I needed a break; for at least two weeks, somewhere exotic, inspiring, restful. In the end I went to California, Joshua Tree to be exact. More obvious to go to Asia for the exotic but I found myself constantly on the website for this property and finally booked it. I followed my nose and thought it looked beautiful. I try not to fly too much; uncomfortable with the environmental impact, plus Ms. J can't come. But, once a year or so, a decent trip is ok, I say, as long as it has real value. It really did.
I knew the Joshua Tree National Park would be interesting and would afford some good walking. I also wanted to feel the overwhelming heat, after our dire winter, I needed warm blood in my veins. It's good to see nature and the elements in their powerful, overwhelming state, to show my humanity.
Joshua Tree Park
The famous Joshua Tree
There is an interesting history to the settlement of people in this somewhat inauspicious desert climate. Many houses were built in the 1950s as a result of a Homestead Act enabling Americans to buy 5 acres of land at peppercorn prices if they built a habitation. These acts are part of American history and this incarnation visited itself on the Joshua Tree environs in the mid-20th century. For this reason, much of the housing has a 1950s charm, though much has been abandoned and remains so today.
Art installation Krblin Jihn Kabin. An art installation in an abandoned homestead, or, an abandoned homestead that has become an art installation.
The landscape, the homesteads, the walking was impressive, but what totally surprised me was the art scene in Joshua Tree. A large village, 2 hours from LA, this place attracted walkers, a few oddballs, and a level of economic activity appropriate to a small town. From my cursory research, I'd say the arrival of Noah Purifoy in the late 80's heralded the new era of art in this place. Purifoy found his 10 acre site in Joshua Tree and started building his outdoor desert art museum made from found objects. I found it mesmerising and exciting in a way I hadn't felt for a long time.
I loved the way he believed in exposing materials to the elements. One of my favourite pieces with all the different textiles inside a room where the elements blow in and out:
Purifoy died in 2004 but his museum lives on. Today, Joshua Tree attracts a healthy community of artists and creatives. Notably, Andrea Zittel is based here, with her home and work embodying her art. She has regular site visits, but sadly it didn't coincide with my visit. Zittel's work strongly engages in the sustainable living debate, another recurrent theme for this place which also hosts many off-griders.
Many established artists are affiliated with the High Deserts Test Sites, whose volunteer, artist Peggy, gave me a very warm welcome and helped out with tips on visiting the various art installations in the high desert around JT. I was lucky enough to be in town for their Art Walk:
This involved performance art, all the galleries open in the evening and a bit of a party atmosphere. The highlight of that evening: meeting the fabulous Shari Elf, aka The Art Queen, whose take on found objects, humour and folksy art I loved.
I'll leave it to the pictures to tell the story, but needless-to-say, I came home with more than one artist's T-shirt.
Must mention Bernard Leibov's boxoPROJECTS. Bernard hosts a month-long residency in his homestead for artists. Whilst I was there he had Heather Johnson in residence. Heather's project 'In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful' incorporated embroidery relating to her round trip to Joshua Tree from New Jersey on her motorbike.
As a newbie to southern California, I flew into LA and out only stopping for a few hours in the city. Us Brits are somewhat snooty about the city, in our established-culture kind of way. It seemed to have the depth and breadth of any large city but one in which creativity is not only one of its core businesses but a magnet for all layers of that from the Hollywood to the struggling artist. Fashion, too, is equally significant, layered and engaging. Thanks to Wallpaper I used my time wisely at LACMA and Heath Ceramics. I also found time to visit the LA Museum of the Holocaust.