HDTS 2013 Blog

Hello again Everybody!  

Sorry for the delay but here's the HDTS 2013 blog, finally!  Although, I wasn't able to go to all the events and write about them, you can see and read about all the HDTS 2013 artists and pieces posted on the High Desert Test Sites Facebook and Instagram by our friends.  We had such a blast!

Special thanks to Aurora Tang for inviting me to write this thing, to Brooks and Brad Hudson Thomas for providing me an artist residency at their home so that I could write this, to Brad for doing the blog's photo editing/designing, and to Andrea Zittel for all her support and encouragement of my writing/art making, and to everyone who supports High Desert Test Sites!  Thank you!


Eden Solas


Saturday, Oct. 19: Back to Joshua Tree


5am leave the Holiday Inn Express with Mari Jain and begin 10+ hour drive back to Joshua Tree to make it in time for work at 6pm later today.


I stop every few hours to take a 10 minute nap, take the dog out for food and bathroom breaks, to text the HDTS crew that I miss them and to hear about what event they’re at, and to check out a Native American owned store to buy a turquoise ring and beaded “Navajo made” headband. 

















The 40 Freeway from Arizona to California’s Mojave Desert makes an almost seamless transition of landscape.  The mountains of California are just a less craggy version of the tree-less mountains of Arizona.  Even in my dazed state, I realize how well Amboy and Wonder Valley hold up to the beauty of the landscapes I’ve admired in the Southwest states we’ve covered on this trip.  I fall in love again with my part of the desert and am surprised to realize it’s relative closeness to where I live in 29 Palms.  After a long road-trip like this, a one to two hour drive is a piece of cake.  I should be driving down this road whenever possible.  The sun is setting as I drive through the two-way road passing isolated desert dwellings, creosote bushes, mountains, sand, and motorcyclists.


I make it to work with 15 minutes to spare as I change my mental focus to my normal work night of checking motel guests in and doing laundry.  I feel like I am dreaming, going through one dream scenario to a completely unrelated one, without a formal ending to the last dream or a proper introduction to the next one, just taken and placed and expected to keep walking and moving into the next scene as myself but I’m outside of myself, hoping for sleep and a red rose on a table. 

Friday, Oct. 18: Belen, NM


AZ and I have a quick breakfast at the El Rancho Hotel restaurant with Brad and Pilar.  Pilar is thinking about moving to LA from NY. 


AZ, Brad, and Aurora and I separate so we can cover all the HDTS events today.  AZ and I leave early for Albuquerque, so we hit up the animal shelter too. 

385 After breakfast, Brooks, Brad, and Aurora headed to Bluewater Lake State Park for Kurt Brethauer's "Smooth Operator" van and then to El Malpais National Monument for Michael Iauch's performance piece "Cover Songs."  Iauch re-told his experiences about hitchhiking from North Carolina to California with the aid of blankets painted with classic song lyrics that helped him get rides.  According to Brad, Iauch was a captivating story teller, playing the music from the lyrics on his blankets in the background, while re-telling his hitchhiking experiences as he dangerously hopped around an ancient lava pit, evoking the same feelings of danger, freedom, and uncertainty that he encountered on his adventure.







I find my dog “Mari Jain”, a 6 year old german shepherd mix surrendered by her family who could not afford the pet deposit in their new apartment.  I knew Mari Jain was the right dog for me because instead of flipping out, she calmly offered me a ball as I walked by her kennel.  So with new dog in tow, I meet up with AZ and Aurora in Belen, New Mexico for Courtney Prokopas & Kera MacKenzie’s piece “Wonder Machine” and Joseph Herring’s piece “High Desert Mink Hole.” 

AZ, Leah and Lilly (HDTS Interns), Lars Fisk (VW bus/ Public Storage guy), his girlfriend Willie, and I meet up with Prokopas and MacKenzie at the Conoco Gas station so we can all caravan to the location that Prokopas had actually purchased for a dollar sight unseen.  Prokopas also said this was only the second time she had actually stayed at her property. 



We set off and ended up off-roading, driving through bumpy terrain and tall grass to get to the just under an acre parcel.  When we got there, the “High Desert Mink Hole” performance went on first and it was insane.  An unseen narrator would call out each scene or “movement” while the performers in blue jeans and giant papier mache hybrid animal/insect/plant heads walked around or climbed on top of raised platforms, and repeated the names of their futuristic creature while enacting mating rituals with papier mache strap-ons!  I loved it.  Mari Jain took a poop in the darkness and the performers accidentally stepped in it.  Then I loved it even more.  Please read the description of this incredible piece on our website or in the HDTS 2013 publication for a better understanding, I will do the same. 



