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.
Part IV–Transition Joshua Tree Permaculture Meeting
IV. The Meeting
“You’ll have to navigate,” Jill said as she handed me the directions.
We arrived at Hamid’s house at 5:55 for the Transition Joshua Tree Permaculture Group meeting. He greeted us with the warmth of the sand, wearing a safari hat and Hawaiian shirt, standing next to a scarecrow that gave us a gaping look as it stared at us through oversized sunglasses and a mop of blue hair standing on end. I smiled back as I admired its fashion sense: a trench coat layered underneath a pair wading overalls. By the time I set my bag down in the living room where Hamid had already arranged couches and chairs in a large circle for the meeting, the group was ready to begin the tour. An agreement was made at the last meeting to be more punctual.
Outside, we began walking down a long ramp into a greenhouse that Hamid had dug six feet into the ground to keep the temperature steady. Then, we walked through a nursery of mesquite trees and cacti. “Oh, this is a mesquite tree,” I said, realizing the tall mystery tree on Neil’s site was a mesquite.
“You can make a flour out of the mesquite pods. They are 10% protein filled with a type of sugar that is sweet but doesn’t raise your blood sugar. Mesquite is gluten free too—so mesquite is good for people with gluten allergies and diabetes,” explained Tim Delorey, one of the founding members of the permaculture group. “You can also make a syrup by boiling the pods. I brought some mesquite bread you can try later.” The Transition Joshua Tree Permaculture Group began as a project group started by Tim Delorey, Jill Giegerich, Damian Lester and Janet Tucker. Their first moves were to relay information about permaculture as fast and efficiently as possible, which included organizing a hands-on workshop on boomerang swales and designing a mesquite guild. A guild is a group of species that partition resources or create networks of mutual support. The mesquite guild (#4 on this link) is made up of a mesquite tree underplanted with banana yucca, prickly pear, chuperosa, turpentine bush, four wing saltbush, western mugwort, and wolfberry.
As we approached Hamid’s orchard, Janet pointed out the birds of paradise, “A lot of people think they are just weeds, but they are beautiful and are nitrogen fixers too,” meaning they add nitrogen, an essential nutrient to plant growth, into the soil. Janet is a self-described “native plant nerd” and was another one of the founding members of the permaculture group. Her most recent passion is edible succulents, “It makes me feel optimistic. I was feeling a little down about our limitation.” The Mojave is the driest of the dry, getting as little as 2-4 inches of rain per year. So dry, Mojave gardeners dream about the 12-inches Tucson-area gardeners get in the Sonoran Desert. But edible succulents might be the sweet spot for edible, low-water, desert gardens. “First, the Nopales, the edible prickly pear leaves that are available at supermarkets,” Janet elaborated, “Those plants are available now on sale at Home Depot. Their biggest drawback to me is the very tangy flavor, but I'm working on ways to tame it so that people will be more likely to use it as an everyday vegetable. They also propagate very easily. Among the Yuccas, the Yucca baccata or Banana Yucca is about 3 feet tall and wide and produces 5" long fruits on tall stems that taste like yams. This is by far the most xeric plant, as Yuccas are easily killed by too much water. Finally, the Agaves have the Century Agave and the Agave murphyii, both of which were eaten by the original inhabitants. How to process the Agave for food is a little more complex. First of all the plant has to almost flower, which happens after about 10 years! Then there is a complicated procedure ending in baking the core in the ground. Since the Century Agave gets to be 13 feet across, harvesting it was originally a guy activity! Lastly, I discovered that my Sedum Autumn Joy that I had been growing in pots for years is edible.”
In the orchard, the sun’s glow traced the veins of the leaves of white mulberry trees, danced with pollen of the pears, stroked the fuzz of the almonds, soaked the parasitic wasps protecting the apricots, and ignited my memories of the fig trees growing in the cracks of pavement in Greece. I stared at the trees, I stared at the sand, and I knotted my eyebrows. “I put Alpaca manure around them to help them grow,” Hamid demystified, “I have been thinking about putting it through a grinding wheel to get it to decompose faster.”
The group began to discuss different variations of swales that could be used to catch and store water that sweeps by Hamid’s orchard through a wash. Also called an arroyo, a wash is a dry streambed that temporarily or seasonally fills and flows after heavy rain cascade down a canyon. A swale is a broad, shallow ditch that follows the contours of the land and holds water runoff from storms. Generally, it has a mounded berm on the downhill side. Over time, swales fill up with silt and form terraces that can be planted and mulched. A junk mail swale functions as a sponge in the ground that can stay wet for months and slowly release water to nearby fruit trees. It is made by digging a 1-2 foot hole slightly uphill from a tree and filling it with junk mail, paper bags, and phone books. Then, you wet and stomp on them, add in some horse stall bedding, and finally cover them with rocks to hold in the moisture, and leave a gap for an overflow trough. On slopes steeper than 15 degrees, boomerang swales can catch, store, and pattern the flow of water. These arc-shaped berms form basins that direct water to a tree. They are dug in a net pattern, starting at the top of a slope, so each boomerang transfers the water to the next lower row of boomerangs.
At the end of the rows of fruit and nut trees, Hamid opened the door to his well sitting next to gigantic, empty emergency water tanks. “The pH is 8.6 and the alkalinity is 120, which means it is very good water because nothing grows in it,” Hamid said over the crowing of a rooster in the nearby chicken coop. A red, yellow and black pheasant peered out of the chicken wire.
At the end of the tour, Hamid told us about his upcoming inventions. A series of large plastic cargo crates stood like time capsules waiting to be buried. Hamid bought them from the military and had plans to turn them into a pond. Satellite dishes were stacked against his shed which he planned on turning into raised garden beds by setting them horizontally on tractor tires, filling the dishes with dirt and then running a pole through the center so he could make a teepee of netting to keep the bugs or birds out.
After the tour was complete we went inside for the meeting, which included action items, announcements, reports, old and new business, and planning the tour, which will happen next Thursday, May 8 from 4-7pm. The tour will visit the gardens of Janet Tucker, Damian Lester, and Wolf, and is open to the public to join.
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?