High Art for the High Desert:
Joshua Treenial showcases local artists in a weekend of exhibitions and performances.
Written by: Shana Nys Dambrot
Video and light will illuminate a rocky hillock at dusk. Signs and objects will pierce the landscape with pop-inflected surrealism. A motorized prayer wheel will entreat the skies for rain. Curators Kóan Jeff Baysa and Bernard Leibov selected these and other art installations for the second edition of Joshua Treenial, their contribution to the constellation of arts and culture events propagating in the High Desert.
The Treenial features about 15 artists and collaborators clustering their projects around the central hub of BoxoHOUSE, the Joshua Tree residency and exhibition space operated by Leibov.
The event launched in 2015 and returns March 31–April 2, 2017, with a long weekend of exhibitions, site-specific installations, and experimental artistry under the title Event Horizon, a term from theoretical astronomy signifying the interim after being ineluctably trapped in the gravitational pull of a black hole, but before being shredded into molecular confetti. In common usage, an event horizon is a metaphor for any significant point of no return. For these curators, it references an allegory and actuality of the High Desert’s environmental and resource issues.
Formerly the deputy director of the Judd Foundation, Leibov used to spend several months at a time in the desert and then return home to New York to exhibit the work of Joshua Tree artists. Five years ago, he permanently relocated, founded BoxoHOUSE, and began inviting artists to residency programs.
“I’m on a mission to bring people to J.T., not only to have a reprieve from urban life, but to wake up in general to the issues the desert highlights — the threat of generic development, environmental and resource urgencies, the possibility of creating an art-based economy in a natural setting — cultural tourism, for lack of a better term,” Leibov says. “In all these important ways and more, we see the Joshua Treenial as a destination event.”
The Treenial is a “parallel project” to the high-profile Desert X event (Feb. 25–April 30), which unfolds from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea, and launch partner for the Mojave Desert Land Trust’s Reading the Landscape curriculum, which offers guidelines to artists working in desert locations.
“The desert is a lot of things, but it’s not empty and it’s not a blank canvas,” Leibov says. “It’s very important to us that the Treenial is also a learning experience about the region and the environment.”