“Wonder Machine” was a giant zoetrope that stood more than 6 feet tall.  MacKenzie spun the machine and as it rotated up and down the pole you could view, what I think was a glass of water slowly emptying, or maybe it was a crystal catching the light, I don’t know exactly but it was really cool.  MacKenzie said that the wind had blown the zoetrope machine down a couple times, so they had to spend a lot of time reinforcing the base.  The physical structure was impressively constructed and totally worked. 

The artists were very friendly and passed out cups of hot whiskey and chili.  Aurora stuck around to party a bit more while AZ and I left to find a hotel nearby.  We found a Holiday Inn Express and snuck in our “service” dogs.


Thursday, Oct. 17: Gallup, New Mexico



Breakfast at Arcosanti was quick:  coffee, hard boiled eggs, Brewer’s yeast, and Brad and Aurora trying to talk me and AZ out of going to the animal shelter.  But, AZ figured out how to make it to the animal shelter in Alburquerque and still make it in time to make the HDTS events on Friday, and still get a dog, possibly two dogs. 

Catharine Davis, Jennifer Reifsneider, Nancy Voegeli-Curran, and Matthew Winkler were around passing out their "CDTS:  Collaboratively Determined Telluric Sites" mapbooks which provide an opportunity for HDTS 2013 visitors to write about and share their experiences in the next Constellation Lab publication.


After breakfast, we drove to the Petrified Forrest and saw Adam Marnie and Ed Steck read from their poetry collaboration “The Rose.”  It was amazing to watch the non-HDTS visitors quietly make their way through the crowd of hipsters, who were listening intently to super deconstructed poetry discussing the existence of a rose on a table and simulacra, just so they could get to the binoculars that would allow them to see the native American petroglyphs that they had drove their sightseeing RV’s across the country just to see.  This blending of American vacationing and existential poetry is exactly what HDTS strives to facilitate, our hard fought American right to create art in public, without being arrested most of the time!  Marnie and Steck took turns reading from their written collaboration.  Marnie giving each word its own weight and time, slam poetry style, and Steck with a more matter of fact/ narrative style, made the existence of the rose on the table truly impossible to prove as much as our own existence.  But luckily, by being surrounded by the vastness and awe inspiring landscape of the Petrified Forest, our non-existence seemed harder to believe, thank God, or else, I might have just jumped over the railway into the abyss of nothingness.  We bought one of “The Rose” books for the HDTS archive and made our way to Gallup.


384 Concurrently, the GWC, Investigators Daniel J Glendening, Michael Welsh, and Sean Joseph Patrick Carney, are stationed in Turkey Springs, AZ, in the exact place where the alien abduction movie "Fire In the Sky", one of my favorite slumber party horror movies, was said to have taken place.  I wasn't able to go due to the fear of not being able to get there before nightfall/alien abduction, but Tyler and his HDTS 2013 documentary crew went to accompany the GWC Investigators.  I gave the documentary crew a bottle of whiskey to drink with the GWC boys and if all goes to plan, the GWC crew will make contact with extraterrestrials and this will become the last known photo taken of them before their disappearance.

Back in Gallup, we arrived at the El Rancho Hotel to see Pilar Conde’s piece “Captured in the West.”  El Rancho hotel boasts that it has hosted many an old timey movie star.  At their restaurant Brad, Andrea, and I all ordered the Ricardo Montalban combination plate, that included a Southwestern fair of white flour enchilada, taco, rice, and beans.  Amazing.  Pilar Conde took Polaroid photos of everyone who wanted one, while everyone mingled over Margaritas.  Aurora took a photo with Otto, Brad and Brook’s chubby pug dog, in front of a fireplace, which she plans to use for her Facebook profile photo.  Pilar took a photo of me next to Native American portraits trying to do my best Native American impression, oh racist drunk me. 


Souvenir Collab also struck again with multi-faceted crystals hung on rainbow string.  We also found out that the duo just got engaged in Arcosanti the night before!  HDTS’ first engagement!  Congratulations Julia and Matt Barbee-Suplee!!!   

