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Spectacular Subdivision: The Art of Home

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Sam Scharf's "Home, Sweat, Home." | Photo Kim Stringfellow.
Sam Scharf's "Home, Sweat, Home" | Photo: Kim Stringfellow.

Spectacular Subdivision is a group of site-specific artist projects and performances by over forty artists organized by High Desert Test Sites, Monte Vista Projects, and the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA). Sited in two locations over one weekend -- one within a home interior environment in outlying Wonder Valley near Joshua Tree National Park and the other at a remote, undeveloped parcel owned by HDTS several miles east of the home site location. The series of installations and events took place over three days in early April 2014.

Participating artist and curator, Jay Lizo of Monte Vista Projects (a Highland Park artist-run space) came up with the concept during his various conversations with other artists concerning personal housing and shelter. Topics included whether or not to purchase a home, housing affordability, architectural aesthetics, DIY, and how to make a viable artist studio. Underlying these themes is the aftermath of the 2008 housing market crash and consequent resulting recession. Basic shelter needs and domesticity also play into a theme which, in addition, references two failed commercial real estate developments situated within two SoCal deserts; California City in the Mojave and Salton City in Colorado Desert south of Palm Springs.

The project's statement asks: What does housing mean to artists in relation to their practice? How has the mortgage meltdown affected artists? How have forms of domesticity and shelter shaped artists' practices?

Drawing by Amy Russell
Drawing by Amy Russell.

I traveled out to both locations over the weekend of April 5th and 6th. I initially viewed the El Paseo Ranch location, a vacation rental property owned by the Sibleys who are proprietors of the infamous Palms lounge of Wonder Valley. The majority of the pieces therein seemed to mainly "decorate" the home structure as conventional wall art or sculpture. Several gems here stood out including some lovely hand drawn pencil studies of house facades by Amy Russell.

Nicole Antebi's multimedia project, "The Shack" explores the history of shacks and shantytowns of historic New York City and Brooklyn in a short animated film and drawing series conceptually connecting the East Coast structures with those found in Wonder Valley. Her project "stands as a optimistic reminder of the possibilities of making something out of nothing."

Chelsea Dean's "A Few Ways Around This Formidable Task" involved an outside shed covered with photographic re-prints of a colorful section of reclaimed vintage linoleum discovered by Dean while renovating her recently-purchased home in the Los Angeles area. By the time I had seen the structure later in the day, the prints had been peeling and falling away mirroring the fate of many of the surrounding 1950s era Jackrabbit Homestead kit homes whose faded and crumbling asbestos siding are now littering the desert landscape.

Chelsea Dean's "A Few Ways Around This Formidable Task" | Photo Kim Stringfellow
Chelsea Dean's "A Few Ways Around This Formidable Task." | Photo: Kim Stringfellow.

The more engaging projects were those sited at the remote Iron Age Road location east of the Dale Dry Lake. These projects seemed more intent on referencing the landscape specifically. I sensed that many of the artists had actively researched the lay of the land before commencing on their project proposal and final installations.

Highlights of the Iron Age Road site included a wooden stadium bench piece by Nate Page for contemplating a sublimely beautiful and distant mountain range to the north of the location. Patrick Gilbert's "Prospecting" sitework incorporates a foundation floorplan of a one-room Small Tract homestead that references the surrounding abandoned cabins of Wonder Valley. His "ghost" cabin is nearly absent except for a framed foundation fencing in an arrangement of Russian thistle specimens (commonly known as tumbleweed) carefully trimmed in an effort to control this introduced invasive exotic that is contained within the implied structure.

Patrick Gilbert's Prospecting. | Photo Kim Stringfellow
Patrick Gilbert's "Prospecting." | Photo: Kim Stringfellow.

More amusing were Matthew Usinowicz's Left at Alburquerque chain link and carrot structure/sculpture, and Lara Bank's "Dead Garden," which was a bleak but comedic garden/graveyard comprised of various donated failed potted plants all done up in a Western ghost town graveyard aesthetic.

Lara Bank's Dead Garden. | Photo Kim Stringfellow.
Lara Bank's "Dead Garden." | Photo: Kim Stringfellow.

One of my favorites was a performative project by Dutch artist, Ruchama Noorda titled, "Diopharma." Noorda conceived a makeshift spa environment where she collected local earth and plant material that, for her, comprised the "essence" of the surrounding site. Formed into small, compressed lozenge-like dirt disks, her project seemed to channel the mail order health quackery of early 20th century desert healer and self-proclaimed minister, Dr. Curtis Howe Springer of Zzyxx fame. Samples from other locations including Antelope Valley's Llano del Rio failed socialist colony were displayed among photographs of the various sites she has visited and sourced.

Ruchama Noorda's "Diopharma." | Photo Kim Stringfellow.
Ruchama Noorda's "Diopharma." | Photo: Kim Stringfellow.

The other was Sam Scharf's "Home, Sweat, Home," a playful commentary on the anxieties of home ownership in the midst of repeated environmental disasters brought on by human-induced climate change. All that remains of this classic clapboard-style home is the roofline peeking out of a desert wash surrounded by a sad and intermittent white picket fence standing among the creosote. Scharf's piece reminds me of Alfredo Barsuglia's permanent site-specific installation, "Oderfla Beauty Resort" at Steve and Ruth Rieman's property in Famingo Heights.


I failed to visit/experience Nuttaphol Ma's "The China Outpost Overlooking HDTS" durational performance and site-specific installation and several other outlying installations but heard from other visitors that these were intriguing and worth the additional 15 minute walk.

Spectacular Subdivision artists at the El Paseo Ranch site. | Photo Kim Stringfellow.
Spectacular Subdivision artists at the El Paseo Ranch site. | Photo: Kim Stringfellow.

Participating artists included: Matt Allison, Katie Allison, Yuki Ando, Nicole Antebi, Annette Barz, Lara Bank, Allison Danielle Behrstock, James Cathey, Frank Chang, Chelsea Dean, Michael Dodge, Rebecca Bennett Duke, Ken Ehrlich, Patrick Gilbert, Joe Goode, Jenalee Harmon, Anastasia Hill, Dick Hebdige, Oliver Hess, Oree Holban, Olga Koumoundouros, Norm Laich, Jay Lizo, Candice Lin, Clare Little, Justin Lowman, Ben Lord, Nuttaphol Ma, Patrick Melroy, Anna Mayer, Megan Mueller, Ruchama Noorda, Noah Peffer, Nikki Pressley, Ben Pruskin, Nate Page, Carl Pomposelli, Colin Roberts, Marco Rios, Amy Russell, Sam Scharf, Ryan Taber, Emily Thomas, Matthew Usinowicz, Jesse Wilson, and Kim Yasuda.

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