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.
We were a pack of over a hundred today, all piled in to the windowless cinderblock room. This seemingly unassuming space is actually a vibrant community center for watching children's theatre group plays, the annual gem and mineral show, and meetings about pressing issues the community is facing, like the meeting I went to: Aquifers 101. I came out of desperation, wanting to know when the water is going to be gone. The answers to this question extend beyond the boundaries of Joshua Tree. What is happening here is a future image of what the world over is about to undergo.
The fault lines of the scientist’s forehead wrinkled and unwrinkled as he clarified: there are no underground lakes below this desert. The aquifers below the sand are not lakes but actually water that has seeped into the interconnected pores of rocks and alluvium and accumulated over impermeable substrate. Joshua Tree sits on the Joshua Subbasin, a narrow three-storied aquifer 2,000-4,500 feet deep—a wet sponge of sand and gravel shaped like a valley partially paved over with Highway 62. Over 99% of the water drawn out each year in the Joshua Subbasin is from stored water accumulated over centuries. Only 1% of the water is replenished by annual rainfall and underflow. The natural recharge of Joshua Tree is 207 acre feet per year, 84 come from underflow from the Warren Subbasin to the west and 123 come from rainfall and streamflow. Each year, Joshua Tree uses 1,612 acre feet (525,465,083 gallons). Drinking water is going to run out, just when is unknown. 30 years? 100 years? It depends on a lot of factors: the increase in people moving here sucking the aquifers dry like vampires with wells for fangs; the increase in oases of globalization receiving intravenous injections by roads and parking lots refusing to let the water permeate the ground—but even without any new “development” the current amount of water extraction is beyond what the system can sustain. I admire the people who aren’t hedging their bets over whether or not it will be their problem to deal with, the people who want to do something whether or not they will be above or below ground when the drinking water is gone.
But really, the water will never run out. Before attempting the impossible act of squeezing every last drop out of the rocks’ pores, the water will become too poor to drink. The present births the process of sucking away the high quality water near the surface, the future bears drawdown and cones of depression sinking straws into the deeper, poorer quality water stored in the lower aquifers. Between the 1950s and 1990s the water level sank 35 feet away from the hearts of homesteaders that have proved up parcels here since 1836, 35 feet away from the roots of plants that feed the scaled, shelled, winged, furred and even the single celled.
Before riding this bomb down into swimming pools and golf courses, the Water District is trying their hand at stop gap measures including aquifer recharge: conjuring water from Northern California down a quagmire of aqueducts and pipes into the Mojave Desert, dumping into recharge ponds to percolate down into the aquifers, carrying unintended consequences with it. When the recharge pond is near a septic system, the water carries septage nitrates down. When the nitrates eventually reach the groundwater, they will become part of the drinking water. Upon entering the bloodstream, nitrates replace oxygen, turning babies blue and acidifying the ecosystems inside stomachs. According to the EPA’s website, the maximum contaminant level of nitrate in drinking water is 10 parts per million (10 milligrams per liter of water). According to the Joshua Basin Water District Water Quality Report, the nitrate level in the drinking water is 16 parts per million and the maximum contaminant level is listed at 45 parts per million.
This isn’t news to the people who have unfolded their lives here. It isn’t unique to Joshua Tree either. The natural materials we call “resources” are being picked clean. Some of us have the luxury to neatly fold up our lives, pack them into suitcases and carry them away in search of other lands. Others can only ball up a few tattered items into a backpack or run away from rifle sites with nothing at all, crossing the land on foot at night, driving by day crammed twelve people into eight person vans and cargo trucks so full no one can sit down, crossing the Aegean Sea in four person life rafts sinking under the weight of twenty people, capsizing reaching shore and rescuing two small boys swallowed by the waves—their mother crushed into the rocks, tossed into a room for three months straight with everyone starving and fighting over any food that is brought, finally reaching the European Union to apply for asylum and be deported back…back to the laser shows of rifle sites, the hum of drones, the flutter of pages turning in torture manuals, the gentle touch of soft power, the spine cracking of structural violence, the slamming of a rifle butt into the back of the skull, the chatter of human cages, the echoes of accusations, the heavy breathing of persecutions and the deafness of bombings.
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?