Went to bed early, because bright and early the next day, AZ and I are to leave for the animal shelter in Albuquerque.




Wednesday, Oct. 16: Arcosanti, AZ


Finishing up in Crown King and had a free breakfast ticket for Doozies Café at the Prospector’s Mall in Crown King.  Had breakfast with Aurora and her friends from the Bay Area, Ana, Tyler, and Adam, who are making a documentary about HDTS 2013.  Aurora and her crew headed to Arcosanti early and I was trying to write another blog entry and the only place with wifi was Doozies.  Christian “the Blacksmith” and Tellef “HDTS Tech Support” came by just in time to fix one of the blog glitches that had been making my life hell.  I swear I tried to write blogs on the way, but then technology happened, also having to get in the car to make it to he next art event right after the last event, being drunk and tired, and blah blah. 


AZ came by and Christian gave her a throwing knife and promised he would teach her how to throw it.  AZ responded by staying she had seen better throwing knives, and some other ball busting comments I wouldn’t be allowed to write in this blog, believe me I’ve tried.  Tellef and Christian  had spent the night at the KJ’s (Karaoke DJ’s) and they stayed up all night drinking and throwing knives.  Christian said the only reason he wasn’t hung over was because the KJ’s gave him a glass of moonshine for breakfast.  Perfect.  Also, AZ and I spent some of our valuable wifi time, looking up dogs at the Albuquerque animal shelters.  When Tellef and Christian left, Ray, one of the proprietors at Doozies joined me and AZ to shoot the shit.  Ray was a Vietnam veteran, with a cane, a knife holster attached to his belt, a camou hat and pants, and he called me “Young lady.”  Ray told his co-worker Debbie, I think that was her name, that if he was gone the next day it was because he was with me.  I responded by saying “Yea, we’d be in the hospital.”  Ray also said he understood some Filipino and said Vietnam was one of the most beautiful places he had ever been, had it not been for the war, he would have considered living there.  Ray asked AZ to marry him at one point, and was serious, and AZ is still considering it.  Ray was upset that not everyone said goodbye, so AZ gave him a hug.  Then we left for Arcosanti.


Brad really liked Katie Shook’s piece “Stratify” which was a puppet performance piece held in the Sky Suite balcony.  Dinner was held in the cafeteria and was served to us by the Arcosanti volunteer cooks.  It was Southwest vegetarian hippie with Arepas, black beans, rice, and Brewer’s yeast, delicious.  I also did a quick Tarot reading for Léa Donnan, creator of the piece “Desert Applique”, which resulted in her following her instincts and returning to Joshua Tree to figure out her next step. 



Matias Cantzler’s “Plenty of Shit” piece gathered everyone into the amphitheater where his 16 mm film was hung throughout the amphitheater architecture.  His film projector ranon the methane produced by the dog feces he had collected and converted.  The film was of dogs shitting, presumably the dogs that contributed to his shit collection.  The audience’s reaction was a mixture of laughter and groans of disgust but you just couldn’t turn away from the screen, it was gross yet shamefully enjoyable.  A film about the making of the art object which created the film, run on the objects produced from and by the making of the film, which is shit.  Cantzler’s piece was super post-modern perfection, you’re welcome Derrida, you’re welcome.  Cantzler also did a short Q&A which was mostly about why he did it, and in his very heavy accent, gave one sentence answers that seemed satisfactory enough to get a laugh from the audience.  Brilliant. 












Korakrit Arunanondchai’s piece “2556” was a touching and hilarious film about the artist’s identity within the world, you know, the classic unanswerable question all artists are trying to figure out universally as well as personally.  The video played on language through subtitles in English translated from Thai.  Featuring the artist moving through different landscapes doing actions that follow the narrative.  From being born as a hero and being shown carried in a flesh colored body suit to him swimming a specific stroke used as a metaphor to what being an artist and making art is.  Arunanondchai will also be doing more with HDTS someday soon.

Rose Mackey & Erin Olivia Weber’s piece “Fox, Come and Sleep in the Snow with the Tiger Leopard” was an amazing performance that involved puppets, costumes, yoga, the Crime Dog McGruff, and electronic music. The piece was about everything you could think of, exploring themes that ranged from new age “authentic movement” face painted yoga, to Chinese mythology through animal puppetry, and revolution expressed through the use of music and visual technology.  It was also a very self-aware and made fun of itself as well. The buildings of Arcosanti were also featured on the fronts of their costumes.  Also, after the ending of this piece, we were happy to announce that the government shutdown was over and the next HDTS event, scheduled for tomorrow, at the Petrified Forests National Park was a go.  Thank God cause Aurora and I were trying to figure out what to say at dinner about the closed National Park issue but luckily the Republicans were tired of being hated on more than usual.  Yay.


