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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Photo Essay: In the Cradle of Desert Dada (Or, Spending the Night Outside Death Valley at Villa Anita)

My biggest problem when I spent the night at Villa Anita in Tecopa, California on my way to Death Valley...



...was that I tried to make sense of it.



But by nature, it's nonsensical.



That doesn't, however, mean it's meaningless.



Villa Anita is a work-in-progress in the spirit of such assemblage masterpieces as Zorthian Ranch and folk art castles like Nitt Witt Ridge, with a healthy sprinkling of the spirit of Noah Purifoy mixed in.



But out there in the easternmost reaches of the California Mojave desert, it didn't make any sense to me...



...because once I entered it...



...I lost my sense of the surrounding desert.



And I'd rather die of exposure...



...than have the world cave in on me.



I find myself drawn to modernist homes that blur the lines between the indoors and outdoors with large plate-glass window walls and trees and boulders that breach the building's frame.



But at Villa Anita, the labyrinth of pathways may take you outside and around the exterior of the tiny house that was built in 1951...



...but while you're searching for your way out, you're usually under some type of cover, be in pallet or tarp...



...and there are walls just for the sake of being walls.



Each room is meant to be a kind of sculptural vignette...



...but I'd rather live surrounded by sculpture...



...rather inside one.



Villa Anita's creator says that its construction began as a way to make the Death Valley desert bearable year-round.



But air conditioners and swamp coolers can do that.



Death Valley is bearable to me because I bare myself to it.



I lay bare my fears and insecurities, my loneliness, weakness, and inadequacies.



People come to desert towns like Tecopa to hide from the world, perhaps...



...but not from themselves.



Charles Manson's second-in-command, Paul Watkins, lived out his life's second act in Tecopa—with his second wife and two daughters—right there on the Old Spanish Trail Highway, by Villa Anita.



He wasn't fooling anyone. And he didn't deny his Manson family ties. (He even authored a book, My Life With Charles Manson, published in 1979.)



But the Death Valley desert gave Manson's main disciple a second lease on life. He founded the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce. He became the unofficial mayor of Tecopa.



We all go to the desert for different reasons.



But no one has really managed to conquer the desert yet. The desert changes you—not the other way around.



And so, the next morning, after my one night at Villa Anita, I was relieved to slough off all the distractions and clutter of this massive art experiment and expose Death Valley to my new, naked skin.



The above video encapsulates the Villa Anita experience way better than my photos or words. Many thanks to Aaron, Katelyn, Carlo, and Jack for their hospitality. 

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Rite of Zorthian Ranch, By Invitation Only
Photo Essay: Nitt Witt Ridge, One Man's Castle