Reyner Banham was a British architectural critic and writer who mostly lived and wrote in the states from the 60s until he died in 1988. He spent time in many of my favorite parts of the Mojave, and describes his experiences and reactions in ”Scenes from America Deserta”. Here is a passage that I copied down the other day:
The desert is also seen as a place of secrets, where the customary restraints of law and habit are suspended. All true desert lovers are in the terrible quandary that if their beloved desert is to be protected enough to survive, it must also be regulated enough to cease to be desert in the sense that they love. This is a crucial topic in all the desert fancying, and I will return to it…. The desert is also seen as an appropriate place for fantasies. Not only the fantasies of a Bessie Johnson or a Curtis Howe Springer, but the fantasies of dune buggy maniacs and lone hikers, the seekers after legendary gold mines, the exploders of the first atomic devices, the proponents of advanced missile systems and the diggers of gigantic earth sculptures. Never forget that it was in the Mojave that the first claimed UFO sightings took place, and the pioneer conversations with little green men from Venus. In a landscape where nothing officially exists (otherwise it would not be “desert”), absolutely anything becomes thinkable and may consequently happen.
Reading this made me think about how it is almost always some ideal of “freedom” draws us to the desert and the bitter truth that having freedom means that one must allow others to have it as well. My sense is that what truly makes this part of the desert something unique and special is slowly changing. While I agree that the land needs to be protected – the act of doing so may also one day eliminate what drew us all here in the first place. I don’t think that we will ever cease to crave autonomy and independence, but it is interesting to think about what options for freedom will exist once all environments are either “protected” or developed.
I know it is time to reorganize my shelves when I can’t find Emmett! (All of the boxes are being stockpiled for a project we will be starting soon for the Palm Springs Museum’s new Architecture and Design Center)
Work is progressing on the Secret Spot and the cabin now has a view! The original porch of the cabin was all boarded up – so we took off the siding and now new windows have been framed in. I’ll eventually have two long tables set up in this front room, it will be such a good space for reading, writing and drawing.
I’ve spent years thinking about this piece of Donald Judd furniture “Bench” and how it simultaneously makes reference to the surface of the floor, a seating surface and a table surface . It makes me think about how all of these surfaces are ultimately totally interchangeable, yet we create huge distinctions between them. (for instance in polite society one would never think of sitting on a table or eating off of the floor) In tribute to Judd’s “Bench” I’ve been working on my own renditions of the piece in my living room at A-Z West.
I made my bench 17.5″ high, the same height as Judd’s, but it is bigger so four people can comfortably have a conversation on it. At this scale it is a slightly odd height, but in a good way. (It looks a bit more like a table than a seating surface) People are generally a little confused about how to use it, but it works really well once they figure out that they are can sit on it. The one thing that I’m still having trouble with is figuring out the right covering for it. Originally I designed a really beautiful tufted alpaca rug – but as soon as it entered the house the cats started to sharpen their claws on it, making it clear that a custom made alpaca rug was going to have a limited lifespan in a household with six animals and a nine year old kid.
Judd’s bench is covered by a Persian carpet. I am personally drawn to the geometry of Turkish kilims more then the the all over patterning of Persian carpets – so a kilim was the next surface that I tried. The kilim looks great in this photograph, but it is rough to the touch, and not so soft to sit on. Also it bleeds when it gets wet, and isn’t a good surface to spill food or drinks on. (another given in this household) Then I tried two cowhides which I like more because they are soft and super durable (even red wine wipes off of the white cowhide) – but the overlapping hides feel a bit too amorphous for the crisp formal shape of the bench. More experiments are now in the works… which I’ll document as they play themselves out.
Now that we have two seasons a year when people can come stay in the encampment here at A-Z West, our composting toilets have been outputting at peak capacity. The toilets are made out of simple- five gallon buckets where poop and sawdust accumulate, and every few days they are emptied into contained concrete composting bins. (A great book to check out on the subject is the Humanure Handbook – Our friend and former intern Ari recommended it a few years back, and we now stock it on the bookshelves at the HDTS HQ.) The Humanure has to compost for a full year before it is used on edibles like vegetables, so our composting bin has two sides that are used on alternating years. (The left side in the photo above has been sitting for full year and the right side is fresh “in progress” compost)
In January we pull out the finished compost, sift it, and put it on the garden – and seal up the newest compost batch so that it can continue to do it’s thing for the upcoming year. Kelly and Dean got to spend a gloriously warm winter day outside this week sifting the compost – which surprised both of them with it’s dirt like qualities. (Though I believe I heard them comment that they found a few pieces of compost that harked back to their earlier formal composition.)