Also, a last minute add-on to the HDTS event in Arcosanti was a piece by artist Patrick Doyle called “Fireball.” Doyle is famous for his spheres and lives in Rochester New York but spends several months at Arcosanti every year.  “Fireball” was a bonfire that was held within a metal sculpted sphere pit.  During this piece, our HDTS travelers and Arcosanti friends were able to unwind a little and really get to mingle with each other, which was a perfect ending to a very cold night. 


We had gotten lost going to our shared room.  Our room was simple and practical with all the necessities:  two twin beds, an armoire, a desk, pillows, sheets, towels, blankets, a sink, a shower and a toilet, and fresco flower paintings on the ceiling.  There was also a binder book about Arcosanti on the desk that I would have liked to have read had I not passed out.  3 am I awaken to AZ with insomnia, she’s looking up dogs and planning our trip for tomorrow, I go back to sleep.

Tuesday, Oct. 15: Crown King, Arizona



The drive from Kingman to Crown King involved lots of dirt road driving to my personal playlist of Neil Young’s Greatest hits, with “Cowgirl in the Sand” on repeat.  The reflection of the sun through the clouds of dust and sand thrown up from the cars in the lead made the climb up the small mountain one way roads very scary, it was like driving through fog in the daytime.  In Joshua Tree, the trick to driving through dirt roads is not to go slow, but to go at least 20-30 miles an hour which makes for a smoother ride for some reason, but, on this road to Crown King, you have to pay attention and slow down for the meandering cattle.  I got teary eyed from seeing these majestic cows bathing in a watering hole, in real life, but I also almost had a heart attack when turning the corner of one mountain pass and almost hitting a giant black cow who was just hanging out on the other side, which would have really dented my SUV.  It would have been a good blog post though.  It would have been something like, “I hit a cow today, the cow’s ok, but now I’m in the hospital writing this blog post.” 


As we drove up the mountain, we stopped at each “Hotshots” piece by artists Saskia Jorda & Victor Sidy, which were set up along the way to the town of Crown King.  These bright yellow viewing stations, surrealistically standing out in the mountain landscape, framed the new growth areas that were once destroyed by the Gladiator Fire in 2012.  One Hotshot viewing station framed an area in front of a small lake where Angela de la Agua could be seen filming herself dressing in black shrouds, for part of her piece “This Desert, That Desert.”


We also stopped at another Souvenir collab set-up which offered a hanging bell take away for your rear view mirror at a crossroads station called Cleator.  This small stop along the road had a vintage rummage shop run by Don and a bar run by a guy named Cleater.  Cleator, the person, was a big man standing with a cane behind the bar.  He was kind enough to let folks use his bar bathroom, where there was a sign stating that “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down,” due to the water shortage, which makes sense but I hate peeing on other people’s pee.  But somehow, peeing outdoors behind boulders or creosote bushes, in the Joshua Tree desert, is perfectly fine and normal to me.  

We finally get to Crown King and meet everyone at the Mill Restaurant for dinner.  The restaurant is overwhelmed by the sudden influx of visitors during the week. We all order cheeseburgers, at the recommendation/request of our waitress and Mike, the owner and chef, visits our table personally and tells us that he’s out of fries but he has really good coleslaw and potato salad and has decided to “just throw shit our way” which is perfectly fine for us. 


Also, parked just outside the restaurant was artist Lars Fisk’s amazing “Self-Storage” mobile transforming piece, which looks perfectly legit parked between the apple trees.  Fisk’s piece can be spotted along the way at each event, morphed as either a VW van or as a self storage unit, complete with orange roll up garage doors.


