The Mojave Desert in California is awesome to behold. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring.
Granite mountains keep watch over a sea of desert scrub and Joshua trees. Swathes of seasonal wildflowers create delicate waves of color. Stoic sand dunes and crazed playas stretch on for miles and as the night approaches, the yellows, indigos, and cyans of a Mojave twilight put the beach to shame. Couple all that with low population density and it’s easy to understand why the desert has been a haven for artists and adventurers for decades.
Of course, with its position between Los Angeles and Las Vegas (and the fact that it plays host to military installations, music festivals, and tourist-driven communities like Palm Springs), the highways that criss-cross this gorgeous part of the country are infested with billboards and all manner of cheap visual snare.
As part of this year’s Desert X, artist Jennifer Bolande reclaims some of that visual real estate in a series of installations along the Gene Autry Trail. What once were ads for solar panels, weight loss products, and Mike Huckabee are now large photographs of the surrounding desert landscape. Even better, according to the Desert X project website,
“Each photograph is unique to its position along this route and at a certain point as one approaches each billboard, perfect alignment with the horizon will occur thus reconnecting the space that the rectangle of the billboard has interrupted.”
Ironically, these images appear as novelties when, in reality, it is the advertising that is and always has been the outsider here.
Those incongruous marketing columns will return when the installation concludes, but at least for now, the desert is permitted to reclaim some of its vistas and remind travelers of the character they so often treated simply as a conduit.