The Desert: Three Themes

I spent last weekend in Wonder Valley in the Mojave as part of the Mapping the Desert symposium organized by UCIRA and the Sweeney Art Gallery. While there, I had the great opportunity to meet with artists from other UC campuses, and to encounter a number of aspects of the desert. These encounters led to early thoughts on themes the desert elicited from me during my stay: salt, the development of journey as a shareable artwork, and the not-so-serious Zombie Christians or doing what you ought not.


salt tree

The first thing that struck me in the desert was the salt-tree in front of our campsite. The tree—a tamarisk—had large crystals of salt coating its leaves.

Salt manifests wherever there is water in the desert, and plants growing in oases need to be halophilic to survive. I am interested in systems where halophiles could be operating benevolently on behalf of less salt-tolerant species, and in the exoskeleton that the halophiles produce as they grow under mineral-rich conditions.



Scrambling from rock to rock in Joshua Tree National Monument cemented the desire Pete Hawkes and I had to make the journey integral to some of our work. Michael Kimmelman’s essay on The Art of the Pilgrimage brings up how travel to see a work shapes your perception of the work; I think the travel itself could become the work. What better way to share a steep mountain climb than to lead someone on it? Naturally, we would like to have some additional payoff, some tangible work that people who engage in the travel ultimately contribute to. We’re working out the details.



Let’s not forget the crazies who live out in the desert, or the artists who impersonate crazies in the desert. Christmas-tree-like light-up crosses, keep-out signs, and ringing church bells that don’t belong to you. The bells peal loudly in the desert, trailing off into the open space, never bouncing back. Someone else hears and we all scramble for the car. It doesn’t start for a minute that feels much longer, when we finally drive off into the space, becoming a glowing light on the horizon.

More images from the weekend are available on flickr.