Contributed by Mary Addison Hackett / When I first moved to the desert, my intention was to be close enough to the Los Angeles art scene without having to deal with traffic, high rents, and apparently in my absence, a dearth of parking. I’ve been to LA exactly three times in the last calendar year. Writing this out loud is not going to do me any favors, but if you’ve spent any time in the High Desert, an area in San Bernardino County that includes Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding areas in the Mojave Desert, you’ll understand why. Joshua Tree has a population of about 8,000. I’m not sure how many of us are artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and/or all of the above (multi-talents run deep), but I haven’t seen anyone in a suit or Casual Friday threads since moving here.
Less than two weeks after I crossed the California state line, I received a text from my gallery-cum-social-director in Atlanta telling me about Michael Oliveri’s UFO Roadshow, “a cross-country public art disruption exploring public hoax and myth-making” done in partnership with Dashboard and High Desert Test Sites. I had one hour to jump in my car and drive across the desert. At the time it felt like a scene from Mad Max: Fury Road, but once I got acclimated the trip was just another drive in the desert. Seeing a UFO sculpture lit up at sunset against the backdrop of the desert landscape with a DJ nearby (powered by a generator, I presume) was to be the indicator of all good art things to come.
Fast forward. I’m a local now.
On most Sundays, at 9am no less, I do my best to attend the Artists’ Tea at Cap Rock in Joshua Tree National Park. Artist Tea is one of the three experiments run by JT Lab. Cap Rock is about 20 minutes from the park entrance. Using a small sample of people I know, I’ve estimated the average travel time for most desert dwellers to be around 40 minutes. That means that on any given Sunday, a committed group of tea drinkers and art talk enthusiasts are leaving their homes around 8:15 A.M. to hear an artist discuss their work in a national park setting.
Let that sink in.
The talks are accessible to everyone and the idea is to explore and revive the role of the artist in the National Park Service mission of preservation and engagement. The program is organized by Jenny Kane, an artist and educator whose own practice spans painting, photography, and writing. Jenny is also a backpacking guide at Yosemite National Park and certified yoga instructor. She approaches her en plein air practice as a conservationist by documenting public lands, and her engagement with the environment and community are reflected in her work.
Palm Springs is not the High Desert, but I was persuaded to attend some openings not too long ago where I was introduced to Kat Green, a self-taught abstract painter originally from the South. I had first seen Kat’s work in a show at Taylor Junction, a gallery in downtown Joshua Tree run by Rolo Castillo and Terry Taylor-Castillo. Kat and her husband Bill Greene run Tumbleweed Arts Company, a Joshua Tree-based small works mobile art gallery, housed in a vintage ’72 Winnebago Chieftain. (Submission info on the website). I did a studio visit with Kat this week and learned about her process in the studio, her mentors in the South, and how her daily practice of small works on paper has become an indispensable ritual. Kat came across the term Wabi-sabi after she had been painting for a while, but the idea of imperfection and acceptance resonated with her and began to influence her practice as a whole. On the way out, Kat showed me a labyrinth she designed.
I wouldn’t call the desert a labyrinth, since it’s a vast open space of seeming nothingness where one can see for miles on end. But for now, I’m in no hurry to find my way out.
Next installment: The desert is not barren, Part 2: John Plowman and Bernard Leibov at BoxoProjects, and Sarah Witt of High Desert Test Kitchen
Author Bio: Mary Addison Hackett is a visual artist, editor, and occasional writer whose practice spans painting, video, experimental documentary, and other time-based projects. Her work can currently be seen in “Temporal and Corporeal: A Broad Scope of Performance Art” at Ohio University Art Gallery, Athens, Ohio. She serves as an official advisor for Locate Arts, a non-profit based in Nashville, and recently launched a pop-up residency program located on a small parcel of land in the Mojave Desert, near Joshua Tree National Park. She lives and work in Joshua Tree, California, and doesn’t plan on moving any time soon.
Ideas and Influences: Mary Addison Hackett
Art exchange: Catherine Haggarty’s trip to Los Angeles
RESIDENCY: Andrea Zittel’s Wagon Station Encampment
My camping residency at Hammonasset Beach