, distribution of a controlled substance…or harvesting, cultivating or processing marijuana, or involving a minor in the above activities.
- Any real or personal property, bought sold or exchanged
- If you move;
- Someone moves in or out of your home
Depending on who is counting, the federal government spends 28-38% of its annual budget on the US military. It spends $708 billion on the Department of Defense while spending $80 billion on food stamps, $77 billion on unemployment compensation, $800 billion on medicare and medicaid, and $769 billion on social security. 20% of the total federal budget goes directly to the Department of Defense and 8-18% is dispersed under different departments for things like nuclear weapons, FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and NASA intelligence gathering, veterans, and interest on debt incurred from past wars. U.S. military spending accounts for almost half of the entire world's spending on war and weaponry. The US spends more money on military than the next top 10 countries combined (China, Russia, UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, Brazil). There are no available figures for how long it takes the US military to decompose.
Our garbage route ended at an industrial dumpster across from the High School were we pooled our collections until the dumpster was about 1/3 full and a rusted spring mattress nearly peaked out of the top. I watched as the teenagers ate Dominoes pizza and I felt like I was really back in the US after being gone in Europe and the Middle East for the last four months. As the teens began to pile onto busses, Danielle the director of the land trust explained that they were marines, so new they weren’t allowed off the base yet except for special events like these.
Katherine Ball was in residence as our HDTS Scout in Spring 2014.
The HDTS Scout Residency is dedicated to learning more about the people and places that make up our diverse and ever evolving community.
Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Katherine has worked on projects around the world, exploring alternatives to the dominant discourse. Some of these include: bicycling across the US to interview Americans working on small-scale solutions to the climate crisis, coordinating a national day of action to halt business at banks and corporations unduly influencing state laws, living in an off-grid floating island building mushroom filters to clean a polluted lake, and studying the behaviors of various species acting as the ecological counterpart to civil disobedience. An amateur in the best sense of the word, Katherine strives to give more energy to our dreams than our fears.
During her residency, Katherine engaged in a series of in-depth interviews and conversations with high desert residents, focusing on our human impact on the desert landscape. Her book represents a condensed version of those discussions, encompassing water conservation, big solar, wildlife linkages, and asks: what is a sustainable life in the desert?