After dinner we rush down to the Crown King Saloon to see Olav Westphalen’s performance piece “Even Steven.”  This piece consisted of a comedy routine by Westphalen which involved spraying pheromones at the audience and included his mimicking a professional improvisational dancer but with a few added adjustments by the artist.  At one point Westphalen had restricted the dancer’s movements by binding her arm and leg, making her wear galoshes, and having her carry a heavy bucket while she danced so that Westphalen could better imitate her dancing.  The piece also included a communist money share experiment where, through a survey answered by the viewers and calculated by yours truly and my iPhone, people were invited to take or leave money from a communal bucket that was being passed around so that everyone could have an equal amount of $50 in their pockets.  Shelly, one of the locals and Karaoke hosts at the bar was the first to put in $20 while yelling to the crowd to “Have faith, have faith.”  Then after Westphalen’s piece, Shelly announced that it was time for Karaoke! 



Karaoke was epic.  Please refer to the High Desert Test Sites 2013 instagram photos and videos and imagine for yourselves, the drunk artists and small town locals singing pop songs with intensity, sincerity, in perfect irony till the bar closed.  It was beautiful. Shelly kicked it off with a song called “Wet Pussy,” and it just got more amazing from then on.  The karaoke moment I will personally hold dearest to my heart was when Aurora and I sang R Kelly’s “Ignition” remix and got the drunk crowd to dance sexy. One of the last songs of the night ended in a group Karaoke scream along/mosh pit to the Violent Femmes song “Add It Up” chosen by HDTS crew member Brooks Hudson Thomas.  Then I walked back to my cabin and passed out smiling in my bunk bed.

Thank you to Shelly and her husband Kyle for hosting this amazing “community gap bridging” Karaoke experience.  When the electricity went off during Westphalen’s performance and between karaoke songs, Shelly and Kyle would say “Welcome to Crown King!”



The downhill road to Arcosanti.



Monday, Oct. 14: Kingman, AZ



Got a late start on Monday leaving with AZ,  we got some Santana's burritos for the road.  On the way to the 40 we passed Bennett Williamson - who was taking down his piece "Next Punchline 30 Miles" with his team of friends and volunteers when we saw him.  


Bennett told us that many of his visitors were from all over the US and abroad and not just locals from Cali or Arizona.  His piece consisted of two interacting billboards on the Highway that told a "bad joke."  The first billboard set up the joke "How do billboards talk?" and then a little ways down the road another billboard stated the punchline "They use sign language!"  Amazing. 




Got into Kingman, Arizona in time for dinner at the Palacina with the HDTS crew, volunteers, and artists.  Awesome Mexican Food served by a very friendly waitress originally from Orange County.  



At the Hill Top Motel DocuMART, created by artists Alex Kenefick & "JP" Julianna Parr, was in full swing, and you could pick up a personalized passport that guarantees passage "without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection" throughout the world and even in worlds beyond time and space.  My passport states, under the Special Modifications section, that I am "Just a touch lonely sometimes."  Perfect.  When you first approach the office you are greeted by the enthusiastic intern Andrew who tells you to follow a colored tape line that leads you to a specific processing station.  


From there you are given an application that asks very personal and funny questions ranging from whether you are married and what it's like to be married or not married to "please draw a picture that describes your feelings about only now getting to the form part of the application in the space provided here."  


Then after you turn in your paperwork, one of the DocuMART employees types up your passport/official document, takes your photo, and tapes it together right then and there and hands it to you.  

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Otto Hudson Thomas aka Potato, Brad and Brooks' pug dog, was finally able to get his passport.  Some people even decided to get married in the makeshift chapel in one of the corners of the fully utilized office room.  (There was even a children's play area under one of the desks with stuffed animals!)  The HDTS publication says that DocuMART is an installation involving a low-overhead, illicit permiting and papers office...[it] focuses on citizenship, marriage equality, freedom, governance and, humanization of the individual...bridging the gap between paperwork procedures and the essence of humanity.

Souvenir Collab, by Julia Barbee & Matt Suplee, struck again at the Hill Top Hotel, with a fortune cookie and a photo of the motel office perfect for rearview mirror hanging.


Before leaving Kingman we had breakfast at the Roadrunner Cafe where we were served by another amazing waitress, Rina, who was wearing a Breast Cancer Awareness t-shirt designed by her husband.  It featured two bees dressed as ghosts, one positioned over each breast, with the shirt stating "Save the Boo Bees!"  AZ is fully in love with Kingman, and is already planning an HDTS event there/is trying to convince us all to buy property here, her usual.  We then set off to Crown King, AZ and on our way we'll see Catharine Stebbins' Desert Traces piece and Maya Gurantz' Doomsday Creches piece.