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High Desert Research Outposts: The Joshua Tree Artist Residency Experience

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A plethora of daring and diverse artist residency programs have sprung up in and around the Morongo Basin. Several have recently developed and others, such as the Joshua Tree National Park artist-in-residence program, have been active for several years now. The following is a cross-section of some interesting residences here in the desert.

BoxoHouse is one of the newer Joshua Tree residency programs conceived and directed by former Judd Foundation deputy director, Bernard Leibov. Originally from South Africa, Leibov began his career as a successful investment banker and later as an equally intrepid corporate branding strategist. He abandoned both to pursue a far different path in curatorial practice and artmaking in 2008. Familiar with another well-known art colony in Marfa, Texas from his stint at the Judd Foundation in 2009, Leibov began looking for a fresh place to develop a new "research outpost" for BoxoProjects having tired of the NYC scene somewhat where he had been based. After making an inspired trip to Joshua Tree he decided that it was the perfect place to stage his new creative endeavor.

Bernard Leibov (left) talking with local sculptor, Steve Rieman (right) at BoxoHouse. May 2012 resident artist, Tim Saternow is at back behind table in middle. |  Photo: Kim Stringfellow.
Bernard Leibov (left) talking with local sculptor, Steve Rieman (right) at BoxoHouse. May 2012 resident artist, Tim Saternow is at back behind table in middle. | Photo: Kim Stringfellow.

BoxoHouse is an invitation-only residency program located near the village of Joshua Tree supporting out-of-area artists for stays up to one month at a rehabbed homesteader cabin located on five scenic acres. The affiliated BoxoProjects is "dedicated to exploring contemporary art work at the new frontier" by encouraging community engagement rather than artistic isolation. The core tenets of the residency program emphasize creative investigations and projects involving place, community and the environment. Acting as guide, Leibov provides a personalized conduit for the resident to meet and dialog with the larger community. Open house events held during the resident's stay introduce the artist to the local art scene and help create opportunities for possible collaborations with other area artists or within the local community. Recent BoxoHouse residents include Gosia Wlodarczak, Tim Saternow and Austin Thomas.

For BoxoProjects first residency Australian-based artist, Gosia Wlodarczak created an ethereal "frost drawing" covering the cabin's four large picture windows that frame the sublime Mojave landscape. The effect this layering technique produces is quite stunning--Wlodarczak's stream-of-consciousness drawings projected onto the North Joshua Tree landscape and the distant mountain range create "a dynamic archive that continues to interact with the shifting worlds on either side of the pane."

Boxo encourages resident artists to react to and create works directly inspired by the surrounding landscape, ecology, built environment, local history, and the highly creative community spirit found throughout the Morongo Basin. Works completed at the residency by participating artists and other area artists such as Diane Best and John Luckett are later exhibited at BoxoOffice--Leibov's associated gallery space in NYC's lower east side.

Feral Studios, developed by performance artist/dancer/teacher, Julie Tolentino offers a non-traditional immersive residency program located in North Joshua Tree oriented towards dancers, writers and experimental performance-making. Operating as a themed-residency this invitational program "offers a customized structure for artmaking which includes studio visits and mentoring with local artists, daily movement practice focused on the body inspired by the landscape and the physical impact of simple desert living."

Currently in its early stages of development, Feral's remote five-acre location features a reclaimed 1950s jackrabbit homestead cabin providing a gallery and experimental installation space complimented by a solar-powered, off-grid open-plan home designed by Tolentino.

Feral Studios provides intensive one-on-one/two-on-one residencies as well as collaborative learning exchanges and larger workshops providing participants with an embedded desert experience where diet, bodywork, and meditation practices are also considered. Past residency projects at Feral Studios include the PRAXIS Bootcamp for Performance Artists in 2008 featuring a site specific performance at MM Quonset Hut in Morongo Valley featuring residents, Zackary Drucker, Empress Stah, Tania Hammidi, Heather Cassils, Aliza Shvarts, Manuel Vason and Lee Adams (U.S. and U.K. based artists), a site-specific homestead shack performance by acclaimed dance troupe, MGM Grand in 2010 and the 2011 PRAXIS one-to-one month-long residency with Iranian-born theater artist Shabnam Shabazi.

Tolentino's own practice involves solo movement-based installations and rigorous durational performance. Julie was the co-director and performer with Ron Athey & Company, David Rousseve Dance Theater. She was featured in Hallelujah, The Documentary and has worked with notable diverse artists such as Meg Stuart, Keith Hennessey, Sheree Rose and Bob Flannagan, Catherine Opie, Rodarte, Vaginal Davis, Madonna, Chaka Khan. Tolentino facilitates the residency program.

The Joshua Tree National Park Artist-In-Residence (AIR) program offers a series of on-site residencies at an off-the-grid facility at the remote Lost Horse Ranger Station for up to one-month residencies during March, April, October, and November of each year. Joshua Tree National Park Association administers the program.

AIR participants are encouraged to create site-specific work using a leave-no-trace work ethic. Organized public programs provide an opportunity for resident artists to share their work within the surrounding regional and Southern California communities. The program's goal is to foster "better understanding and dialogue about our national parks, desert landscapes, and the relationship between wildlands and the human spirit."

Fred Fulmer and Jim Berg, owners and directors of JTAG gallery in downtown Joshua Tree and several hip vacation home rentals in the Highlands area offer a six-week artist residency program at one of the rentals during off-season periods from July through August. JTHAR (Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency) is open to artists, writers, photographers, musicians, and other creative types by application. Each year JTHAR receives over eighty applicants from all over the globe selecting a handful to participate. Past JTHAR residents include Wendy Given, Fernando Sanchez, and Austrian-artist, Alfredo Barsuglia.

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