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 V–Transition Joshua Tree Permaculture Meeting
V. Interview with Jill Giegerich
Jill and I pulled out of the driveway and onto the dirt road, cutting through the night, staring at the city lights kicking out the ladder to dark matter, and talking about ecological approaches to predicament we are in.
K: What is the overall idea with the Transition Town movement?
J: It’s a global grassroots, community building organization that helps the community transition through peak oil, climate change and economic crisis—which Transition sees as completely intertwined. The situation it came out of was a class in Ireland that Rob Hopkins ran. He is a permaculturist. Permaculture is the underpinning of what we are attempting to transition to: creating a regenerative paradigm instead of an extractive one.
K: What is your analysis about capitalism?
J: (Laughter) It hasn’t worked very well. In its current form it is an extractive endeavor. It uses up resources and is very short sighted.
K: Does the Transition Movement try to work within capitalism or in a different system?
J: There is a lot of discussion about economy because an important part of Transition is building a resilient local economy as the current economy collapses. The current economy is having a little bit of regeneration right now due to the bump up from the ecologically devastating tar sands and shale oil extraction process, but if you follow peak oil and really research it, then you see that the entire economy is driven by oil and we are reaching its end. Peak oil is the point at which the easy sources of oil are exhausted and the extraction becomes less and less economically viable. Something has to happen as we come over the curb of peak oil. Transition is such a grassroots, localized idea, because every ecosystem is different, every economy needs to be different as well, so I don’t think there is a one size fits all. In this town, in this place, what kind of economy can become a resilient one? What kind of economy can we have if food is no longer trucked in? If peak oil destroys the ability to import food into this area, what kind of economy can we build? There is a lot of talk within Transition about bartering, bit coins—all different kinds of ways of building resilience economically.
K: Why are you out here in the desert trying this?
J: Because I like a challenge. (Laughter) We have all thought a lot about that.
K: This is one of the driest places in the United States, right? 2-4 inches of rain per year?
J: It’s dry enough. I have a lot of thoughts about that. One being that the amount of population here cannot be sustained if the general economy collapses and peak oil hits. If you look to the indigenous cultures that were here before, they were very small groups and they were located around a few ground-level water sources, the oases that were here, which are dropping.
K: Does the dropping have to do with the fact that people have been taking so much water out? I read that between the 1950s and 1990s the water table dropped 35 feet.
J: Yes, we are overdrafting our aquifers. It is an ongoing ethical problem for me—whether we should be here or not. The Southwest is running out of water. Climate change is also having an impact: as the mountain snow packs diminish so does the water recharge source for the aquifers. On the other hand, the things we are learning here and the systems we are putting into place: these are going to benefit the entire world. This water issue and climate change, these are going to affect everyone. I feel like I am on the cutting edge of permaculture here and that really interests me.
K: Earlier, we were talking you said when you came out here you re-evaluated everything. How did you come to this conclusion of stopping your traditional art practice and instead working on permaculture?
J: It just kind of happened. I still had some shows when I was up here and had a gallery in LA, but I just found myself more and more unable to get any satisfaction out of standing in front of a canvas and painting on it. There is an urgency building and I can’t justify doing that right now. It doesn’t mean I will never paint again, but I have bigger ambitions than that, in a way. To me, a collaboration with nature, working with my community and being part of a regenerative process is the deepest satisfaction that I am experiencing right now—which used to be comparable to the kind of satisfaction I would get making a painting. I don’t get that kind of satisfaction anymore.
K: What is this regenerative process? How does it happen within your daily life? What is the process you are working with and going through?
J: I am constantly assessing the natural systems around me. I am constantly aware of the patterns around me. I am constantly thinking, feeling and implementing my collaboration with those patterns to help generate growth. That happens in many different ways. It could be a certain kind of working with the environment to understand that a certain kind of garden should be put in, planting food producing native trees and understanding exactly how to plant them and exactly where to plant them for maximum water harvesting. That is what I mean by regeneration. It is understanding how to help things flourish by understanding patterns. That is the crossover to art making. That is why I am good at it, because I am trained as an artist to understand patterns. To take huge, wide ranging interests of mine and see that this thing over here is actually exhibiting a pattern that is similar to this thing over there and that the pattern that is flowing between them is a pattern that generates consciousness. It increases consciousness. I think that is what artists are trained to do. It is not what everybody is trained to do.
K: So what is your vision?
J: My ambition is to help make things better. To help undo the damage we’ve done. To be one of many helping undo the damage we have brought on the planet.
K: And where does it stand now?
J: Oh, I think it is anyone’s guess. All bets are off. It may be too late and it may not. That was one of the deciding factors to me. I am not interested in living out the rest of my life in some kind of despair over what I see around me. I am going to give it my best shot. It may be too late, but just in case it is not, that seems really worthwhile. A really worthwhile human endeavor to be spending my time on this planet while I am here.
And I really like permaculture people too. I have a great fondness for artists and I spent most of my life around them, but there is a gloom that hangs over artists that is not hanging over permaculture people. I like being around that energy.
K: Why do you think that is?
J: Because I think artists have to deal with the very corrupted art world and it is kind of soul killing. They do this thing in their studio that they probably thought was very much about the soul and then come into conflict with the world. Which, like everything in American culture, has been completely infected by money. It has caused a lot of despair for artists. Whereas permaculture people don’t have that going on. They are just growing stuff.
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?