Last login: Thursday, December 2, 2010
Further, as to fupduck's point (if I'm understanding it correctly), I don't believe the fascination with the homesteads can be reduced to simply an example of environmental nihilism where they merely stand for a "bleakness and worthlessness" imputed to the desert environment. I think such conflation is there for some people, as is a variation of it among folks I know who wish the cabins would all be torn down so the desert could return to some imagined Edenic state (see Shack Attack, above). Personally, I see the homestead as both an instructive monument to the sad environmental effects of hubris, greed, fantasy, and poor planning; and as a point of contrast and perspective that makes the greater desert - and our punyness - visible.
Ultimately, the homesteads tell us most about the claim we want to place upon them. They are a fragile projection screen, made up of falling sticks and broken plaster and a giant empty slate.
I could go on at great length, lemme tell ya, but if you're interested in more of my thoughts in this vein see Kim's jackrabbithomestead site - click on JRHS Stories, scroll down to Chris Carraher, click on "Home: Finding Our Place." Or see my artwork at jackadandy dot com (check out "The Plan: Claims of Territory in the High Desert"). And see more of other people's homestead art and culture on the Wonder Valley Cabin Festival blog at homesteadcabin dot wordpress dot com.
Thanks, Angela, for creating the show and promoting this discussion. The homesteads are invisible no longer! :)
December 2, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.
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The questions JosephDoakes and fupduck bring up contain some of the contradictions within the homesteads that keep them fascinating.
Are the homesteads historic sites? The 50-plus years that they've been around in impactful numbers place them at that moment when the merely out-of-date slips over into the antique and historic. When I began formally researching the baby homesteads maybe 10 years ago it seemed that no one was yet viewing them as historic. Instead, they were considered a blight, slummy, embarassing, scary, or simply ordinary and beneath notice. At that time the actions of the government-funded Shack Attack to tear them down really spurred me to investigate their history. And when I inquired at the local historical museum, the staff seemed pretty perplexed by my interest, as though no one had ever asked about them before. The homesteads were not yet considered "historical." Nor, interestingly, were they yet considered an appropriate subject for art (with some notable exceptions). Their near-invisibility intrigued me, and I believe it is exactly that liminal quality - socially, historically, aesthetically, environmentally - that attracts and holds our interest. I haven't yet seen her exhibition but it appears as though Claire's work addresses that quality. Certainly Kim's does, and so does mine.
The point is, the homesteads are not yet reducible to simply "historic sites." Frankly, to the neighbors they can just be annoying trash dumps and attractive nuisances. To the scavengers - two-legged and otherwise - they're treasure troves of resource and imagination. And to the owners, dammit, they're private property! So the lines between vandalism, artifact collection, and cleaning up trash are not so easily drawn. I say this as someone who has lived in the cabin communities of 29 Palms and Wonder Valley for 18 years. One meaning of the homesteads is their path of disintegration. Humans are part of that path, as much as the wind and the sun and the rodents.
[This is getting long so I'm posting a second part below.]
December 2, 2010 at 12:50 p.m.
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