It was gratifying to see Kim Stringfellow, and her "Jackrabbit Homestead" installation in the line-up for this year's Desert X. Given the plethora of artists and creators living in and documenting the depth and richness of this desert's historical and creative landscape, it's been somewhat perplexing to locals why Desert X, which has — for better or worse — chosen this desert as a backdrop for its installations, has not explored this inherent body of work before.
The inclusion of Stringfellow's installation, based on her book "Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern Californian Landscape 1938- 2008" is a wonderful way to introduce visitors to the area to the history and socio-cultural context of the humble homestead cabin — that now classic architectural ambassador of the deserts of the southwest.
For Desert X, Stringfellow has decontextualized the cabin from its rural desert setting of vast, open vistas to a relatively urban one: the 122-square-foot cabin sits quietly between the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce and a pharmacy.
As if to accentuate this, upon arrival, we're greeted with a small group of people playing music from one of their cellphones, drowning out the narrated soundscape of homesteading stories, as told by Catherine Venn for Desert Magazine in 1950. There is much posing and taking of selfies in front of the cabin, until the group disperses as we approach.
This may seem a strange juxtaposition, but if you drive around remote and bumpy areas of the Mojave high desert, you'll witness similar scenes these days. The desert homestead cabin has become a status symbol of boho-chic cool, and is in the crosshairs of a new wave of capitalism, spearheaded by the aspirational lifestyle of the social-media "influencer."
Peeking inside the windows of the tiny cabin, the vignette is simple, idyllic and tech-free. The only machine is a beautiful old typewriter on the desk. The scene remembers a time when these homestead cabins were sought out by people who wanted to live simply and be with the land in all its nuanced and uncomfortable aspects. Any documentation of the experience would have been slow, seasonal, deliberate — as life in rural desert still asks of us to this day.
Yet, what's taking place now is a commodification of this very scene, and of the desert to which it belongs — making the location of this installation so very poignant.
And commodification in our age of geotagging, lifestyle-branding and instantly gratifying social media currency is antithesis to slowing down, getting quiet, putting the phone away and listening. These small, simple acts have the potential to be deeply radical, tempering the tides of inevitable commodification towards something more sustainable for the land, the human and her unwritten history.