August 15, 2012

Is It Art, Or Is It the Desert?

Usually in the desert, I spend most of my time tramping around looking for abandoned buildings.

But the problem is, a lot of people live in shacks by the side of the road. You have to look for cars that look like they'd run.

This time, having already explored a lot of the abandonment in and around Joshua Tree, I embarked on a mission to find art in the desert.

In some cases, it was easy. Desert Christ Park is a recognizable outdoor sculpture garden on a hill. Noah's Art Site, though made of junk which is also common to find out here, is distinctly and intentionally strategized and assembled. But in trying to find the other High Desert Test Sites - a kind of scavenger hunt for art - I found myself often baffled amidst the boulders, wondering if that mattress cast aside over there was something or if someone would actually be sleeping on it later.

Some of the locations on the High Desert Test Sites trail (like a wine trail, without the wine) were preexisting and not a specially-created installation (the Crochet Museum, Pioneertown's Boulder Gardens retreat center / yoga sanctuary), and others, one might argue, aren't art at all (Wonder Valley's The Palms Restaurant). At Coyote Dry Lake and along Iron Age Road, where the directions only said "Drive until you see something," I didn't know if I was looking for art, or if the argument was that these geographical sites were the art. I saw something. But was it art?

After all, I'd just overheard a conversation at Stater Brothers in which the cashier referred to a musician friend as an artist, her customer agreed that "music is art," and then she retorted, "When you think about it, everything is art."

I'm sorry, madam, but not everything is art.

In my search, I happened upon the "Krblin Jihn Kabin," a High Desert Test Site in which an artist appears to have taken one of such preexisting abandoned buildings, and turned it into art by inventing a mythology of an entire civilization around the cabin. Though it stands crumbling, it's been presented as a preserved historic site, replete with interpretive displays.

It was hard to tell how much of the decay was found art, as it were, or created especially for the exhibit.

But plopped down in the middle of the desert, regardless of how artful it may have been, it was beautiful.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Abandoned Mine, Off 29 Palms Hwy

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