Means&Matters
Stories of Money and sustainability

Kim Stringfellow and The Mojave Project

A Portrait of the Desert in Stories and Images

BY Craig Hensala  
Cover Image
Kim Stringfellow
Tourists, Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, CA(2015)
All photographs by Kim Stringfellow

Dec 2nd 2020

Every month on Means & Matters, we look at an artist, creative project, or exhibition that helps people view sustainability through a unique lens. In our inaugural Artist Spotlight, we feature The Mojave Project by California artist Kim Stringfellow, which explores the desert's physical, cultural, and historical landscape.

An iconic landscape of the American Southwest, the Mojave Desert stretches across more than 47,000 square miles—from the edges of the Los Angeles metropolitan area into Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. It includes cherished Native American homelands, unique ecosystems and habitats, four national and state parks, popular tourism regions, the gambling mecca of Las Vegas, and various ghost towns.

King Clone Creosote, Lucerne Valley, CA (2014)

Visual artist Kim Stringfellow explores the physical, geological, and cultural landscape of the desert in her transmedia and documentary website, The Mojave Project. Stringfellow brings to life in art and words a desert landscape enriched by diversity—including the Chemehuevi Indian Salt Song singers, artists, rock climbers, botanists, UFO seekers, rockhounds, and rocketeers.

“One of the goals of The Mojave Project is to break down perceptions and stereotypes of the people who inhabit this desert in the past and present,” Stringfellow says. “The Mojave Desert is a sacred landscape and home for many distinct Indigenous tribal communities since time immemorial. These Native people continue to thrive here and are often leading environmental stewardship of this landscape. Consider the efforts and activism of Mojave, Southern Paiute, with other tribal and non-tribal groups during the 1990s to protect the sacred landscape of Ward Valley from being used as a low-level radiation dump.”

Sustainability and climate-change ecology are recurring themes throughout the project’s thoroughly researched field dispatches.

“The Mojave Desert’s vast and varied resources—minerals, sunlight, and even water—have been extensively mined,” says Stringfellow. “As we move toward our renewable energy future, it is crucial that we properly site and manage solar, wind, and mineral extraction associated with these sustainable technologies to protect, rather than exploit, this sublime landscape.”

In The Mojave Project, dispatches on groundwater management and its implications for Southern California, resource exploitation and extraction, and indigenous land rights examine these important issues in detail. Other pieces serve as guides to the desert’s natural and cultural riches, illuminating the diverse ways people have adapted to living in the desert while considering the ways people use the desert as a place of contemplation and renewal. The dispatches are illustrated by Stringfellow’s vivid photographs, interactive maps, video, and historical documents.

The artist’s engagement with local communities, experts, tribal elders, and historians is at the core of her deep research, and she considers the collaborative process of developing the project to be part of her social practice art-making. The project has also included field trips, exhibitions, and publications.

Fort Mojave Elder Drusilla Burns with her Granddaughter Ashley Hemmers at the 17th Ward Valley Reunion, Ward Valley, CA (2015)

The intimate and nuanced portrait of place created by The Mojave Project invites the viewer into a world of discovery, offering an experience similar to touring the landscape with an informed, long-time resident of the desert.

Visit The Mojave Project website and follow on Instagram for updates on upcoming field dispatches and events.

All images © Kim Stringfellow 2014-2020.

Five More California-Based Artists with Eyes on the Environment

This month, we also highlight the work of five other California-based artists whose work examines various aspects of the environment.

These artists foster the exploration of urgent environmental issues and bring attention to the interrelationship between ecosystems and society. Their work prompts us to pay closer attention to the natural world. While their subject matter and art-making practices may vary, they all provide inspiration for imagining new futures for our world.

Caroline Caycedo

Caroline Caycedo is a multidisciplinary artist who creates performances, photographs, videos, and installations. Her recent exhibition at the ICA Boston consisted of hanging sculptures called "Cosmotarrayas" made of handmade fishing nets. The exhibition was a component of her ongoing project, Be Damned (2012-), that examines the wide-ranging impacts of dams along waterways on communities and ecosystems. From the Bottom of the River, an exhibition surveying the last ten years of Caycedo’s work, will open at the MCA Chicago in December 2020.

Beatriz Cortez

Beatriz Cortez's large public artwork, Glacial Erratic, examines ideas of immigration, transformation, and erosion. It was recently a centerpiece of the Frieze Sculpture at Rockefeller Center exhibition in New York City. The artist, working in sculpture, installation, and video, has created works out of welded steel, piles of stones, plants, and soil, and addresses issues such as temporality, migration, indigenous histories, shelter, and climate chaos. Cortez was born in El Salvador and currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

David Benjamin Sherry

David Benjamin Sherry is a photographer known for his images of western landscapes tinted in rich and evocative monochromes. His 2019 series American Monuments depicts national monument sites, including Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, which are now threatened as their protected status has been altered in order to explore leasing the land for resource extraction. The artist has said the series is an examination of "our relationship to landscape, climate change, color, queer identity, and historical photography."

Oscar Tuazon

Oscar Tuazon's Water School is a functional work of public art that examines our contemporary relationship with water. The project, which has been presented in Los Angeles; Cedar Spring, Nevada; East Lansing, Michigan; Seattle; Chicago; and New York, includes a central structure, inspired by Steve and Holly Baer's passive solar Zome House (1969-72), that contains a library of resources related to water use, land rights, ecology, and anthropology. The installation is used as a site for engagement and public talks, and each iteration of the project is adapted to address water-related issues specific to each location.

Andrea Zittel

A-Z West is a sprawling, 70+ acre artwork in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park created by Andrea Zittel. It is also her home, studio, site for artistic experiments, and the location of an artist residency program. Zittel's diverse practice has included the creation of Experimental Living Cabins in the desert, an inhabitable floating island in Denmark, small living shelters (A-Z Wagon Stations), home furniture, and clothing. These projects explore efficient designs for shelter and our basic human needs and ultimately ask the question: How should we live?

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